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Outdoor leadership expeditions for young adults, like Outward Bound and others, are expensive and elite. But I am wondering if they are effective? Do they accomplish their goals of elevating kids' "leadership" and living skills? Does anyone have experiences of either going through these themselves, or sending their kids through one? And if so, is there is much difference between the programs? I'd prefer to hear from those with experience, rather than from those who have an opinion but no experience.

asked Jan 22 '13 at 14:15

Kevin%20Kelly's gravatar image

Kevin Kelly
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I completed two month-long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) courses when I was a young adult - an Alaska kayaking trip when I was a rising high school senior, and a mountaineering course in British Columbia two years later during college. Both were challenging in different ways, but the experiences, and what I learned about myself in the midst of them, have stayed with me all my life. Those 30 day trips in the wilderness really allowed each of us in the group to see facets of our true selves that are less obvious (or buried deep) when one is back in society, and gave us each many opportunities to deal with those issues in different ways, both introspectively and as a group (some were more aware or willing to confront these issues than others, but that's part of what leadership training is all about). I learned a great deal about self-responsibility, teamwork and patience/tenacity, not because these things were 'taught' but because if I didn't motivate myself to step-up in these areas, tentmates may not get dinner before night fell, sleeping bags could get wet, the safety of the group could be at risk...the list goes on. Those are skills I continue to lean on now as a 42 year old. Those trips aren't cheap, I was fortunate that my parents had the resources to send me on them. I don't know if that makes me 'elite' but I definitely count them as transformative experiences and well worth the investment. I hope my kid is interested in going on one someday. One other note: in both cases I was one of the younger folks on the trips, most people were in their twenties or early thirties and there was a couple of people in their 40s and 50s. I always felt conscious of my age relative to the others, but I don't know if that was necessarily a bad thing. NOLS now offers age-specific courses as well, but I think I gained a lot by interacting (and work as an equal with) people older than I.

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answered Jan 23 '13 at 08:18

mrgripe's gravatar image

mrgripe
136

I did a NOLS mountaineering course in the summer of 1988 at age 20 - one of the very best things I ever did. NOLS (unlike Outward Bound and other schools which are oriented-towards 'troubled' kids) doesn't set up artificial challenges; the belief is that surviving & thriving in the wilderness is challenge enough. It's a very skills-oriented program, with judgement being the skill that's emphasized above all others. Yes, you learn no-trace camping, cooking, hiking, map-reading, rock & ice climbing, wilderness medicine, etc., but learning how to develop and rely-on your own judgement underlies it all. I've used something from my NOLS days pretty much every day since then. I don't want to sound too gushing, but I have nothing but good things to say about NOLS. The trips aren't cheap, but they are an amazing value for the quality of instruction, gear & course locations - plus student aid is available. I've since taken a Wilderness First Responder class from WMI, the NOLS spin-off devoted to wilderness medicine (also a great organization). I suppose the biggest caveat is that you or your kid needs to be open to the experience & physically prepared for some serious outdoor travel.

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answered Jan 23 '13 at 11:40

Brooklynite's gravatar image

Brooklynite
16

I have attended both a RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award) camp and Outward Bound. Depending on your knowledge and life experience, these courses may teach new skills and show you things about yourself that you haven't seen before. However I am not sure that the courses have an real long time impact. At the time of the course when you are all gung-ho and surrounded by people who are feeling the same, it seems like you can take on the world, but when you get back to your usual life and that support network has gone it is much harder to keep up the momentum. The idea of the founder of Outward Bound was that he had 'noticed' people how had previously triumphed over adversity had a much better survival rate in situations such as shipwrecks. He figured then if people were artificially but through adversity (walking long distances and camping under bits of plastic) it would make them more resilient. I don't know his original premise has been statistically proven or if anyone has studied the effectiveness of the subsequent programs, The quality of the facilitators plays a big factor. On the Outward Bound course I went on, I already had experience in all of the activities (rafting, bushwalking, abseiling) and was familiar with all of the psychological theories they were working with, to the extent that on the last day I managed to convince the leader that I was a 'mystery shopper' sent from head office to spy on them. I didn't get that much from the 'experience' but it was a pleasant 7 day walk in a part of the world I hadn't been before.

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answered Jan 22 '13 at 16:32

AlternateRoute's gravatar image

AlternateRoute
1

When I was 14, I was a fat kid. I actually wasn't fat (looking at pictures, I was pretty attractive), but I had no self-worth, I was a little suicidal (meaning I thought about it but didn't take any action), my grades were slipping, and I was extremely introverted. My mom scrounged and saved for me to go on a 21-day Outward Bound course. I knew about it, but I thought it was just camping. I didn't know what I was getting into.

I mention the scrounging and saving because I didn't really get the sense that it was elite, per se. I mean, the other kids were largely white, but I didn't think that they were mostly rich. I think that most of them had parents that were at the end of whatever rope they had and saw this as something effective.

For me, it worked wonders. I look at it as the turning point of my life, where I started to become who I am now (a decent guy). This despite being one of the single worst experiences of my life. Most of the kids were boys, and most of those had issues with violence. I was "lucky" enough to be placed in the group with equal girls and boys, all of whom (save me) were there for drug abuse reasons. It was nice enough for two weeks. The staff couldn't keep anyone there against their will, and several kids immediately bailed or bailed at the 1-week resupply. I was consistently at the back, couldn't keep up, couldn't really help set up camp, had no skills that anyone needed. But the other kids were generally nice and positive. It got a lot worse in the last week; they randomized the groups, and I was placed with some really mean, bigger kids.

I got through it, though, and it did have the intended impact; it made other challenges seem petty and made me much better at relating to other people.

I kinda doubt it worked for ANYONE else. The violent kids were around other violent kids, and had their violent tendencies reinforced. The drug abusers found others that shared their passions for drugs. That much I know. But I didn't keep in touch with any of them. Maybe they had the same epiphanies that I had, that life was difficult but not as difficult as it seemed.

So I don't know if Outward Bound works, but it worked for me.

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answered Jan 22 '13 at 19:46

okinopolytrans's gravatar image

okinopolytrans
1

At 13 I did a 3 week canoe trip from Lynx Camp on Raquette Lake, NY. The trip was actually in central Quebec, on Lac Parent and surrounding area. Lynx camp was a great camp, but tough, tough tough. The head of the camp, George Linck was a gym instructor at West Point, and two of his sons were our counselors. We paddled long miles, portaged and dragged up rapids until exhausted. We carried food, and also ate results of our hunting (mostly rabbit), as well as providing blood for countless mosquitos, black, deer and horse flies. The best part was the gut-check self confidence I gained by the experience. It sounds cliche, but I gained an attitude of "you cannot be defeated if you don't stop until you win", that formed a basic part of my adult personality. The process wasn't pretty, but I couldn't be more grateful to the Lincks (and my parents for sending me) for the experience. Short answer, it may depend on the person, but yes.

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answered Jan 22 '13 at 21:14

BartonPayne's gravatar image

BartonPayne
1

I completed two month-long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) courses when I was a young adult - an Alaska kayaking trip when I was a rising high school senior, and a mountaineering course in British Columbia two years later during college. Both were challenging in different ways, but the experiences, and what I learned about myself in the midst of them, have stayed with me all my life. Those 30 day trips in the wilderness really allowed each of us in the group to see facets of our true selves that are less obvious (or buried deep) when one is back in society, and gave us each many opportunities to deal with those issues in different ways, both introspectively and as a group (some were more aware or willing to confront these issues than others, but that's part of what leadership training is all about). I learned a great deal about self-responsibility, teamwork and patience/tenacity, not because these things were 'taught' but because if I didn't motivate myself to step-up in these areas, tentmates may not get dinner before night fell, sleeping bags could get wet, the safety of the group could be at risk...the list goes on. Those are skills I continue to lean on now as a 42 year old. Those trips aren't cheap, I was fortunate that my parents had the resources to send me on them. I don't know if that makes me 'elite' but I definitely count them as transformative experiences and well worth the investment. I hope my kid is interested in going on one someday. One other note: in both cases I was one of the younger folks on the trips, most people were in their twenties or early thirties and there was a couple of people in their 40s and 50s. I always felt conscious of my age relative to the others, but I don't know if that was necessarily a bad thing. NOLS now offers age-specific courses as well, but I think I gained a lot by interacting (and work as an equal with) people older than I.

link

answered Jan 23 '13 at 08:19

mrgripe's gravatar image

mrgripe
136

I helped Mike and Helen Cottingham start a program called Wilderness Ventures in the 70's. http://www.wildernessventures.com/ Then, we took groups of teens into the Rockies and Northwest for 9 weeks of intensive wilderness camping, climbing and rafting. The idea was to turn our beautiful parks and forest land into a different sort of classroom to explore ecology, naturalism, geology, astronomy, etc. and to foster personal independence thru simple things like planning, carrying and cooking meals in small groups of four. Many teens have never been responsible for feeding themselves and gaining this basic skill is transformative. Hiking over Red Pass in the North Cascades or standing on top of Mt Rainier is a challenge that stays with one for the rest of your life. Ultimately the social skills learned through living in the wild in an interdependent group without electronic entertainment may be it's greatest asset. For years I received letters from students and parents on how that summer changed their lives. My involvement was early and Mike and Helen Cottingham have continued to improve this program with intelligence and care for four decades. Don't miss looking into this one!

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answered Jan 23 '13 at 09:53

menglert's gravatar image

menglert
1

I attended Outward Bound in Scotland in 1964 at age twenty and consider the month-long learning experience one of the most important of my life. Two things contributed to this, I think, both of which started with my own motivation going into the course. One, I had read about Outward Bound when I was twelve and made attending one of the courses as soon as I could a major goal. Two, I worked to save the money and paid my own way. When I arrived at the Moray School, I quickly discovered that I was the only one among the seventy-two participants who had chosen to be there and the only one who had paid his own way. I found that these two factors gave me an enormous incentive to maximize the value of each day's activities and challenges. So, I was a 50-50 partner in creating the Outward Bound experience. It was the first time that I had applied this approach to such a major experience in my life, and it has framed everything that I have done since then.

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answered Jan 23 '13 at 14:43

Dan%20Sullivan's gravatar image

Dan Sullivan
1

edited Jan 23 '13 at 14:45

The Conscious Use of Metaphor in Outward Bound should be required reading on this topic.

Anyhow, back to your question. "Depends" -- on what you mean by "works," what you mean by "Outward Bound type programs." But all that aside, yes-ish, I would say. I did 3 week course in high school and a semester course in college. The semester course was largely for me to figure out what I had been through in the 3 week course, repetition compulsion style.

Some double-edge sword things I learned: to endure, to work, to be compulsively organized (lost my cap for my water bottle 1.5 weeks in to 3 weeks in the wilderness; I'll never do anything like that again). Fairly good qualities to hone, but with too much an edge of harshness and self- and other-punitiveness to them.

Some just really good things I learned: to have a really deep respect and love for the Wild. Nothing I can fault in that.

I think Outward Bound needs more fun and warmth to it. Kurt Hahn's (OB creator) prototype for Outward Bound was sailors stranded in a lifeboat off a bombed ship for a few weeks or so. Ouch.

I don't think I'll send my kids to Outward Bound per se. There are many programs that take the OB program and do something more humane with it, like a program at our local summer camp. My 14 year-old is going there this summer. I hope she learns some about work and organization and endurance, and has a lot of fun and makes new friends, not Comrades.

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answered Jan 25 '13 at 21:12

see%20kay's gravatar image

see kay
1

Just a comment about cost, having considered an Outward Bound or NOLS both for myself or my kids. Haven't bit the bullet yet, but it hasn't been about cost. Best as I can tell, they're on par with other various experiential/training programs. Added bonus with NOLS (I don't think with Outward Bound) is that many of their courses can carry college credit.

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answered Jan 26 '13 at 13:49

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Marktropolis
1

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Asked: Jan 22 '13 at 14:15

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Last updated: Jan 28 '13 at 09:30

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