When Ami Patel ’18, APPLES Service-Learning president, agreed to spend four days in the North Carolina wilderness with fellow Tar Heels during a North Carolina Outward Bound experience, she didn’t realize how much the outdoors would challenge her. After four days of dehydrated meals and no bath, three nights sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag (one night sleeping in a cave) and 89 mosquito bites later, she says she would do it all again.
“When my friends and family asked me what I would be doing during this four-day Outward Bound program, I consistently ended with a shrug of the shoulders saying it won’t be that bad,” Patel said. “While I was not wrong, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I could not have imagined the challenges I would face within those few days; physical challenges, mental challenges and emotional challenges.”
Each year, the Carolina Center for Public Service sends UNC student leaders to the North Carolina Outward Bound School in the Blue Ridge Mountains where they work together on wilderness survival and grow as leaders. The 10 participants experienced backpacking, caving, mountaineering, rock climbing, rappelling and a ropes course.
Patel joined Stephen Buys, Student Government deputy chief of staff; Hope Gehle, SMART Mentoring co-chair; Laura Gerlach, Newman Center president; Simran Khadka, APPLES alternative fall break co-chair; Taylor Newsome, APPLES executive committee member; Anna Silver, APPLES alternative fall break co-chair; Leah Simon, a Buckley Public Service Scholar and First-Year Service Corps participant; Courtney Staton, Campus Y co-president; and Zachary Walker, APO secretary and pledge master.
During the Outward Bound experience, these students were immersed in a wilderness environment while they learned more about their leadership roles on campus and about themselves. Outward Bound’s four pillars of physical fitness, self-reliance, craftsmanship and compassion were stressed through the different activities and tasks the students tackled each day.
“As I was struggling to complete the four-mile run on the last day of this experience, I recall a conversation with fellow participant Taylor Newsome during the last mile,” Patel explained. “In an effort to motivate her, as well as myself, I cheered that we could get through this last mile. Her response was simply, ‘well, we have to.’ This conversation summed up one of my takeaways from this experience: it is surprising what you can do when you don’t have a choice but to do it. The only way to join the rest of the group was to finish the run.”
During the course, Patel said one of the Outward Bound instructors suggested that four days doesn’t seem like enough time to make a change or allow students to feel different than the first day. At the end of the course, the instructor followed up on the comment saying she admired the students for proving her wrong. Patel agrees.
“I didn’t know many of my fellow participants before we travelled to the Pisgah National Forest together,” Patel said. “But it is clear that in just four days, this experience changed our outlook on life and service.”