You may be wondering, If your first course was so monumental and moving, can you recreate the experience a second time or even a third time? Maybe you’re worried those deep pockets of tenacity wouldn’t be accessible again. Maybe the challenges and discomforts that often come before sweet success are too much to endure. Maybe you learn everything you need to learn from one course. If these are the ideas rolling through your head, Max Margolius and yours truly are here to tell you our stories. We both took courses and came back for more – more challenge, adventure, friendships, skill-building – the list goes on.
I can tell you that my first experience as a student opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed. The information and flood of self discovery felt like drinking out of a fire hose. Going back for a second Outward Bound course gave me the opportunity to hone in on my leadership skills. When I went back for my third course, a Wilderness Leadership Expedition, I realized what it was to demonstrate mastery – a practice that’s always with me.
How the First Outward Bound Course Makes You Hungry for More
Max was 16 years old and had never gone camping before. He didn’t have any plans for the summer and when his Mom pitched the idea of taking a course, he wasn’t necessarily excited about it. But he kept an open mind. When I asked Max – who is in his 30’s now – what he thought it would be like, he responded, “I had no concept of what to expect. The things I ended up getting out of it; personal learning and growth, a sense of accomplishment – I had no idea those feelings existed yet.”
Max launched head-on into an adventure of a lifetime. He spent 30 days canoeing and backpacking in the North Woods of Maine where he said he learned what it was like to be part of a group. He said up until that point, he had never met people who were like his crew members. “They all lived very different lives than my own. They were different religions, came from different geographical places and had very different experiences than mine.” Interestingly, he also made note that he had never had a relationship with an adult in the capacity of an Instructor before. First he found it peculiar and unfamiliar, but then relished the relationship founded on mutual respect, trust and personal growth through challenge. He said he looked up to his Instructors because they guided the group through difficult conversations as they learned to communicate, to understand exciting technical skills and also held high the bar of respect. “I never saw them as intimidating authority figures, I saw them as adults I could have a friendship with, and they were always willing to listen.”
Max had the quintessential Outward Bound experience. There were bugs, group conflicts, long days, bad weather, unfamiliar diets, cravings for creature comforts, homesickness and physical rigors. But there were also dinner circles filled with laughter and satisfied bellies, nights of well-earned sleep and starry skies, newly forged friendships, and the deep sense of accomplishment with which he had never come toe-to-toe.
Photo taken on an Outward Bound course, courtesy of Trevor McKee.
Take Two: The Benefits of a Second or Third Outward Bound Course
A year later, at age 17, Max signed up to take another course in Manatoba, Canada. That time, he went whitewater canoeing for 28 days. When I interviewed Max over the phone, we laughed about how crazy it must have felt to, in a sense, sign up for more bug bites and discomfort with strangers. To this, he responded, “I couldn’t wait. The rest of my life felt mundane when coming back from my first course. Nothing felt nearly as gratifying or fulfilling. And I had this sense in the back of my head that I needed more time to fully master the skills I had learned on my first course.” When I heard Max say this to me over the phone, it took a lot of restraint not to chime in and steal his thunder to say, “Me too!” Like Max, after my first course it felt like I had just struck the tip of the iceberg.
Students who come back for a second course – whether it be an adult climbing and yoga course, teen backpacking or veterans course – all move into a realm of learning not accessible to first-timers. Think about it this way: All of the skills first-time students pick up are very fundamental, such as learning to set up a shelter, how to cook and stay warm at night, Leave No Trace principals, back-country hygiene, etc. On course, Instructors even teach students how to walk and talk effectively. If you have ever been part of a feedback circle or learned to kick steps on a snowy slope, you understand what I am trying to say. Imagine having these fundamental skills under your belt and getting the opportunity to have all of that mental bandwidth free for more advanced learning.
Max said that coming back as an alum meant his Instructors were more likely to put him into a leadership role. He said that he arrived with a greater sense of his own personal capacity. He knew he was capable of the basics and therefore he was able to look outside of his own needs. “Being a second-time student meant that I was able to be there for other people, and that exercise of service has always stuck with me.” Service and mastery of skills are values and tools built into the Outward Bound philosophy in order to create awesome human beings with their ears always tuned to the heartbeat of their communities. Max is now a doctoral student who insists that he thinks about craftsmanship (a fundamental Outward Bound teaching) every day.
Max also said that he enjoyed his second course more. “For some reason none of the physical stuff bothered me anymore because I guess I knew I could do it. I got more enjoyment out of it. Maybe because I made less mistakes and was able to teach my crew members all of the tricks.”
Go Outward Bound and Don’t Look Back
When I asked Max what his advice would be for anyone thinking about signing up for a second course, he quickly responded, “Go and don’t look back! You know, there’s no second time (in other words, each expedition is unique). Every time you go into the woods like that it will be a totally different experience with totally different people, and it’s impossible to end up the person you started out as.”
To browse upcoming courses that might fit your goals, schedule, and geographical desires, check out our course finder here, or call us at 866-467-7651. Thanks to generous donations from alumni, parents, corporations, foundations and others, Outward Bound’s network of regional schools provides financial aid and scholarships to more than 6,000 students each year. Students in potential need for financial assistance can learn more and apply for scholarships here.
You are needed. Go and don’t look back.
About the Author
Trevor McKee embodies and models the spirit of Outward Bound every day. As a three-time alumni, Instructor since 2009, and recent Course Advisor for the Northwest Outward Bound School, Trevor has served many sides of the school. He can often be found volunteering or running a chainsaw for his local trail crew. Trevor says he doesn’t feel fulfilled without incorporating service into his life. Trevor also believes in making Inclusion and Diversity a reality in his community. He and two close friends created and co-produce the Queer Adventure Storytelling series in Portland, Oregon. Trevor credits his pivotal experiences as a student for giving him the tenacity to pursue his dream of hiking from Mexico to Canada twice. He believes every person should have the opportunity to challenge themselves on an Outward Bound Course to realize they are capable of more than they ever thought possible.
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