With eight days’ worth of miles under their belts, the crews have now developed their own insider jokes hilarious to them and opaque to the rest of us. They are goofing around and are fast friends with students they simply wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know at school. They are surprising themselves with their own abilities, be they hard skills like building a shelter or cooking a meal, or soft ones like providing support for a peer who is having a bad day.
You might wonder how I know such details about the hikers. Most of what I know about them comes from my experience leading the Expedition, not from phone calls from the crews. As I shared in my update from day 2, the actual information I have is restricted by the limitations of the satellite phones. I know where each group is, and have a general sense of how they are doing from a set of code words that the instructors choose from when they call, and if there is something they are worried about I hear about that. What I don’t hear is the stuff that I (and you) really want to know: if your child is doing a good job of cooking, how they are sleeping at night, and whether they have seen any shooting stars. I wish I had more to share now, but I predict from experience that the stories will pour from our hikers when they return to us. We might have trouble getting them to stop talking!
The telling of those stories is a big part of the learning process. One of the characteristics of experiential education (learning achieved by doing rather than by studying) is that it is easily lost if not properly processed. The best way to process a big experience like the Expedition is to talk about it to an interested person who wasn’t on the trip. Gathering eleven days worth of experiences into a narrative helps the hikers to identify themes of their trip, parallels between who they were in the woods, who they are at home and at school, and who they want to be at home and at school, and to draw lessons or morals from their experience. If this processing is not completed, the lessons tend to be lost. We find that the sophomores do the verbal processing during the trip quite naturally by talking to each other, but our instructors also emphasize it more formally through nightly debriefs. The debriefs are group discussions guided by the Instructor with the goal of helping students through three basic questions: what happened today, what did it mean, and what does that add to my plan for my future (a.k.a. what, so what, and now what). Putting an experience into words makes it more real, and makes the lessons from the experience lasting. Journaling accomplishes the same thing, and I suspect that art making would as well. Some sophomores really take to journaling and value it as a life-long habit.