Empirical and anecdotal data confirm* what Outward Bound suspected all along: the gap year experience is a powerful thing. Situated in that crucial period between high school and the freshman year of college, or between undergraduate and graduate degrees, Gap Year and Semester programs offer the unique opportunity to think deliberately about future plans; to develop self-sufficiency and confidence; to explore and re-focus career options, and to learn in a fresh, hands-on context.
But the gap year and corresponding benefits need not be limited to a slot between academic stints. In fact, a meaningful gap year can occur almost anywhere – at any time – for students and professionals alike. For Nadia Lubeznik, Outward Bound alum, Instructor and Voyageur Outward Bound School staff member, a 50-day Northwest Instructor Development course was more than a gap year experience; it changed the course of her life altogether.
From Heels and a Business Suit to a Backpack and Hiking Boots
At age 30, Nadia Lubeznik was a successful Chicago corporate event planner. She owned a home, had savings and a 401k, and was, by all accounts, moving in the direction of definitive “success.” However, when Nadia decided to trade heels and a business suit for hiking boots and a backpack for an 8-day Outward Bound Maine backpacking and canoeing trip, everything began to change. Nadia’s adult Outward Bound course took her into the heart of Maine’s most pristine wilderness areas – and served as a significant catalyst for major life changes.
During Nadia’s 8-day adult course, Outward Bound’s powerful learning framework resonated deep within her. “I can get behind this!” she remembers thinking.
“It’s not dogmatic. It’s not just ‘nature.’ They are teaching character development, leadership and compassion – and having intentional discussions about values. In modern society we don’t talk a lot about integrity and compassion. But on an Outward Bound course, values like integrity, excellence, inclusion, and compassion are the focal point. We ask ourselves: what are we doing? Why?”
“I chose an Outward Bound course because I wanted to bolster those human skills – that’s what I needed for the world at large. My Outward Bound course was an igniting experience. I felt so alive!”
After just 8 days learning and living by Outward Bound values and design principles, Nadia says she just had one question: “What do I need to do to work for Outward Bound?”
“I was so hungry for more of the experience,” Nadia explains. “I spoke with Outward Bound’s HR department, and they told me the 50-day Odin Falls Instructor course was the next logical step. I didn’t care what the element would be – I just wanted to get the skills. It was serendipitous that I ended up on the course I did.”
An Outward Bound Transformation
Nadia returned home to Chicago and put her belongings in storage. And then, without knowing whether her absence would be six months or several years, she embarked on a 50-day Instructor Development course in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.
“Talk about a gap year!” Nadia exclaims. “I was foregoing my job – with no guarantee of ever getting it back. My biggest fear about going on this course was that I was letting my friends and family down. I felt like I had been doing everything right up to this point, and that this choice would be disappointing. But, when the people around me were supportive of my choice, I felt a huge sense of relief. They understood I was doing what was right for me – and encouraged me to do it.”
50 Days in the Pacific Northwest
While Nadia’s 8-day course was “igniting,” her 50-day course took “feeling alive” to a whole new level. On her 50-day Instructor course, which occurred during springtime in the Central Cascades, Nadia went whitewater rafting, backpacking, mountaineering and rock climbing.
“We summited Mt Hood. We rafted 100 miles of the Deschutes River. We encountered snow, hail, and frozen wetsuits. We climbed at Smith Rock State Park. We spent time in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We hiked through spring snow in the Central Cascades,” Nadia recalls. “We got socked into the Three Sisters Wilderness for several days, basically going between our snow kitchen and our tents, with mini-lessons somewhere in between. On the third day, we woke up to a bluebird sky. It was our first chance to see South, Middle, and North Sister. There was just one wisp of a cloud connecting all three peaks. We felt like we were in a snow globe, tucked in with our snowed-in tent and snowed-in kitchen.”
“The urgency of life came flooding in. I felt so alive, so capable, so proud of myself. I realized there is so much out there. At age 31, the Instructor course opened my eyes to other paths and opportunities in life. I was trudging along one path – but enrolling on an Outward Bound course made my scope of the world and what I was capable of so much wider.”
“I realized that it’s okay to take a risk; the people in your life support you! My Outward Bound experience helped me become a more alive, more authentic version of myself.”
Instructor Development Outcomes
Although Nadia already had a good grasp of leadership and group management skills, a huge part of her learning was about compassion and empathy. “This course is designed specifically – and very intentionally – for aspiring outdoor educators,” Nadia explains. “You become quite deliberate about the way you are behaving. Even if you are a natural leader, in the wilderness, there are so many things beyond our control – it takes empathy and compassion to a different level.” Nadia says the challenge of working on these soft skills pushed her and shaped her. “I overcame more than I thought possible. I was paring myself down; digging deep.”
Nadia was surprised at the level of closeness that came to exist between herself, her Instructors and crewmates. “The biggest surprise was the family we created,” Nadia recalls. “The level of vulnerability and understanding, and the things that people ended up sharing. At the end of the day, I could truly count on the people in the group.”
A Re-Imagined Career Path
At the end of her 50-day journey, Nadia’s wish to work for Outward Bound became a reality. With a job offer as an Outward Bound logistics coordinator in Newry, Maine, Nadia found herself back in the place that had started it all. The highlight of that summer, Nadia remembers, was the chance to accompany an adult crew on an 8-day Maine backpacking and canoeing expedition – the same course she had embarked on one year before. But this time, she was an Assistant Instructor with expertise and self-assurance.
Six years later, Nadia has gone from corporate event planner in heels and suit to Outward Bound student, Instructor, and now Voyageur Outward Bound School admissions staff member. And with a fiancé who instructs for Voyageur Outward Bound School, Nadia has become a bona-fide member of the Outward Bound family. “But we don’t do highs and lows at the dinner table,” Nadia laughs. Nadia loves the chance to meet the students she speaks over the phone with when they arrive in person at base camp. “I am really invested in them,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed being able to meet a lot of the students.”
When we ask Nadia what she would say to a student considering a Gap Year, Pathfinder or Instructor course with Outward Bound, she doesn’t skip a beat.
“I would just shake people and say ‘you can’t even imagine! Just do it. Put your fears aside. Just trust. You won’t look back.’”
Whether you are a student looking for a life-changing Gap Year or Semester course, an adult seeking fresh perspective, or an outdoor educator hoping to take your career to the next level, Outward Bound has an expedition that is right for you.
To learn more about the Northwest Instructor Development course like the one Nadia completed, click here. To explore all of our Gap Year and Semester courses, visit: www.outwardbound.org/gap-year-semester-courses. For a comprehensive list of Instructor Development options, go here.
*Numerous studies have explored the benefits of Gap Year programs, many of which are detailed on the American Gap Association website, located here: http://www.americangap.org/data-benefits.php
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