Having recently been successful in an application with the Robertson Scholarship Trust, I was invited alongside 140 other first time university goers to attend a three day “Outward Bound” course with the Outward Bound Trust surrounded by nothing but the breathtaking views and the not so breathtaking weather of the Lake District in the North of England.
Every one of us were aware that the idea of this weekend was to get to know as many people as possible, especially folk who would be attending the same university. We were also just as equally aware that we would be attempting to step outside our comfort zones, which happened a lot sooner than any of us expected.
No mobile phone signal whatsoever accompanied by a lack of accessible wifi. Some would -and did- call it the closest thing imaginable to hell. This was by far a giant leap out of many of our comfort zones: no connection to the rest of the world? Welcome back to the dark ages.
However, I’m back, alive. And you know what? I’m glad we had to just let our phones lie dormant for the duration of our visit. Why? Simply because we were forced to use the old art form of real, non-virtual communication. People spoke to people; people laughed with people; people befriended people. For once, people were people and not cyber entities. We talked in our dorms, we laughed at the dinner table, we told and listened to stories as we stood around or went on long walks. We experienced what so many of us have forgotten over time: the art and beauty of genuine conversation.
While some moaned, others accepted. I’m overjoyed to say I accepted. I accepted the fact that I was going to need to survive not being virtually connected and instead make physical connections. It was perhaps one of the most enlightening time of my life.
Leaving comfort zones did not stop at forgetting about electronic devices, certainly not for me anyway. I cannot swim. I don’t have a fear of water, I’ve just never swam before. I made this clear to my group instructor (of whom I have tremendous respect and admiration towards) who assured me I would be… okay.
“For our first activity you are going to need clothes that you don’t mind getting in the water with.” – Not something a non-swimmer really wants to hear.
After a rather eye-opening conversation as to what a comfort zone is and how to go right outside a comfort zone, I found myself waist deep in the water. The idea of this exercise was that there was going to be five levels: ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, dunk your head under, jump of the end of a pier. In discussion I revealed that the fourth would be a struggle, never mind the pier jumping.
The words “You can do this” had a massive effect on me. I didn’t tell myself this but someone else – the instructor – did. There’s something immensely reassuring and positive about someone else telling me this. So I dunked my head. And, ten minutes later, I was sitting at the edge of a pier.
Will I go right under the water? Yes, but the buoyancy aid will bring you right back up. Will my feet touch the bed of the lake? No, but you will not be far off. But I can’t swim, I will not be able to swim back to shore… You can grab onto this pole and I will drag you further in until your feet can touch the ground.
There came a point where I was sick of asking questions. A queue consisting of other groups started to form and my team, drenched from already doing the challenge, cheered me on. For just one brief moment, I managed to put trust in everyone and in myself. Would I be doing this if it wasn’t safe and secure?
“Give me a countdown!” I shouted to the team. Some started at 10…9… whilst others at 3…2… but most people started at 5…4…3… and everyone latched on.
No one physically pushed me, at least I don’t think they did. There must have been a little bit of willpower within me and the morale of the team was so high that I slid right in. Under the water I went. And what seemed like an eternity, with my eyes closed and mouth wide open gasping for breath I imagined me getting deeper and deeper into an endless ocean filled with all sorts of creatures with no escape. In reality, after what was really a second, through tiny opening in my water filled eyes I was bobbing up and down in the water holding onto the pole which I don’t even remember grabbing. After burping from my lovely beverage of lake water, I felt myself being hauled and being grabbed by a fellow teammate telling me I should be able to touch the ground.
I did what I thought was impossible.
Not a lot of the other activities over the weekend really challenged me: gorge walking, hill climbing, team strategy and strength games etc. The fear factor did however come out once again as we moved to the task of raft building. Building, I could do. But going on the raft? No. This time there was no pole to hold onto, and whilst there were buoyancy aids I would be stuck in the middle of a lake if the raft fell apart or I went overboard.
There were things that began to reassure me as we were building the raft. Our instructor informed us that we would not be allowed on the water if he did not see our construction as safe and sturdy, so the raft was not going to fall apart.
I was told that the chances of falling in were very slim unless foolery came into the scene. With 8 teammates, they so kindly and smartly thought of sandwiching me in the middle of a row of 4, so that I had people to grab me should I begin to fall in. And away we paddled.
I may have lost it a bit when the instructor shouted from the lifeboat “Who thinks they can stand up!?” immediately fast-forwarding seeing the raft consisting of six logs and six barrels capsizing. However, no one was to stand up until 50m away from shore, enough to just about touch the ground if falling in. Only two people stood up and the raft remained balanced, and we anchored ourselves onto dry ground.
If it was not for my team, I would not have been on that raft. I am so grateful for the people I shared that weekend with.
It was a fun, enjoyable weekend that came with a lot of new connections and many enlightenments.
The entire weekend was supposed to be a metaphor for and beyond university life. Yes, there will be challenges, many of them outside our comfort zone, and some will seem impossible. But, the reality is that not many things are impossible. While many things may be better done alone, many scenarios will see you working with others. And, nothing is more important than realising the potential of a group of good people and nothing beats the power of team morale.