Twice a year, I step into a yellow school bus, balancing an overflowing garbage bag in one hand, and clutching a hastily-packed suitcase in the other. Each time is a journey to Arrah Wanna Outdoor School, a place where I have found many friends and a wellspring of personal growth.
At first, it was out of my comfort zone. I was unaccustomed to leading, working with children, being around so many new and different people, and I was never one to sing. However, I quickly encountered the magic that I initially discovered as a sixth grader. I became more outgoing and confident as I performed songs, spoke in front of 200 people during meal times, and taught kids about science. I gained a sense of initiative, and I became more attuned to needs beyond my own as I learned to lead large groups of sixth graders in games during lag times, or captivated masses of cold and hungry sixth graders as we waited outside the dining hall.
These changes have only abounded as I have returned to Outdoor School, and they affect me, outside the camp. They helped me become a leader in my day-to-day life, especially as varsity soccer captain and captain of my robotics team. But I have also learned to lead through the simple things like making sure to include everybody, or picking up someone's abandoned trash as the lunch bell rings. I will use this leadership in the future regardless of what I do.
Among many changes, the most important one I have experienced at Outdoor School has been my approach towards people. At camp I have been able to see my snap judgements fall egregiously short. There were numerous times where I worried a sixth grader was too high-energy or too closed-off to work with, only to observe them channel their excitement or open up with keen observations. At Arrah Wanna, I met sixth-graders, staff, and student leaders that I might have written off with an errant judgement in other environments. I still keep in touch with staff that have finished their work at the program and student leaders who have graduated to this day. These relationships have helped me come back with a more open mind, and have made me much more inclined to treat each new person with a clean slate, as they should be treated. Now, I more often seek ways to meet new and different people, by joining clubs, volunteering, or simply talking to strangers in public. In addition to this, I plan on studying abroad in college. This open-mindedness is the most important change I have experienced at Outdoor School, one that supersedes any skills that I have gained, since it will help me be a better person.
Seeing the effect of helping others has inspired me to be a lifelong volunteer. Since I first volunteered at Outdoor School, I have volunteered at food banks, community clean-ups, soccer camps, and an eighth-grade writing workshop, among other things. In the summer, I volunteered at Free Geek, where I used my love of technology to repair old and broken computers, which were then donated to the community. Outdoor School showed me that I can use my skills and passions to help others and to have fun. I will continue to volunteer in the future, and I am considering the Peace Corps after college.
Outdoor School has also ignited a love for teaching within me. Although I will major in computer science, and hopefully find a career in software engineering, I plan on volunteering at schools, being a tutor, or teaching workshops. Being a student leader allowed me to see the rewards, challenges, and techniques involved in teaching.
True to its name, Outdoor School has inspired a passion for the outdoors within me. As a young boy in a rural town in Romania, I often played in nature. When I moved to America, I grew up in a city, and I lost touch with nature. But having such a positive outdoor experience at Outdoor School has reignited this: I go hiking more often, and I am planning on working in the forest for six straight weeks this summer with the Northwest Youth Corps. I have also become more environmentally conscious. I am more mindful with the products I buy, the way I use resources, and I pay attention to political candidates' stances on environmental issues for the near future when I will be able to vote. I have developed a love for nature, and with it, a desire to protect it. Twice a year, I step off a yellow school bus, balancing an even fuller garbage bag with one hand, and an even more hastily-packed suitcase in the other. I do so with tired eyes, a rain-soaked and sharpie-coated wood cookie, weary legs, and disheveled clothes. As Outdoor School has taught me, however, my time should not be judged based on appearances. I may appear beaten down on the outside, but I have experienced personal growth on the inside. Each week at Outdoor School is a fresh experience, with new lessons learned, new people met, and new skills to take with me to the world beyond.