If your parents ever sent you to summer camp during your youth, you might find yourself anxious to return home to share unforgettable stories around the dinner table. However, you might also reach a point in conversation where you cannot recreate the hilarity of the time Johnny captured the flag while dressed in a gorilla suit or the significance of singing “Wagon Wheel” around a campfire each night.
In an episode from This American Life, “Notes on Camp”, Ira Glass tries to capture this camp “magic” by interviewing campers enamored by camp life who again state, “non-camp people simply don’t understand”. Through their eyes, camp is a summer escape filled with close-knit friends, dance nights, skits, scary stories, unique traditions, and outdoor adventures. Essentially, most return campers cannot deny camp life is plain and simple: real fun.
Similarly, after an Outward Bound course, graduates attempt to explain the “magic” they experienced to outsiders unfamiliar with the program. They may not understand the day you bush-wacked through the woods with a canoe on your shoulders or the completion of your first 100 rod portage dressed as a pirate.
So now you might ask, “How is Outward Bound different than summer camp?” Although both summer camp and Outward Bound share this unexplainable “magic”, the ultimate difference is Outward Bound is an expedition where learning comes from challenge and self-discovery. Many instructors like to preface their course with a quote that sums this difference up quite nicely: “Outward Bound is going to be real, fun, but not real fun”.
So, Outward Bound is not going to be really fun? Fortunately, every day will not be filled with sunshine, constant laughter, guitar playing, flying Frisbees, friendship bracelets, home baked brownies, water balloon fights, and dunks in the lake. However, some days we might take dips in the lake, laugh until we fall to the ground, celebrate success with a handmade p-cord bracelet, or cook brownies in a coal fire, but we do not have the capacity for as many fun stimulants to satiate our needs or the accessibility of a dinning hall to chow down on home baked brownies prepped by a camp chef. This is the beauty of an Outward Bound course.
On an expedition, students start to learn the meaning of self-dependency, which is not always “real fun” if the brownies baking in the fire do not go over well because it is pouring rain outside.
Outward Bound brings people into an environment out of their comfort zone, removed from materialisms and technologies to reach a more “real” human experience with our physical and psychological needs. The environment naturally brings students one step closer to this “magic”.
Now, achieving this “magic” is where “real” meets “fun”—this is up to each expedition member to accomplish. This first challenge is mastering how to physically live outside for 22 days, which is a competency learned from experienced instructors. However, the next challenge is how to fulfill psychological needs with without luxuries of games on Xbox, comfort from family and friends, the freedom of a personal bedroom, or the power to walk inside that cozy camp cabin when conditions are unfavorable outside. At Outward Bound, the learning environment can teach students they have the choice to control their actions and how to problem solve with their own attitude, which is where the “magic” can happen.
An Outward Bound expedition is an opportunity for leadership. At summer camp, not every camper is going to get the opportunity to direct communication, decision-making, or conflict resolution, which typically a counselor or director is going to accomplish. Outward Bound empowers and guides individuals to problem solve so they can feel the natural outcomes of their own decisions and what it means to work as a team. Within each group, there is a safe environment for exposure, tolerance, and acceptance; there is opportunity to spend a significant amount of time among people with diverse backgrounds who initially may be stereotyped and passed off getting to know, which may often occur with larger numbers at camp.
These are the experiences and lessons that the wilderness can provide a template for and Outward Bound can facilitate growth among our learning outcomes: character development, leadership and service. This is what makes Outward Bound more than just a really fun summer camp.
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