I learned how to swim in one of the oldest rivers in the world, the French Broad. I floated down it too, basking in the sweet sunshine. I saw the rock that Native Americans once attested to their coming of age by free-climbing it. I even crossed state lines via canoe from North Carolina into Tennessee. These are bits and pieces of three days out of my 22-day Outward Bound trip.
This adventure was made possible by Summer Search - a non-profit organization that helps students strengthen the skills needed to succeed in life and education. They provide weekly mentoring and support for the college application process, while also preparing students for summer trips.
Pedro Suncar, a Program Associate for Summer Search explained that, “On trips, students learn new skills and gain confidence by living outside of their comfort zone and pushing their physical and emotional boundaries. These experiences mimic the challenge of navigating a college campus and/or other new environments.”
Summer Search is a brilliant program that helps disadvantaged students gain perspective and gain personal growth. It was with this idea that I ventured out into the Blue Ridge Mountains with an incredible crew.
Last summer, I did things I never thought I was capable of. Most were a first, and a little scary, but incredibly fun. I was pushed physically and mentally by my Outward Bound instructors and crew. We backpacked for 12 out of the 22 days, hiking for hours and singing along to hit songs. Without our constant signing of “Just the Way You Are,” “Stacy’s Mom,” “Fireworks,” and “Big Green Tractor,” the hikes would have been close to impossible.
We also made up fictional horror stories and gazed at marvelous creations of nature. No phones were allowed -- no Instagramming, Facebooking or Snapchatting -- but we did manage to snap some digital photos as evidence of our once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Without even noticing, our arduous hikes would end. Then, we would settle into beautifully constructed campsites to share and reflect on our day.
Emely Mateo, a Summer Search student also on my summer trip, reflected on her positive experience by saying, “I learned how to flinch forward.” One of the biggest lessons students learn from the Outward Bound trip is the idea of “flinching forward.” Our instructors challenged us to slowly move out of our comfort zones and into the horizons of panic zones. They encouraged us to do new things on our own and discover our capabilities in order to build our confidence, and help us discover ourselves. By facing physical and mental challenges, students become extensively prepared for life and the challenges they will face on their journeys.
My Outward Bound instructor, Kristen Kean, elaborated by saying, “I think the program can have different impacts on different students, but the hope is that they can go home with a better idea of their capabilities and be more prepared to take on challenges they may have shied away from before their course.”
Outward Bound was a transformative experience for me and for many others. These trips are life changing. They help students hone the skills needed to propel them through life and school. I hope other students can have have the same opportunity I did.