The Outdoors as a Classroom

The outdoors as a classroom

The Wilderness Program helps students connect with each other through shared experience in rugged and remote backcountry terrain. It doesn’t matter if you speak the same language or practice the same religion when you’re setting up a tent together as a thunderstorm comes barreling down the mountain. You’ll develop a sense of mutual accountability and increased confidence when our highly trained and enthusiastic Wilderness leaders help you learn a new set of skills.
When you come to love – and respect – the pristine beauty of the New Mexico mountains, forests, and rivers you’ll think differently about the natural world – guaranteed.
 
Alumni who reflect on their experiences at UWC-USA almost universally believe the Wilderness Program helped them develop stronger, more confident voices as leaders and mentors.

 

“My fondest UWC-USA 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

Highlights

Rising Wilderness leaders just started their Wilderness first aid class. Over the course of the semester they'll learn how to manage illnesses and injuries in the wilderness. They'll also prepare for this summer's rigorous 14-day leadership expedition.

FAQ

Do all students at UWC-USA have to participate in Wilderness activities?

Wilderness

The Wilderness program at UWC-USA develops strong leadership skills in students – even those who have little outdoor experience or who come from countries with different understandings of the outdoors.

 

 

During orientation week, all new first-year students participate in a 3-day backpacking trip led by second-year Wilderness leaders. In their first semester, they participate in the Wilderness Program Wild 1 ExEd (Experiential Education) to learn the campus trails. In October, during Southwest Studies, students have the opportunity to go on a backpacking expedition in the Grand Canyon for up to five days.

All first year students have the option to participate in a Project Week backpacking trip to the Blue Range Primitive Area in Arizona.  Students who choose to participate in the Wilderness Leadership Training take the Wild 2 ExEd to learn wilderness first aid.  At the end of the school year these students spend 14 days backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness in Santa Fe National Forest to learn leadership and backpacking skills. These expeditions are led by professional outdoor educators who are experienced at creating supportive learning environments to help students work as a team. On these trips, students travel through remote terrain and hone skills in technical areas such as camp-craft, risk management, and navigation. More importantly, they are challenged to develop as leaders, building increased communication skills, self-reliance, and self-awareness. The culmination of the Wilderness Leadership Training is to lead incoming first year students on the August orientation backpacking trip.

All students have the opportunity to go on weekend backpacking trips in September and November. Wilderness leaders who elect to continue in the Wilderness Program participate in the Wild 3 ExEd, giving them the opportunity to practice group facilitation and co-leadership by taking first year students on short hikes on the campus trails. They also continue to lead weekend trips and provide first aid support for community events held on campus.

All second year students who have participated in two overnight trips are eligible to go on a winter camping trip to a Yurt outside of Taos, NM. On this trip, students snowshoe to the Yurt and learn how to build snow shelters called quinzhees.  

 

During Project Week, Wilderness leaders have the option to continue to develop their outdoor skills on an advanced backpacking trip to southern Utah where they navigate new landscapes. After successful completion of this experience, leaders are eligible to participate in a capstone trek: an independent overnight backpacking trip in small groups of 4-5 students. The capstone trek is designed to challenge their skills and offer time to reflect on the transition beyond UWC-USA and ways in which they will take their wilderness learning, their school experiences, and the UWC mission with them as they move into the next phase of their lives.

Learn About Our Wilderness Student Leaders

Aida Worku

'21, Finland
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the wilderness program at UWC-USA?

When I went on my first wilderness trip during the orientation, I was surprised by how comfortable spending time in the wilderness is. I was expecting to be cold, hungry and tired, but this turned out not to be the case. Although I was nervous about these things, my wilderness leaders and instructor made everything fun and enjoyable. I decided I wanted to learn more about New Mexican nature and the surrounding areas.

How has the wilderness program at UWC-USA changed how you see the world?

I am less hesitant in taking on challenges in areas I am not experienced in. Although I am a wilderness leader and have spent time in the woods during the past year, there are many practical and team building skills I wish to work on. Participating in the wilderness program has taught me courage in knowing that I do not need to be a professional in something to enjoy myself.

 

 

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What advice do you have for students who might be worried about taking a backcountry trip?

If your boots are not laced correctly or you feel like the pace of the group is too fast, communicate this with others. It will make all of your lives easier and enjoyable. If you are nervous about going on a long hiking trip, try a day-hike first. This is also a nice chance to get off campus, explore the area, and get to know your classmates better.

Alice Girardi

'21, Italy
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the Wilderness program at UWC USA?

I noticed, surprisingly, that this type of challenging experience makes me have a more positive attitude toward the world and the people surrounding me than when I am in my comfort zone

How has the wilderness program at UWC-USA changed how you see the world?

Whenever I spend time in the wilderness, hiking through mountains, crossing rivers and sleeping under the stars, I realize how insignificant  humans are compared to nature. This vision makes me realize how arrogant we are in believing that the planet should change because of us and not us because of the planet.

 

 

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What advice do you have for students who might be worried about taking a backcountry trip?

Just go for it! There is nothing more rewarding than facing your fears.

Annarosa Ventura

'21, Canada
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the wilderness program at UWC-USA?

One of the primary reasons I came to UWC-USA was for its wilderness program. I grew up on the west coast of Canada, on Vancouver Island, where wilderness is a huge part of the island’s culture. When I came to New Mexico, everything was drastically different, the seasons, the weather, and ultimately the environment. I think one of the biggest surprises happened when I participated in a weekend backpacking trip during my first year. Throughout the day it was hot, the sun blazing, to the point where we stripped our additional layers. However, at night, the temperature dropped so dramatically when we awoke the next morning everything was frozen solid, all of our water, even the Nutella.  

How has the wilderness program at UWC-USA changed how you see the world?

The wilderness program has allowed me to connect with so many different people of different skill sets, cultures, and backgrounds. When I came to this school, I was eager for the opportunity to meet such a diverse student body, however the shared experiences on wilderness are so unique to any other experiences at the school. In becoming a wilderness leader and actively participating with so many different people over the past two years, I have been exposed to more cultural diversity than ever before. Wilderness has enabled me to have a better sense of community and cultural understanding, and taught me valuable lessons in respect and teamwork. 

 

 

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What advice do you have for students who might be worried about taking on a big hike or backcountry trip?

I believe that participating in the wilderness program at this school truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I know that it can be daunting, and that many may experience self doubt. However, one of the amazing things about these wilderness trips is they open your eyes to what you are capable of doing. Things that you never would have thought, pushing you to newfound physical, mental, and emotional boundaries. I know it sounds intense, but the experience is so beyond worth it. As well, the school is equipped with an incredible group of faculty and wilderness leaders, thus creating an environment that supports every student, ensuring that they can take on any challenge they may face.

Aouss Azzouz

'21, Syria
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the wilderness program at UWC USA?

I  didn’t realize how stress-relieving the wilderness could be. I remember my first wilderness trip after I got over the pain, the cold, the bruises, the scratches, the wind, sleeping on the ground, and no Wifi. (Oh how I missed my anime).  After you get used to everythng, that’s when you start experiencing the true wilderness. It’s something indescribable; the wilderness magically takes away all earthly worries. I don’t think I have ever felt as stress-free as I did on that trip.

How has the Wilderness Program at UWC USA changed how you see the world?

Wilderness has helped me build close bonds and relationships with people I may have otherwise not have gotten to know. Through this, I experienced the power of friendship as anime has taught me through my years. It is a wonderful thing. When I’m out there and staring at the stars, it reminds me of how large the universe actually is, and I start seeing the world in a different light. Just relax, don’t take things too seriously; life is too short to not enjoy every second.

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Ben Curry

'21, USA-New Mexico
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the wilderness program at UWC USA?

How the program made the wilderness so accessible and such a positive experience for students who might have been nervous or opposed to spending time outdoors. Students who had never spent a night outdoors prior to UWC became wilderness leaders, spending weeks backpacking at a time. Wilderness has been one of the highlights of my UWC experience. I was shocked by the tight bonds formed on wilderness outings, and the ability for peers to collaborate together, working as a single unit to get tasks done. Wilderness fosters teamwork, collaboration, and builds deep friendships over a short, intense, period of time.

How has the wilderness program at UWC-USA changed how you see the world?

It has showed me how easy it is to explore new trails and to get outside. Through learning the basics of map reading and navigation skills, I now feel prepared to tackle trails far beyond the Pecos. I now aim to backpack outside of the United States on my own. I see backpacking as a sustainable, relatively inexpensive, and beautiful way to experience the outdoors anywhere in the world.

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What advice do you have for students who might be worried about taking a backcountry trip?

If you feel nervous, just remember that this is completely normal. The job of your guides is to make you feel as comfortable as possible, helping you with anything you need. You should never feel embarrassed asking for assistance. Your guides are fully equipped to deal with any situation. Also remember that you don’t have to love it. Most students who are nervous about the wilderness are pleasantly surprised, however, we also understand that it isn’t for everyone. My best advice would be to embrace the moment that you find yourself in and to try to make the best out of it.

Devashish Sood

'21, India
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in the wilderness program at UWC-USA? 

When I first read on the UWC-USA website that orientation would entail a three-day backpacking trip, I almost considered dropping out. Fast forward to August 2019. I got onto the bus with a heavy heart, certain that I would be dead before the end of the week. But on the trip, in the midst of amazing leaders, friends and an excess of riddles and trail games, I realized that the weight of the surprisingly large backpack faded away; the fear of getting lost is distant, and what’s more, you don’t really miss civilization. This feeling is quite addictive, and in fact, is one of the many reasons why I decided to become a wilderness leader. 

How has the wilderness program at UWC-USA changed how you see the world? 

The wilderness definitely gives you a lot more time for inward reflection. While I make my way through dense foliage, my mind may wander far away from the Pecos, contemplating questions and issues that I would not have the time to otherwise. It has made me much more sympathetic to the need for being more sustainable. On trips, we often come across patches of land that have experienced fires or other calamities, and this has made me more cognizant about the effects of my decisions on the environment. 

 

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What advice do you have for students who might be worried about taking on a big hike or backcountry trip? 

I’d say give it one chance. Of course, wilderness isn’t for everyone, and this is not supposed to be a form of discouragement, but rather just a fact. How will you know though until you try? I was sure that I was not made for wilderness up until the point when I began to love it. The prospect of spending a few days in the wild without many of our technological tools can be daunting. But if you are following the instructions and advice of your instructors and leaders, wilderness trips are one of the most fun activities at UWC-USA, provided you are not afraid to poop in the wild. 

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