The Wilderness Program allows students to bond through shared experience in rugged and remote backcountry terrain. Adventure and connection to the environment creates space for sharing discoveries, developing new skills, and cultivating a sense of mutual accountability.
By building personal awareness and responsibility, students are challenged to take on new roles and develop their talents in youth leadership.
When graduates reflect on their experiences at UWC-USA, the Wilderness Program often plays a central part in their memories as something that challenged them and brought them together, forced them to deepen their knowledge of themselves and of each other, and helped them develop stronger, more confident voices as leaders and mentors to their peers.
“My fondest memory is being awakened by a bunch of warm-hearted, world-trotting friends on my birthday while witnessing our last sunrise at the unforgettable Grand Canyon. I couldn't have asked for more from a single week that embodied what UWC is all about: forging everlasting cross-cultural bonds.” —Brais Louro Larino ‘05
All students participate in a minimum of two overnight wilderness trips. In addition to backpacking, students may choose to take part in winter camping, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. All students learn day-hike basics as well as wilderness first aid and CPR. Students can opt to take a Wilderness First Aid certification course. Student wilderness leaders take part in extensive expeditions that include off-trail navigation using a map and compass, camp-skills, backcountry baking, hazard awareness and risk management, judgment and decision-making, team-building, communication, self-awareness, and leadership skills.
A Student's Perspective: Wilderness & the UWC Mission
by Adrian Moore ’14, UK/France
I suppose, because they aren’t directly involved in community service, people don’t often connect wilderness excursions with the UWC mission. It’s true that to most people, it just seems like a bunch of very lucky international teenagers walking off and hiding in a forest somewhere. It may be hard for someone on the outside to find a tangible change that comes with a wilderness trip. I, however, see wilderness as a total transformative experience which changes the way we think and act, helping us to truly bring some of UWC’s ideals in a more physical form than most people could ever imagine. This is shown in three ways:
When in the wilderness, your only concern in survival. Eating, sleeping and keeping warm are your primary goals, and it doesn’t matter who you are with. Whatever the race, religion, ethnicity or culture of your teammates, they have the same exact basic needs as you, and this becomes incredibly clear in the wilderness.
You learn that true happiness comes from helping others. Whether it be setting up your teammates’ tents and sleeping bags, or watching them enjoy a good meal you cooked, the pride and happiness you feel just seeing them smile is incomparable.
You make parallels between life and simple actions. I have discovered that the UWC mission is, in many ways, a lot like climbing a mesa. When you look up at it from the ground, it looks unachievable. Impossible. And yet, you soon find that the process itself is very basic: just putting one foot in front of another. That’s all it takes – to just put one foot in front of the other, and repeat the process for as long as it takes to reach the top. The simplest process in the world. The mission is exactly the same – a series of simple, good deeds, all very much within our reach.
Wilderness throws an incredible perspective on life in general, and helps you to refine your actions to make bigger goals achievable, which is why I am extremely happy that it is a part of my life here.