A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I’m taking a class called Outdoor Education. Our class does two field trips during the semester: our first was to Royal National Park, the second to the Blue Mountains. I wasn’t sure if any trip could top RNP but boy was I wrong. It was even more fun! My assignment post-trip is to blog about my experience. Welcome back to my blog, professor Ian Boyle!
Blogging as a Medium of Reflection:
Once this is posted, I will have written 11 blogs in total. If you guys haven’t noticed I love blogging! It takes a lot of dedication and planning but if you put the effort in, it’s a really fun way to look at what you did weeks or even months later. It provides a snapshot into where you were and how you were feeling at a certain point of time and helps students “contextualize their experience in terms of the relationship to those of their current personal, academic, and future professional life” (Dyement et al., 2011, p. 138). I can let a large audience know what I’m up to instead of individually telling all of my friends and family (which is time I could use studying). In addition, by looking back at previous posts, I can improve my next experience whatever it might be. Not only can I write about my experiences; I can also add media like photos and videos to enhance the viewing experience. Especially for students like me, blogging is a way of “providing students with multiple forms of capturing a moment […which] will most likely appeal to students with a wide variety of learning styles other than those most comfortable with writing” (Dyement et al., 2011, p. 140). However, there are some down sides to blogging. Because this post is going on the World Wide Web, none of this is private. Because I know my peers and educator are going to read this post, the article says I’m more likely to censor my content (Dyement et al., 2011, p. 141). Overall, I think that the technological benefits blogging provides outweighs the negative effects.
On the way to the Blue Mountains, I sat with my friend Niki. Here are our thoughts going into the weekend:
The first day was the “easiest” of the 3 days. We hiked down the mountain and then back up behind the Three Sisters. I did a similar hike to this with my study abroad group in July but this was so much more intimate because our group was only about 11-12 students each.
On this day, I was paired with Wayne’s group, which I was happy about because he had been my leader for the RNP trip. Along the way, he would give us little challenges that we could choose to complete or not. The first was “caving” which is crawling through this tight space between rocks. At first I was a little wary about crawling through the dirt but by the time I got through, I was covered head to toe in dirt and I didn’t care.
On our ascent, Wayne gave us another challenge: walk up the Giant Stairway (900 stairs!) with a mouthful of water. At first I thought the challenge was a joke, it seemed so easy. Spoiler alert: it’s HARD. The person behind me tried to make me laugh the whole time and by the time I got to the top, you couldn’t even call what was in my mouth water. It was warm saliva and Wayne dared me to swallow the saliva concoction. Needless to say it was so gross. Because I was focused on the challenge, it took my mind off of a task that may have seemed mundane and forced me to stay quiet and reflect instead when I might have spoken.
When we finished our hike, my 5 cabin-mates and I conquered the grocery store and bought food to last us for the next 3 days. When we arrived at our cabin, we found out that we had to make a fire to heat the cabin and start getting dinner ready. I took on dish duty and quickly learned that hot water was limited…while my roommate was taking a shower. I felt awful. From then on, we knew to keep hot water use to a minimum.
One of the really awesome things about this class is that it is made up of international students from all over the world. When we all sat down to for the campfire, Ian informed us that everyone would sing his or her national anthem. I heard everything from French, Bulgarian, German, and Swedish national anthems. When the Americans sang, it felt really special because we were all remembering September 11th. It was a really touching way to honor our country even from abroad. The rest of the night was spent playing campfire games.
Out of all the days, this day was the hardest and longest hike. On this day, we switched groups and leaders. This time, my leader was Joel. He’s a teacher from Wollongong and came along to help with the huge group numbers. Unlike Wayne, Joel was more of a “hands-off” leader and pushed us to answer our own questions. On this day, we were given a map and a compass and practiced orienteering. Along the trail, Joel would constantly ask us where on the map we were and in what direction we should go next.
As we were walking, Joel told us the next part of our descent was in the middle of a landslide that happened two years prior. It was the scariest part of the hike. There were rocks everywhere and where the trail had been was littered with massive boulders. Any rails or stairs that had been previously installed were bent. Our group constantly made sure that everyone was okay.
Along the way, our challenge was to identify different kinds of plants. We saw everything from ferns, to Mountain Devil’s, and narrow leaf geebungs. The most fun however was the Turpentine Tree.
Later in the hike, we stopped at Junction Rock. Like at RNP, we had time to reflect on our experience thus far. I chose to climb up this hill where there was a gorgeous view of the mountains. Here is my video from reflection time:
And of course, I said that I would swim in the Blue Mountains and the leaders made sure I kept to my word…and of course I swam, it was freezing and I even dunked my head underwater. Once I got out, I found out that Sunday was meant to be the group swimming day.
The next part of the day was hands down the hardest part of the entire weekend. In order to complete the hike we had to climb back up the mountain. At that point, most of the journey had been downhill and I was feeling cheery and positive. At this stage though, I was exhausted and had already been hiking at least 5 kilometers. If it hadn’t been for my buddy Kevin, I would have stopped right there and told everyone to go on without me. However, we ended up pushing each other to keep going and when we were near the top, we all watched the sunset together.
Even though we were exhausted, we ran the last little bit up the stairs to the end. During the hike, you feel like you’re not going very fast or very far but it’s so amazing to stand at the top of a mountain and see how far you’ve come. I’ve never felt more accomplished…or more exhausted.
After Saturday, Sunday felt like an absolute breeze. We had a later wake up and I actually got a chance to enjoy the morning. I had forgotten to look our main window and see where our cabin was. The view was beautiful!
On Sunday, we once again switched leaders and this time, I went with Ian. It was cool being able to get to see him outside of class but what was really fun was that he brought his 11-year-old daughter on the trip. I’m not just saying this, she is the coolest person ever. We became fast friends and chit chatted and sang almost the entire way. We probably drove our group crazy, but it helped to distract us from the hard climbing.
And of course, once again we had the opportunity to swim and I took it. This time it was even colder. If you can imagine jumping into the waters in Antarctica, that’s exactly what it felt like. As if that wasn’t cold enough, before we changed back into our clothes, we ran back in AGAIN.
On this day was when I really noticed how much rubbish had accumulated on the trails. After watching Ian pick up someone’s lunch remains, I decided that I needed to help too, especially since my presentation earlier in the semester had been about Leave No Trace and their 7 principles on how to leave nature better than you found it. What struck me most was watching two men smoking by the waterfall. You’re surrounded by so much vulnerable beauty, why would you compromise that with a cigarette? Bush fires are a real threat in Australia and if ashes aren’t disposed of properly, so much damage can be done.
Once again, being at the top of the hike and looking how far you hiked is such an amazing feeling. By the end of the trip, everyone was hugging each other and I was sad to leave such an amazing community of people.
Days after our field trip, I’m still reflecting on the entire process. I chose this class because I wanted to do something I couldn’t do back home but mostly because I heard that it ended halfway through the semester which would give me more time for my other units of study.
However, I never realized how different I would feel when everything was said and done. For those of you who know me really well, you know that this year has been near impossible. I’ve been through hell and back and there were times that I doubted things would ever look up. From this class, I learned a lot about how much power I truly have in life. I may not have the power to change events in life but I have the ability to change my attitude towards them. I also have learned how truly therapeutic nature is and how detrimental humans are to the state of nature. We need to do everything we can to protect it and make sure that we leave it better than we found it every time we are engaged in nature.
After this trip, I feel like I could accomplish anything. I learned that not having cellular service or internet is actually very liberating and forgetting to take pictures because you’re so focused on hiking is okay and kind of a relief. Most importantly, I remembered to believe in myself. Each group member had a strength within the group and sometimes I have hard time believing that I have strengths. One of my leaders went out of his way to compliment me on my positive attitude, which I realised is a pretty valuable strength!
This week was our final class meeting and I have so many mixed feelings. How lucky am I that I get to be a part of something so special, that no one besides our group understands. On our last class, I was genuinely sad it was over. When’s the last time you felt that way about a class? When’s the last time you took a class that made you a better person?
Finally, I want to thank the University of Sydney Staff Ian, Wayne, Nicki, Joel, and Ben for taking care of us this weekend. They absolutely made the trip as much fun as it was. In the future, if you decide to come to Australia and go to the University of Sydney, take this course, EDUH4052!!!
Dyement, J., O’Connor, T., & Boyle, I. (2011). Intersection of Web 2.0 Technologies and Reflective Journals: An Investigation of Possibilities, Potential and Pitfalls. In Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership (3rd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 137-50).