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

Hanane Idihoum

'19 (Morocco)
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in Wilderness Program at UWC-USA?

When I came to UWC-USA, I went on my first wilderness trip during orientation. I enjoyed it a lot. I was also surprised by many things, but the thing that stuck with me the most was the group dynamic and the competency of my fellow second-year student leaders Bela Kochkarova ‘18, USA-Calif., and Jang Belche ‘18, Luxembourg. They worked together very well, so everything went smoothly. This was why I chose to be a wilderness leader.

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

Being part of the Wilderness Program at UWC-USA made me realize a lot of things.

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Going to the wilderness helped me connect with nature and find peace. I enjoyed watching the beautiful stars away from the city’s light pollution and the smell of the wilderness, in addition to many other things. I think it made me realize how the wilderness can make a person feel better. It became my safe place.

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

My advice is to follow the leaders’ instructions carefully and take aggressive care of yourself. The wilderness is very beautiful, but it can be dangerous. Most importantly, enjoy your time and get to know your groupmates as well as yourself.

Vasiliki Katsorida

'19 (Greece)
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in Wilderness programming at UWC-USA?

As someone who has prior exposure to outdoor expeditions, I was very surprised to find out how much emphasis the Wilderness Program places on the leave no trace principles. Leave no trace is the idea that all individuals who engage in outdoor recreation should try to have the minimum possible impact on the wilderness. In Greece, I had never heard about LNT. From hiking, eating, and camping to hygiene, LNT is crucial to the maintenance of wilderness areas. Another reason I was surprised is LNT can be hard to follow to its fullest, thus I did not think that a school program would expect students to follow the rules as strictly. I was positively surprised that it does. As the future generation of campers, hikers, climbers, and explorers, having such an amazing program teaching us these rules, and will ensure that our impact on wilderness around the world will be minimal.

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

The world is a playground. With the right preparation and company, the great outdoors is there for everyone to explore, respectfully. The outcome of an experience is heavily dependant on the preparation you did for it beforehand. Struggle is a big part of an unforgettable experience and should be embraced as a part of the process. At some point you will need help from people around you so make sure you trust them. Teamwork is most always more efficient and reliable.

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There are two types of fun. First, is the fun you have at the moment, and second is the kind in which you are struggling at the moment, but when you look back, you laugh. Nature will always remind you how small you are.

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

Remember that leaving one’s comfort zone is essential for self growth, so take the opportunities that will make you grow and learn. The Wilderness Program will make sure to prepare you for your trip so trust your instructors. Humans are very adaptable creatures. Before a trip starts, it is very easy to feel worried and stressed, but as soon as you head out, you fall into a new routine. What seemed hard before will feel normal later. Sometimes we tend to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. You are much stronger than you think.

Jonas Costa

'19 (Brazil)
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in Wilderness programming at UWC-USA?

I learned a lot since I started participating in the Wilderness Program at UWC-USA, but what surprised me the most was how we care for the environment. I was never really interested in environmental issues, but being in the backcountry changed my mind. On my first trip, I learned I was a guest to the environment and should take care of it by not leaving any trace behind and protecting all forms of life.

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

I always believed the wilderness was an unsafe place, full of wild and dangerous animals –- and only extremely brave and highly-skilled people could go there. After my first trip, I realized that the wilderness was, instead, a friendly environment where I could have many experiences and fun moments. Now, the fear has become a passion and I have a respect for the backcountry.

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

For students who might be worried about doing the Wilderness Program, my advice is to give it a try. Hiking and camping are challenging activities, especially when you don’t have any background, but the friendships you make, the scenery, and the experiences make every trip worthwhile.

Fatima Gutierrez

'19 (US-NM)
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in Wilderness Program at UWC-USA?

I learned how crucial self-care is in the wilderness. I was surprised by the extent of attention you need to pay to yourself when you are hiking, which is something I normally am not very good at doing. Our bodies are what carry us when we are out in the forest. It’s the main instrument that makes it possible to carry our heavy backpacks with all of our equipment to survive.

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

It has allowed me to be more appreciative of our environment and aware of the impact I have. Many times we split the world into categories, but forget to see it as a whole. The wilderness program has made it possible for me to approach issues with a holistic view.

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

Never think that you are not capable of completing a day hike or three-day backpacking trip. We are capable of more than what we give ourselves credit for. Don’t see the hike or backpacking trip as an obligation; that will just make it harder. Look at it as an opportunity to get a break from reality. Finally, I would advise them to have trust in their instructor and know that they are in good hands. And have fun!

Yinting Zhong

'19 (China)
What did you learn that surprised you the most when you started participating in Wilderness programme at UWC-USA?

Everything surprised me! Back home I live in a city, so there’s no real wilderness. I had never experienced being in nature; there’s barely any forests or mountains where I live. Here I learned the beauty of nature. Camping was a totally new experience for me, as well as being away from civilization and social media. I was surprised I could disconnect from social media, and to learn I didn’t need it in the wilderness.

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

It has challenged my comfort zone, which has made me want to explore and try more new things. Life is full of surprises. If I never try new things, I will never have new experiences or gain more knowledge.

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

Trust yourself, your mentors and second-year leaders. Also, try to think about things in a positive way. Even though you might think it would be difficult to carry a 20-pound backpack, if you change your perspective, you will do it. I attempted it because it is something I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do elsewhere. It is an opportunity that you might never have outside of UWC-USA.

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