Emily Balog: Finding Happiness Outdoors

Growing up in Colorado, sophomore Emily Balog was never a stranger to the outdoors. After joining the Outdoor Education (OE) community, Balog’s love for the outdoors has flourished even more.
“Growing up as the daughter of a 40 year [old] mountaineer I think not being outdoors was never really an option for me. My earliest memory is my dad putting me on my first pair of skis on the bunny hill of the mountain near my house as a kid, tying one of his old climbing ropes around me and just me sending it straight down the hill. Definitely one of those core memories.”
Even though Balog considers the outdoors her happy place, joining OE was not on her radar during her first year at Colgate, partly because of the restrictions the university faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Balog did participate in the Wilderness Adventure (WA) program.
“I had signed up for [a traditional] WA and then it was a virtual yoga class. … Some people did Zoom cooking classes and stuff with OE leaders but I wound up with the yoga one, which was so bizarre but so fun. … And I’m still really good friends with a couple of people I met on that ‘trip.’”
Balog ended up joining OE the following year after going through the application and interview process for becoming an Outdoors Education leader.
“I figured out how to do college as a freshman, and then I came back in the fall to find something new and have that happy place again with a community of like-minded people who also really enjoy just being outside and being present in the outdoors. That’s really what drew me to OE in the end.”
One element of OE that Balog stressed was time management. Even while going on five day-long canoe trips, as Balog explained, the motto still stood: “The work always gets done.”
“I think being in OE helped me find that balance between the academic and the social; and that was cathartic group bonding time that I didn’t realize how much I needed, especially [because] high school stress is very different from college stress and figuring out that new balance by having OE is something integral. … I feel like my mental health has been a lot better this year compared to last year because I have that consistent outdoor exposure, which has been really nice.”
Balog talked about the tapestry of OE, how the organization ranges from people with little exposure to the outdoors to expert mountaineers, and how this diversity of experience adds to the overall community of OE.
“I admire everyone in OE, especially the people who know what they want. They know what they’re good at, and they love it. Just like I love being able to do activities with them and sharing their passion … I can still have fun because they’re having so much fun. We were trained to share that love of the outdoors with others.”
Balog’s own specialties surround the winter activities, focusing on sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing. But there are always new things to learn while in OE — Balog learned how to snowboard this past winter.
She delved into how nice it has been to be under the wing of the OE community.
“It’s been really nice to know that, while I might not have ever interacted besides, ‘Oh hi, what’s your name? My name is Emily,’ I know that because I’m in OE, other people always have my back. … Even if we don’t all share the exact same interest all the time we can still hang out with each other and have fun. And it doesn’t matter that we’ve never really talked to each other, it’s just easy to talk to each other because we have this commonality of OE.”