The secondary staff and students travelling back to us as I write are very much in my thoughts and I will be a happier and more relaxed School Director when they are all safely returned. Travelling, especially in Africa, carries its risks, as we all know, and so too do activities like sailing, high ropes, kayaking and hiking. That said, I place immense value on the Outdoor Education Week experiences that our children have just had. Check your children carefully when they return; they will be a little grubbier and perhaps sport the odd bump or bite or bruise. They will certainly be tired. But if you look a little more closely over the course of the next few days, you will begin to notice a far more subtle but much more important change. The difference will be almost intangible, certainly difficult to articulate, but somehow, perhaps only slightly (yet still noticeably) they will be more mature, even, dare I say, a little wiser.
How this happens is difficult to pin down. We have refined these trips over the course of several years now and we know that the blend of activities and experiences that they contain will have this effect; we just aren’t entirely sure how it happens!
Is it that…
- so many of the activities involve teamwork and collaboration?
- students will have been stretched beyond their comfort zones to show courage and resilience?
- students will have to take greater responsibility for themselves than perhaps they normally do?
- students’ eyes have been opened to some of the hardships faced by people living in much less affluent conditions than they normally see?
- students develop a new-found respect for some of their peers who have flourished on the trip in a way that a normal school experience doesn’t usually allow them to? (There’s food for thought!)
- students have been humbled by the sheer scale, ruthlessness and grandeur of the natural world around them
This last is perhaps the most esoteric but, in a happy coincidence, I notice that today marks exactly 163 years since David Livingstone become the first European to set eyes on what he promptly named Victoria Falls. I wonder how he felt; I suspect he would have found whatever it was very difficult to articulate.
Being in nature has a wonderful way of humbling us, of grounding us. Indeed the word “humble” comes from the Latin origin “humus”- meaning “earth”, as I think I have shared here before. Our self-consciousness, our sense of self-identity is what sets us apart as a race. We have the ability to be self-aware, self-critical, reflective and metacognitive, all wonderful attributes that have brought us to the top of the evolutionary tree. But we can also be self-absorbed, self-obsessed, if you like, selfish. Nature has a great way of helping us to escape for a while our own personal narrative and set aside our ambitions and avarices, our regrets and resentments, our schemes and our skepticisms…and just be. When we return from these experiences, we often talk of feeling more relaxed; we notice that we are more patient, more phlegmatic, even, perhaps, a little kinder; there is a sense of things being back in perspective of feeling better-balanced. And though with time this will fade, we are left, I would contend, a little wiser.