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JAN. 16, 2014

Stepping Into the Journey: An Alumni Perspective

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At nineteen years old, I feel lucky to say I’ve had some very special and somewhat rare experiences for someone my age. Most recently, one of those experiences was a semester abroad in Central America on an experiential education immersive course. Perhaps as expected with any experiential education course, I additionally took a lot more out of my experience that just the course content alone, and included this time was a newly built up passion for traveling. I always like to think that each person has something that drives them, and for me the idea of exploring new parts of the world makes me giddy with excitement.

This “giddiness”, I learned, is because when I seek out new places and experiences, I not only learn from what’s in front of me but also from how I react to it. My time away helped me learn more about who I was as a person, as well as provided me intriguing knowledge about a region I had very little knowledge of.

That was a single trip, though. Those extremely eventful 13 weeks came and went.

So why did I do this in the first place, given the inherent challenge? Why would I willingly go into another region of the world when I already had a chance to learn in a more comfortable setting? Yes, it was more concentrated and thus a more transformative outcome… but how could I have known that coming in? For that, I can thank The Outdoor Academy.

Three years ago, the idea must have seemed crazy to my friends. I was leaving my high school—one of the best in the nation—for some school, as they called it, “in the middle of the woods.” To be honest, the idea that it was crazy even crossed my mind once or twice. How could I leave a rather comfortable experience in Nashville to do something completely different when I was already satisfied with my current life? Even years later I still can’t answer that question, but perhaps the reason why I can’t is for the same reason I wanted to try something new in the first place: there is still something eluding me. Deep down, there was a drive to get more out of my adolescence than what my high school was offering. For some it’s easily found in a hobby or friends outside school. For me, however, I wanted to reach out and explore. Yes, I was satisfied, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stop there. I had a desire for exploring new mental and physical landscapes and I saw the Outdoor Academy as the best place to develop my interests further.

In the same way that traveling abroad gave me the opportunity to explore new territory both on the outside and in, my time at OA was my original first taste of what this was about. It was a chance to break off and find out what drove me. No peer pressure, no one telling me what I should and should not do with my life… just pure drive and a community who supported me all the way. Upon integrating myself back into the life I left, those ambitions drove further and in ways I couldn’t have anticipated—into more interesting classes, into new clubs and organizations, into my first choice college, and eventually, eagerly into another adventure to do it all over again. No doubt, those four months at Outdoor Academy provided me with the time and resources I needed to explore the person I wanted to become, both academically and personally, all in a setting that fostered individual growth.

Now that my semester away is slowly reaching its end, I am fervently awaiting the college experience, ready to go as soon as the time arrives. From there and into the future it will be one of many more, and although each one will be unique and memorable in it’s own way, I know I’ll always be able to look back at the months that helped start it all—that wild decision I made to do something different and go to school in the “middle of the woods.”

Eli Orland
Semester 32