At Outward Bound, the emphasis is on the students – what they have learned – how they have grown – how they have challenged themselves. Each expedition we offer is built on a powerful expeditionary learning framework designed to encourage character development, develop leadership skills and cultivate a spirit of service. But more than just developing these traits, we expect students know why they are important. We expect them to articulate why Outward Bound values like compassion, integrity, excellence and inclusion matter in their everyday lives; we expect them to understand how Outward Bound principles might serve them in the future.
This week, in the spirit of summer vacation, we’re giving the students a break.
Instead, we’re challenging a few Outward Bound staff members to remember their own Outward Bound experiences – and think carefully about their significance. Each day this week, we’ll publish a new memory – recounted by a different staff member. In this way, we hope to jog the memories of Outward Bound alumni, get students excited about upcoming courses, and most important of all – take a closer look at the expeditionary learning foundation that informs everything we do.
So, without further ado – our first memory, written by Laurel Zimmerman, an Outward Bound Instructor and Admissions Manager. Her story starts in warm Florida waters – on a Florida Canoeing course.
“Words Would Never Explain”
by Laurel Zimmerman
It was ‘twilight magic hour’ on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) on a warm August evening. The last bits of light filled the sky with a deep purple sunset.
We had just prepared for our night paddle, which would lead us along the coastline, with Cape Canaveral as a beacon in the distance. The group was still giggly and a bit shaken after several manatee had been startled awake from a shoreline nap and had inadvertently tipped the occupants of Boat #1 (my boat) into the warm Florida water. Slightly dramatic due to the splashing of flappy tails and shouts of surprise from myself and the 14-year-old boy also occupying Boat #1, the students were reenacting the events as we gathered floating gear and changed into dry clothes.
Once dry, organized, and replenished with a hearty snack, the group carried on into the dark, with a starlit sky and deep black water in front of us. We were tired and hungry for a full meal, but opted to paddle hard through the evening in order to arrive at a canal passage where we would tie up and make dinner on the boats under the stars. By morning, we would be pulling up to the boat ramp to finish the 20 day course.
But before we could go much further, Mother Nature handed us an event that would not only slow us down – it would give us all a night that we would remember for a lifetime.
Easing along through the dark night, a glow began swirling with our paddles. Streaks in the water appeared all around us. We had entered enormous pockets of bioluminescence. Wherever our boats and paddles touched, flicked, and swirled, the water glowed and glittered with greens and yellows. Mullet fish jumped through the air in swarms as our canoes glided, many of them hitting students in the arms and chest and often landing in boats.
The 13 to 17-year-old boys screeched in delight as they picked up and examined fish after fish, gently releasing them back to the dark waters from which they came. Manatees swooshed quickly away in a stream of glittery green. Dolphins kicked up glitter in the air with their tails. Fish jumped – as if a fantasy cartoon – with trails of glow in the air.
The group had been through much in last the three weeks with lightning storms, late nights, long miles of paddling, personality conflicts and general Outward Bound challenges. And now, Mother Nature was rewarding that hard work and tenacity with a show that words would never explain. That night we witnessed – with all of our senses and eyes wide open – sheer beauty and magnificence.
Laurel’s story is an eloquent example of the power of challenge and adventure on an Outward Bound course. In Outward Bound terms, “challenge and adventure” means we use unfamiliar settings to impel students into mentally, emotionally and physically demanding experiences” – and then help them learn from success and failures during those experiences. The young men on this trip had already encountered their fair share of challenges. And the all-night paddle through the dark was certainly an emotionally and physically demanding experience. And yet, there they were, competent with their paddle strokes and confident in their skills – a direct result of successes, failures and an Outward Bound course progression designed to promote skill mastery. Moreover, as a supportive, inclusive crew, they had formed a strong community – which means that they were able the enjoy the beauty of the moment – together – as a crew.
Water courses (canoeing, sailing, kayaking and rafting) are an ideal way to spend quality time on the water, come in contact with marine and river wildlife, and learn the value of hard work, first-hand. For information on Outward water expeditions, visit our Course Finder or call 866.467.7651 to speak with an Admissions Advisor today.
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