Having no access to technology. Waking up underneath a blanket of snow. Reading a rapid and deciding whether it was safe to paddle. Fending off racoons in the middle of the night. Finding where you are with only a topographic map and a compass. Taking a shower every two weeks. Learning how to treat an open pneumothorax. Spending seven weeks with strangers that would become family. Crying, smiling, and laughing harder than I ever have. Eating A LOT of dehydrated hummus. I never thought that this would be such an integral part of my time at NC State. In many ways, this experience was the greatest education tool I have received since attending school.

This past fall, I had spent too much time learning about the outdoors by sitting in front of a screen surrounded by the four walls of my bedroom; I knew that I needed a change. I decided to swap out my laptop and Zoom for hiking boots and a sleeping bag. I signed up for a 50 day Outdoor Educator Outward Bound course in Texas where I would be backpacking, whitewater canoeing, and learning about how to be a better leader. For me, there was no better way to learn about parks, recreation, and tourism than to experience it first hand.

Once on the course, my group and I were immediately thrown into lessons about how to make dehydrated vegetables taste good, why it’s important to always know the location of the group trowel, and what good communication looks like. We all learned a lot about the technical skills of being in the outdoors, as well as how to achieve physical and emotional safety in a group. As we developed these skills, we were given increasing independence and autonomy that would prepare us for our final challenge.

When my group was gearing up for our last two weeks, our instructors introduced the concept of independent final. For independent final, our group was responsible for planning our route, food plan, and day to day structure. In the field, we were solely reliant on each other and the resources we were provided. One of our instructors told us, “We will let you flounder.” And flounder we did. We got lost, experienced group tension, and encountered physical pain. That didn’t mean that we gave up, though. Getting lost meant that we pulled out our maps and compasses, reevaluated where we were and where we needed to go. Experiencing group tension meant we sat down as a group and used our communication skills to have a compassionate and productive conversation. Encountering physical pain meant we used our Wilderness First Aid knowledge to treat the problem. The tools that we had learned and practiced for the previous five weeks allowed all of us to face all of these challenges, and more, head on. It was in this ability to see failure as an opportunity for growth that allowed me to learn so much about myself and what it means to be a leader in the outdoors.