Outdoor Education Broadens Its Horizons

There is something to be said about a liberal arts education: the way we enter with far more unknown entities than known ones, with advisors and programs and shadow opportunities and seminars all designed to slowly reveal unknowns along the way. If I have learned anything over the past few years, it is the concept of experiential learning outside of a four-walled classroom.

I spent last semester abroad with the Geneva study group, returned to the US for 24 hours and set out on a trip to paddle the Southern Coast of Newfoundland – or as much as was possible in just over two weeks -with nine members of the Outdoor Education staff and an alum.

We covered nearly 200 km in that time, under human power, stopping in resettled fishing towns to speak with and interview the locals who stayed behind despite the lack of electricity or infrastructure. In some places, like the Petites, we walked among the overgrown pathways, peered in houses sliding off the rocky cliffs into the ocean. Without the Shaw Wellness Institute and the Outdoor Education program, we would not have otherwise had the opportunity to take on a trip of this magnitude.

This opportunity so profoundly shifted how I viewed the role of Outdoor Education and the opportunities that give students the chance to step away from campus, that I submitted a short video as part of a $10,000 grant process. Colgate made it to the finals of the Polartec Made Possible Challenge, and as the smallest of the schools in the final four, we are working hard to make sure that others can have this experience with the support of the grant. Votes for our entry can be submitted every day until December 14 on Facebook at http://bit.ly/oemadeposs. It is easy to become consumed by the prospect of experiencing everything a place has to offer. As students, we’re over-involved; while studying abroad, I made sure to travel to no fewer than 15 countries. For the first time, I set out with a different goal, not to understand everything or to see everything, but to understand just a little bit about a few things.

More significant than the scenery we took in, whether by kayak or ferry, was the realization that this was a place where people used to live before government resettling programs. The few remaining people we met were hardy, open and incredibly willing to share their stories and relive the past. The people we met, like Joe (termed a national treasure by many and a hallmark of the difficult-to-understand Newfie accent), Jerry, Elaine and the residents of Ramea were our professors. During our two weeks we filmed hours of video, including interviews with the locals we met along the way, highlighting the glory days of the past, the fishing industry (and its subsequent collapse) as well as the future of the remote towns that still exist. We walked the halls of an island school, run by a former student, facing a declining student population so small that within 10 years no school is likely to exist at all.

This was cultural immersion of the most intimate kind; we were not traveling solely as tourists, or as people seeking to provide relief or change how people lived, we merely listened, asked questions and sampled some of the freshest lobster and scallops I have

ever tasted.

For me, it will always be too early to talk about graduating from Colgate in the spring, but this will always stand out as one of the most transformative of my experiences here, among a list of many. If anything, this experience supports what I hoped to gain from my time at Colgate: the ability to know where I want to go, and the skills to get there, no matter how windy, tedious or physically and mentally draining the path. 

Contact David Esber at [email protected]