For the fourth time during my employment with Adventure WV, I had the privilege of taking a group of students to Patagonia, Chile over the WVU winter break as part of a 6-credit course that focuses on backcountry living skills along with sustainable tourism. Each trip has been unique and special in its own way, but this year’s trip (2016-2017) was one that will reside in my heart forever. The reason: the students. I’ve been inspired (and continue to be inspired) by the various students I’ve worked over the years, but this year’s bunch were particularly near and dear to me. 8 out of the 11 students who participated on this year’s trip had previously served as student staff members for the Adventure WV programs, leading Orientation Trips for incoming Freshman – and of the 3 remaining non-student staff, 2 had participated on an Orientation Trip. What a crew! For the 8 that served as leaders, I had the pleasure of previously helping to train them as they worked to transition into their leader roles. What started as a fairly formal student/instructor relationship slowly transitioned into a more meaningful and authentic mentorship and friendship. I got to know them in a way that not all instructors have the good fortune of experiencing - to know their imperfections, their struggles, but also their successes and joys. To gain a greater glimpse into their heartbeats. And now, a year, or two, or even three years later, here we were, traveling to the other end of the world together! What a gift.
Prior to the start of the trip, I gathered the 8 leaders and we acknowledged the uniqueness of our situation; we declared that we would be intentional in welcoming the other 3 students into the group and making sure they felt included. Our plan worked well, and before long, our larger group was connecting and doing what Adventure WV does so well – forming community. During our two weeks in Patagonia, we experienced lots of highs (some literally being mountain summits) as well as some lows (needing to execute plan B’s, and even plan C’s, due to environmental factors that were beyond our control). For many, there were “firsts” – first time leaving the country, first time seeing a lamb slaughtered, first time stepping foot onto a glacier. It was exciting, and in one way or another, life changing. One student, who graduated in December, stayed after the trip and traveled independently for two additional months. Having connected with him after he returned, I can assure you that he grew in ways he never would have anticipated; such positive growth and self-discovery!
I continue to be thankful for my job with Adventure WV. Through it, I get to live life alongside so many exceptional young people who end up touching my heart far more than they will likely ever know.