Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some final thoughts on NOLS: an endorsement

Another tardy entry to summarize and wrap up my NOLS experience...

As I've been continuing on with life after NOLS I've had time to reflect on my semester and the ways it has affected me. It was fun and it was difficult, but now as I am more removed from the experience, I have a better understanding of the impact and value of my semester.
      It is helpful for personal development to be constantly offered feedback and evaluation. This way you always know, “these are my strengths, and this is what I am working on.” Without being given feedback, how are you expected to know what to work on and thus improve it? The real value of a NOLS course is not to learn how to use a stove or steer a canoe, but so you can learn how to work with others, to give and receive feedback, to resolve conflicts, to know your strengths and limitations, become a leader and support leadership in others, and overall just to become more aware and competent. This is why everyone should do NOLS (a bold statement, I know): to become a better human being and a more functional member of society. So on the list of Things I Learned at NOLS, yes, I learned how to travel in the back country, the rest-step, water rescue safety, and how to crack climb. But that's not what I came for--or at least, that's not all I came away with. There are much more important lessons in the NOLS curriculum—and then there are the ones that no class can teach you, that you learn only from experience when you are with strangers in the wilderness and open to adventure.
      My time at NOLS already seems so far away. I remember one night on the river section sleeping out on the beach with two friends and discussing how we thought the semester would affect our lives. At the time I didn't think that I would return home incredibly changed or that it would much alter my views or my life. And I don't believe that I did end the semester much different than when I started it. But I have noticed a change in myself since getting home from NOLS. Our proctor said that she is still realizing lessons that she learned from her student semester—so it is with me too. As I face new and foreign adventures I only now realize that NOLS has changed me. I feel more capable now, more confident, more prepared to handle challenges. Perhaps the most significant change that I have noticed is an improved self-awareness. I now have a clearer idea of who I am and who I want to be, as well as the ability and intentionality to become that person. It's very rewarding. Everyone says that people can't change, and it's certainly easy to become complacent and live the way that I have always been content living. But it is empowering and really quite exciting to realize that I don't have to be shy or quiet just because that is how people have always seen me. I have the power to be whoever I want to be and whoever I really am. It's taken me a lot to learn this, and even if it were the only thing I learned from all of NOLS, then the semester would still be well worth it.