For me personally, experiences with Outward Bound produced some of the very best memories of childhood and my early school years. It was the greatest! Being sent out into the wild with friends, forced to forage for one’s own food, camping under a starlit sky, not having to shower for days – it was every child’s dream!
The benefits of Outward Bound programs for young people today remain equally as invaluable as they were back in the 80s – perhaps even more so given the reality that “Nature Deficit Disorder” is suffered by so many young people today. “Nature Deficit Disorder” refers to the gradually worsening relationship between children and their environment and the impact it is having on their development. To drive the point home: the average eight-to-18-year-old American now spends more than 53 hours a week "using entertainment media" as opposed to spending time in the outdoors.
Depressing isn’t it?
But let’s return to Outward Bound and the way it could help deal with this phenomenon.
As an international, non-profit, independent outdoor-education organisation that accommodates over 200,000 students from over 40 schools worldwide every year, Outward Bound programs aim to foster the personal growth of young people by taking them on challenging, life-changing outdoor expeditions. Its mission is simple, if not ambitious: a more resilient and compassionate world, with more resilient and compassionate citizens.
The very first Outward Bound School was established in Wales back in 1941, with its founding mission simply to give young seagoing men the education they needed in order to survive the harsh, harrowing conditions out at sea. Confidence, perseverance, and tenacity were among the key ‘graduate’ attributes the program aimed to instil within students – and in that respect Outward Bound’s guiding mission has not changed over the years. Outward Bound schools around the globe continue to encourage individuals to test their emotional and physical limits in the great outdoors through challenging activities and task-based expeditions into the wild.
Each Outward Bound course is unique, offering Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, Youth Groups and even adults and corporate teams anywhere from 1 – 5 day customised programs tailored to specific needs. There are Adventure and Challenge programs, Eco and Sustainability courses, Leadership Skill-based programs – even programs catering to students who are Transitioning to Secondary School.
In a typical Outward Bound program, participants are divided into groups and spend the first few days preparing for expedition under the guidance of instructors, before venturing off into the wilderness where they are tested as decision-makers, navigators, group members and as team leaders.
In the natural environment, far away from modern amenities and distractions, young participants are taught transferrable, essential life skills, including:
- Setting and achieving goals
- Listening and communicating effectively
- Facing a challenge with determination
- Cooperation and collaboration
- Maintaining a positive outlook, even when things get tough
- Effective leadership skills
By strategically placing young people in new and confronting situations, where no food delivery app, service provider or gadget (beyond a compass, of course) can rescue or feed them, Outward Bound participants are forced to do things ‘the old-fashioned way’. Using basic survival skills, many of which are no longer taught in schools (much to the chagrin of survivor celebrity Bear Grylls who believes every education curriculum should include lessons on how to light a fire, tie a knot, use a penknife, build a raft, get on with people and learn effective leadership) students learn how to fend for themselves in wilderness situations.
Harnessing discomfort, it seems, makes young people better leaders.
LEARNING VALUABLE 'REAL WORLD' SKILLS
In this day and age, where schools have become places riddled are seeing many with anxious, depressed and stressed-out teens - programs like Outward Bound offer young people invaluable opportunities for life-altering experiences. Rather than having to deal with stresses induced by academic pressures, the pressures faced by Outward Bound participants are non-transparent, real-life survival scenarios for which there is usually only one solution.
Situations far less complex to deal with than problems typically faced by millennials, for example cyberbullying, body image issues or friendship struggles. By conquering these ‘real-life situations’, participants find themselves experience improved self-confidence and self-esteem, feelings that they otherwise mightn’t have felt in a very long time.
It is a liberating experience, being lead into the wilderness and having to master in a very short amount of time basic life skills in order to ensure survival. Just think about the last time you gained a new physical skill, such as how to administer First Aid, or how to change a car tyre, for example. Remember how you felt?
For some reason, the sense of accomplishment we feel when we master a physical skill which will one day either save us money or - better still - save a life; is the most empowering feeling of all. A feeling far greater than the feeling that of learning how to, say, edit the background graphics on a web page, or how to do algebra - although that leaves us feeling fairly smug too!
DOES IT WORK?
Former US President Jimmy Carter, former co-CEO of Goldman Sachs and US Deputy Secretary of State Candice Carpenter, as well as Forbes CEO Mike Perlis are just a few examples of ex-Outward Bounders. These individuals form part of a rapidly growing members-only club of Outward Bound alumni, who endured the hard yards and came out the other side, all the better for it.
So the proof is in the pudding, as they say!