By Cassandra Biette, Outdoor Educator Course, 2012
During the last few days of my 50-day semester course with Outward Bound, everyone kept telling us that we would never fully realize all that we had learned on course until we got home—days, months, maybe even years later. This made sense to me: of course I’d learned endless technical skills and leadership skills in the field, but I hadn’t had a chance to take them home and apply them yet, to see what it was that I truly learned.
I got home a few days later, and I was ready for the epiphany. I loved every moment of my gap year. I had packed in both a NOLS and an Outward Bound semester-long course and I was excited that even though it was done, I’d still be learning things. I was ready for the moment that I found out what that thing was that I learned that I’d never realized on course. I opened myself up, tried to let it in. But, in the end, it didn’t happen that summer, and in the fall I headed off to college.
My first year of college was a whirlwind of complicated feelings, endless reflection, and nostalgia about my gap year. I struggled to find meaning in my daily routines, still wishing that I was in the mountains or on the river where I had felt like I was living my best life. Whenever things at school got too hard, I reminded myself about all the things I had done on my gap year that were objectively harder: 3-day solo with little food? This was easier. Multi-pitch climbs? This was easier. My gap year memories were helping me cope with my adjustment to college, but I still hadn’t had that epiphany I’d been waiting for.
My sophomore year of college I got involved in my school’s Outing Club and ended up leading a spring break backpacking trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I pulled out my journals from my course and planned the perfect trip back to some of my favorite spots. While the trip was a blast, in the back of my mind I was secretly waiting for that moment when I would return to the top of Mount Mitchell at sunrise and finally have the epiphany I had been waiting for. As it turned out, we got a foot of snow, couldn’t make the summit at all, and I learned that even if I returned to the exact same place, I couldn’t relive an experience. I needed to move on.
Later on in college, I spent less and less time thinking about my gap year. But when I had to do a project on youth leadership my senior year, it all came rushing back as I recollected the importance of Outward Bound in my own leadership development. I wanted to find ways to give the high school girls I was working with, the same life-changing experience. I was searching for that one grain of truth, that one piece of knowledge that I felt I had learned after I returned home, but I still hadn’t pinned down exactly what it was.
I’ve worked a number of different jobs since I graduated from college, many of them drawing on my experiences I learned on my gap year. For a long time I thought I would come back to Outward Bound and be an instructor, but my path has taken me in a different direction. I now teach first grade in Massachusetts, and when I was asked to write about my experience on an Outward Bound semester course, I was still trying to figure out what that one thing I was supposed to have learn was. I wanted to be able to provide that piece of wisdom, that now, eight years later, I had learned.
I’m still looking, still wide open. Bring on that epiphany! But while I’m waiting, I’ll be using all the little things that I learned on my gap year every single day.