Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.-Robert Frost
Oregon Instructor Development alum Alisa Koyama was not born into the field of outdoor education. She did not pursue a degree in environmental science or spend summers sleeping under the stars. Rather, as the daughter of a farmer in historic Kyoto, Japan, Alisa’s outdoor experience was more agricultural than technical. With a Bachelors degree in Psychology and a minor in Education, Alisa never expected she would someday lead wilderness expeditions as an accomplished Outward Bound Instructor.
Approaching Psychology with Outdoor Education
Alisa’s Outward Bound journey began shortly after graduation from McGill University. While investigating graduate psychology programs, Alisa found herself questioning the clinical nature of her field. “I felt there had to be other ways of working with people,” Alisa explains. “I was curious about wilderness therapy, so I started to research Outward Bound. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a long-term profession, but the 50-Day Oregon Instructor Development Course seemed like a good fit for the gap between my undergraduate and graduate degrees.”
Although Alisa had limited experience with expedition-style wilderness travel, she was eager to give it a try. With friends and family in Tacoma and Portland, the Northwest seemed like a convenient, familiar place. Plus, the Oregon Instructor Course offered a varied itinerary of exciting elements, activities and stunning wild places. Most importantly, the course would give Alisa the opportunity to earn her Wilderness First Responder certification – an essential requirement for any outdoor professional.
No Experience Necessary
Alisa was nervous to embark on her 50-day journey. “I knew I would be fit enough,” Alisa remembers. “But I was anxious about the technical elements. My lack of technical skills was the most intimidating.” When Alisa finally met her crew, she realized that each person in the group possessed their own skill set – both technical and interpersonal. “On an Outward Bound course, everyone starts at zero- as a group,” Alisa explains.
Even though they all come into the experience with different skill levels, ultimately they all grow together. Even if I didn’t have the strongest technical skills at the beginning, I found ways to bring something to the group.
“Rock climbing was the biggest gap,” Alisa remembers. “Most people had rock climbed before. We were doing extreme technical climbs, and I struggled. Now I’ve had so much more experience, I really love it. But at that moment I couldn’t move up the wall. Rock climbing was a whole new language –and I was just beginning to learn it.” But for Alisa, that discomfort – that act of getting out of her comfort zone – was what made her course meaningful.
During every new element, I was starting a new cycle of self-discovery – getting uncomfortable again, and then improving, and then mastering the skill. If that didn’t happen, I would have been getting bored. And not learning.
A Focus on Teaching
As Alisa struggled to conquer her own challenges, she also began to appreciate the struggles students might confront during a future Outward Bound expedition. Alisa says this aspect of her course – the focus on outdoor education– was especially rewarding. “It was fun to think how our Instructors were teaching it, how I would teach it, and how my crewmates would teach it,” Alisa explains.
We learned so much about compassion – and what that would mean to our students. The moments I remember most about that 50-day course are ones when people showed me compassion. I don’t remember how many miles we hiked, but in the midst of when everything is taken away, the real question becomes: will you be compassionate?
Looking back on her Oregon Instructor Development journey, Alisa says it didn’t feel like 50 days. “I felt like I belonged there. I felt comfortable.” Her solo in particular stands out as one of the most powerful moments she’s ever experienced.
As I’ve moved around a lot in the past few years, I often reflect on the photos of the mountains I climbed and the mountains I looked at during solo. These are impactful memories – and they help keep me grounded.
A Career in the Outdoors
After completing her Oregon Instructor course, Alisa earned the opportunity to instruct with Outward Bound California and with the at-risk-youth program at North Carolina Outward Bound. Recently, Alisa returned to Odin Falls basecamp to attend an annual Instructor training and she found herself back in the place where it all began. Alisa was immediately struck by how far she had come – and how meaningful her connection to that Oregon Instructor Development course really was. “Wow! That was me five years ago,” Alisa exclaims. “I was talking to one of my Instructors, and he was asking ME how student management skills training could be improved.”
As Alisa looks toward her future, she continues to ask herself: “What kind of profession can I go into to open my eyes up?” While working for Outward Bound, Alisa has been able to apply Outward Bound values, like a connection with nature, to social work. Her hope is to keep working to combine the world of social work and the outdoors.
I want to increase access to the wilderness and diversity in our programs, as I believe there can be a profound connection between social justice and environmental justice.
To learn more about the Oregon Instructor Development Course Alisa completed, visit the website or call 866.467.7651 to speak to an admissions advisor today. To see our rich selection of world-class Instructor courses, offered during every season and in a variety of geographical locations, go here.
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