Read a firsthand account of the Outward Bound Intercept program from a recent graduate of the 50-day Intercept Boundary Waters Semester expedition. Zak takes us through his experience, highlights what he learned and what he will take away moving forward.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 here.
Communication and Team Building
One of the biggest ways I grew on this course was how I communicate. At the start, assertive communication and active listening were the two communication skills our group struggled with the most. In general, we were a very passive and passive aggressive group. Whenever a problem came up we would either push it down or make a snarky remark about it. We would talk to others about problems, but not to the person we had a problem with.
We learned about all about assertive communication, which is being able to calmly and respectfully address a situation, whether it is good or bad, and state your point or address your problem while respecting others and their beliefs. Our group really struggled with that. We would let problems come and go and not address them. We would mumble to ourselves just enough that people knew there was a problem, but not enough for them to know what it was. We didn’t exactly learn tips on how to be less passive aggressive, we just always got called out. In the beginning the Instructors would always call us out whenever we were being passive aggressive. We were with them for 50 days so we got it a lot. Over the first 28 days it slowly got imprinted in our minds that if we were being passive aggressive we would be called out and be forced to say the problem, so we just started being assertive. Instead of getting called out, we just said what was on our minds.
The funniest thing happened. Closer to day 33 and on, we started calling each other out. The Instructors stepped back, but we didn’t. We kept each other in check. And it’s not like we enjoyed doing it or did it to make the person angry, we did it because it felt like it was what we had to do. When we noticed that someone was being passive aggressive, our impulse was to tell them so they could be assertive. We came to Outward Bound a group of passive aggressive misfits, but left being more assertive than we ever thought was possible. We didn’t have to try to remember to be assertive, or need to be reminded to be assertive. It was natural for us by the end.
The other big communication skill our group really struggled with was active listening. We would always find ourselves talking over one another; everyone always tried getting their point in. Around day 11, our Instructors told us that we needed to work on actively listening. From that point on, if anyone wasn’t actively listening, they would instantly be called out on it. Whether our expedition leader was trying to talk and someone tried talking over him, or if someone had their eyes covered during family meetings, that phrase always came up. The group started calling each other out when we weren’t actively listening. As the course progressed, we had to actively listen because that’s we’ve been learning, but also because we didn’t like when people weren’t listening.
After learning all of this on our course, if someone says something to me, I don’t discount it. I listen and take it in. If it doesn’t apply, I let it fly. I even find that if I make an excuse, I recognize it and say outloud, “that was an excuse.” I am able to understand when I am making excuses and also how to hear something without needing to give a reason or an excuse in response.
Environmental Practices and Safety Awareness
Leave No Trace (LNT) practices while out on our course was hard. We focused a lot of energy on it, and had to do several sweeps of our campsites before we could leave. For most of my group it was just an annoyance from the beginning to the end, but I actually started caring about it. I started picking up others’ trash without saying anything to them. I started picking up trash I found while out there that wasn’t even ours. Even when I came back to normal life I kept that habit. When we first met our parents for our family conference at the end of our course, I found myself picking up crumbs that I was dropping because while out on expedition, we couldn’t drop crumbs. It taught me to respect the land, to care about it not just for myself but for others who want to enjoy it.
Along with LNT, it was a challenge to focus on my safety while out there. Throughout the whole trip we passed so many perfect spots to climb. There were so many opportunities to jump over caverns and go rock jumping. I had to learn that my safety mattered. The phrase that came up a lot when I had those thoughts was “expedition mentality.” We had to remember that we were on an expedition and not only do the others rely on you, but you also have no easy fix to feel better out there. Any way that you might hurt yourself, you have to live with. Expedition mentality was such a big deal to think about. There were a lot of moments where I wanted to do crazy things that I would do back home, and even if I knew I could do it, I didn’t. I understood that anything can happen, anything can go wrong, and I couldn’t take those chances. My group members also highly relied on me. They went to me when they needed something done or when they weren’t feeling well. But if I had gotten hurt and had to leave, they wouldn’t have me. And I loved being there for them. I felt needed, so I did my best to focus on expedition mentality.
Self Growth and Service
I think when it comes to self growth, I grew way more than I even thought possible. I’ve always had compassion for others. I’ve always been there for people. But I never knew how little I was actually doing until I went out on this expedition. When I was out there I gave so much compassion to the others in my group. I was so helpful. In the beginning I only did exactly what I was told, then would do more if I was told to do it. Close to the middle of the course I started to finish what I was told to do, and then would ask others if they needed help. I also never said no if someone needed my help. Near the end, I started automatically helping people when I was done. I would finish my job and just pick up other jobs that needed to be done. I went over to others and instead of asking what I could do, I saw what wasn’t done and did it for them.
The area that I really grew in was doing stuff immediately. It wasn’t exactly something we were taught to do, but something we had to do. If we didn’t do things right away, things would fall through the cracks or we would get in trouble, so I started doing things right away. If I was setting something up in camp and one of my group members asked for my help, I would stop what I was doing to help them, then go back and finish whatever I was doing. I really saw this come true in the real world after the course. A specific example happened last week. I was in my room listening to music and my grandma needed my help to move a big chest, and I really didn’t want to do it. It didn’t sound like fun and I was doing my own thing, but she couldn’t do it by herself and needed me. Instead of saying no or “I’ll do it later,” I did it right away. I first replied with, “Sure, let’s do it at…” and was going to give her a time we could do it, but I caught myself and said, “Actually, let’s do it right now.” Before Outward Bound I wouldn’t have done this task right away and would’ve tried putting it off as much as possible. If it has to be done, it’s better to do it right away.
This program was an unforgettable experience because of everything I learned about myself and about life in general, and I would recommend this program to anyone who needs it. I remember something that Mr. Phish said, “One good act, no matter how small, leads to more and more good actions.” Attending this course was my first good action that will lead to so many more.
Do you want to learn more about the Intercept program or the Intercept Boundary Waters Semester?