In January of 2015, Insight Adventures broke new ground with its first outdoor education programme tailored specifically for Chinese students from Shanghai Shangde Experimental School. The objective of the programme was to give these students an opportunity to experience the realm of western style outdoor experiential education in the beautiful city of Xiamen, Fujian Province.
The trip began on an early Friday morning, with all 25 students being dropped off by their anxious parents at Pudong airport. The check-in process was quick and painless and students were lined up at the security gate ready to begin their journey. Once we arrived in Xiamen, seasoned Insight guides Juan and Mike from America and Xuanda from China greeted the group and introduced them to the 4-day trip.
Following a short introduction at the airport, students were taken to the famous Tulou region, which is home to some of China’s most interesting circular structures set amid a magnificent mountain landscape. The group stayed at what looked like a beautifully redecorated wooden farm-house, with 2 students per room and boys and girls were separated into different buildings. One student mentioned, “This looks like my grandmother’s house” hence instilling a sense of nostalgia for what was compared to what is in the big city. After settling in and having some local lunch, students were given a series of team challenges that would test their communication and leadership skills and allow them to reflect on what they saw, how they can improve and what it meant to collaborate. In the evening students finished with an activity called the leadership recipe, which helped students think about what ingredients or components make up a leader in their eyes. One group created a cake with different layers of leadership attributes, others drew a tree with different branches of what makes up a good leader.
Day two of the programme began with a morning hike through the tea fields, which spanned the Tulou area horizon in what seemed like never ending rows of green bushes rolling over the surrounding mountains. In the afternoon, students were led by a local guide through the old Tulous, appreciating the ancient circular architecture and its practical use as a natural defence against outside invasion. Students also had the opportunity to see the process of tea making and sample some of Fujian’s most famous teas.
The group finished off the evening with a short skit on what they thought good leaders should do when they are faced with a crisis situation. Although this was fairly new for them, the students portrayed their understanding of leadership, utilising adjectives such as fair, positive, good communicator and reflective just to name a few.
On the morning of the third day students took a bus to Chengtai township where they were led by our expert climbing guides Juan and Mike through a challenging via feratta course winding up, down and around some magnificent boulders in the area.
Unfortunately just as some of the last few students were finishing up the weather turned for the worst and the trip leaders had to cancel the afternoon’s outdoor activities. Students made their way to the hotel where they spent the afternoon completing team challenges and reflecting on what they had learned from the each other and the activities they had completed as a team. That evening the whole group had some time to relax at the local hot springs and enjoy some free time.
On the final day students were exposed for the very first time to one of our most challenging high ropes activities. The ‘Leap of Faith’, a metal structure where students are required to jump from a 10-meter pole before counting to 3 and putting their faith in themselves as they jump and reach to catch a mid-air suspended trapeze. The first few students who climbed up were overcome with fear, shouting to their peers “I can’t do this” and were answered by their team mates with “You can, we will count to 3”. Every student made it to the top but only 2 students completed the jump and successfully held on to the trapeze. The importance of these activities is not always the activity itself it’s what students have learned about themselves and others. Students learn to conquer their fears through challenges that push them beyond their comfort zones, because as outdoor educators we believe this is the point where you can reach your greatest potential.
Although it was sad to see the group return to their lives in Shanghai, the trip was a testament to no matter what race or background students come from everyone can benefit from outdoor experiential learning programmes. Whether they discovered something new about the area they are exploring, the group they travel with or their own mindset and way of thinking, it complements the learning that happens in the classroom and should be an integral part of any school programme.