With no other option but to jump in with both feet – literally – 17 HWS students recently returned from three weeks spent cliff jumping, hiking and mountaineering through Wales. The students participated in the Colleges’ summer outdoor education program in Carmarthen, Wales, which ran from May 25 to June 15.
“We’re happy to see the program accommodate such a large, diverse and exciting group of students,” says Assistant Dean of Hobart College David Mapstone ’93, who accompanied the students on the first week of the trip.
“The students were absolutely ecstatic about the overall experience they had, and they were also just excited about the different opportunities they had to experience the outdoors, to learn about themselves, and to learn about each other.”
Experiential learning was at the core of the program’s curriculum, which consisted of a three-week course with the Colleges’ partner institution, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Titled “Theoretical Issues in Outdoor Pursuits,” the course was a combination of academic theory and hands-on outdoor activities led by instructors and students from the university.
Mapstone says the course is based on the experiences, but the time spent in the classroom gave students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and put into context “not only what they learned about themselves, but also what they learned about Wales and Welsh culture.”
“We were not all in a classroom being talked to or lectured at, but rather we were out in the middle of everything learning as we went,” says Whitney Reynolds ’16. “It was nice being able to jump right into the activities and learn by actually doing them.”
“Jumping right in” was necessary as students participated in a diverse array of outdoor adventure activities that began upon arrival. Before students got a chance to settle into their dorm rooms, where they were housed for the first and third weeks of the program, they trekked to the small fishing village of Llanseffan to explore a 1,000-year-old Norman Castle.
The adventures continued throughout the first week with trips to the Brecon Beacons National Park, where students conquered Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in Southern Britain. A walking history tour was also arranged with a Welsh historian who led the students on a 12 mile hike on the West coast of Wales to see historical artifacts from the Stone-Age to the Bronze-Age.
To immerse the students in a different type of Welsh culture, Mapstone topped off the first week by treating students to a rugby game and a trip to Cardiff, the capital city. For Reynolds, there were so many activities that she says “it was hard to pinpoint exactly one thing from the trip that was a highlight.”
A mountain bike excursion, cliff jumping, coasteering, scrambling, rock climbing, gorge walking, and kayaking were among the other activities that students participated in throughout the program.
It’s these activities that Mapstone believes are what provide such a unique and valuable learning experience to students.
“Being able to learn in that kind of environment and have a cultural experience through experiential education makes it a lot easier and a lot more palatable and cultural,” says Mapstone. “They’re focused on the challenge that’s in front of them, and not as much on the uncomfortableness around the cultural experience they’re having.”
Torie Regan ’16 adds that the experiential education aspect of the trip not only resulted in her forming a “bigger appreciation” for the world around her, but also provided a more individualized learning experience.
She says that every student on the group had the choice to opt out of completing an activity if they did not feel comfortable. “One phrase that was repeated throughout the trip was ‘challenge by choice,’” says Regan. “It allowed for every member of our group to have a unique and fulfilling experience that they can individually grow from.”
The second week of the trip was spent camping in Snowdonia National Park as students hiked through the picturesque mountains that surround the park. Students were lodged in small mountain “bunkhouses” and got the chance to go surfing and kayaking amidst other mountaineering activities.
Regan says the highlight of the trip for her was hiking up Mount Snowden to see the sunrise from its peak. “It was a once in a lifetime view and gave me an immense sense of accomplishment,” she recalls.
With the largest and most diverse group of students to ever take part in the trip, Mapstone says the program is meeting all of its goals.
One of these goals is to provide additional opportunities for students to go abroad, particularly athletes and students with other commitments that can’t do semester long programs. With over 60 percent of the group being student athletes, the program more than exceeded that goal this year. Over half of the group was males, which is another accomplishment as the program also aims to attract more Hobart students to study abroad.
Even after returning home, the excitement among the students hasn’t faded. As they reflect on their experiences, students are realizing that the trip proved to be an invaluable experience.
“I was able to participate in things I might never have in my lifetime without this trip,” says Reynolds. “This trip greatly increased the passion I have for the outdoors, which was a reason I chose to go on it, but I never thought it would make such an impact.”
In the photo above, HWS participants of the Wales Summer Program pose for a photo at Adam and Eve at the Summit of Tryfan, Snowdonia.