How One Program Helped Change My Life

Written by Mieko
    Monday, 10 February 2014
How One Program Helped Change My Life

Why would I recommend the Urban Ecology Center's Outdoor Leadership program? Honestly, I don't even know where to begin! It's not only the new experiences in both the working and the natural world that made this experience so incredible for me, it was also the new mindset I now have. If you are looking for a great way to get outside and learn about the world around you, but also get paid for the employment experience you gain, this is exactly the program for you. But it's not just that- if you want to meet new people and find friendships that will last a lifetime, this is just what you are looking for. And hey, who knows, it might completely change the way you look at the world, just as it did for me.

I entered the Center's Outdoor Leadership program an extremely anxious person. Having come from a small school in a small suburb, I was used to feeling out of place because I was different; I always felt that my mixed race prevented me from fitting in and my nerdiness made me "weird." The Outdoor Leader internship, though it sounded like a fun opportunity, made me even more nervous because it meant meeting new people (my seventeen other co-workers), and I was sure that they too would find some fault with me. I braced myself for a long two years being once again on the outskirts of the group.  

The first day I met the other Outdoor Leaders, I realized that I couldn't have been more wrong! When I entered the room and sat down, the first thing that hit me was the amount of diversity at the table. Here were kids from all different backgrounds and who lived all over Milwaukee. While we each had our own interests and passions, we shared an important similarity- we all were excited to be there and anxious to begin working. The group's unquestioning acceptance of me calmed me down, and we excitedly began our first summer at the Center.

OL groupDuring our second year at the Center, I was thrilled to go to Wyoming to see the Teton Science School and Yellowstone National Park. Touching down in Jackson Hole, I knew we were in for something great when just the view of the mountains from the tarmac floored me. As we began our week and settled into a new routine, the other Outdoor Leaders and I all realized that this experience was going to be very different in a way that we did not expect. We lived in cabins for half the week and tents for the other half, so living quarters were very close and we needed to share everything. It seemed that every activity we did had to utilize our entire team for it to get done, anything from hikes to pitching tents to cooking meals. We became completely dependent on the team for everything we needed to do. While I loved my new friends, as a perfectionistic person who wasn't used to having to rely on others, this frustrated me to no end. I believed that it would just be better if we all did it my way and that if they all just stopped talking and listened to me, we could get things done a lot faster. Unfortunately, most of the others in the group had the same idea. Our differences seemed to get in the way of any progress. As tempers boiled and tensions rose, we quickly discovered that there was nowhere to stomp off to in a huff when we had had it with each other. Our only option other than storming away alone to get eaten by a bear was to stay there and listen to the other ideas. It was through that experience that I first learned the power of negotiation.

I quickly realized that if I listened to the others rather than just bossing them around, things went a lot more smoothly. Our results were more successful when we incorporated more ideas than just mine and were in the interest of everyone. As the other Outdoor Leaders and I began to discover this, we realized that the cooperation was making us more relaxed and comfortable around one another. We began to see one another differently, as team members rather than competition, and by the end of the week we could not have become closer. Not only were we completing tasks with much more efficiency, but we were doing it with much more laughter and fun as well. From singing songs together on the mountain trails to playing baseball with buffalo pies, we were enjoying ourselves, each other, and the whole trip more with every minute. I felt more at ease with these people than I ever had in my life, like I had discovered a second family.

That week in Wyoming was definitely one of the best experiences of my life and it taught me several things. First, I experienced the benefit of teamwork in a major way. Learning to concede to the ideas of others might not get us the "perfect" result I had in mind in the beginning, but it worked a lot better with the inclusion of a variety of ideas. School and sports became much easier and less stressful for me because I now knew how to cooperate with others. The most important thing for me, however, was the feeling of confidence I returned with. Here, among my coworkers, I had discovered complete acceptance. We knew practically everything about each other, and I had connected with every person in some special way. They didn't judge me in the way I had always feared people did, and we had come to learn from, encourage, and love one another in one of the most beautiful environments in the world. I came back feeling comfortable and relaxed, no longer the self- conscious, anxious girl that I had began the program as. And in reflecting back upon my time in Wyoming, I think it would be safe to say that the Outdoor Leaders program changed my life for the better.

We are currently accepting applications for the 2014 - 2016 High School Outdoor Leaders program. Find information and the application form here. 



Mieko is a current high school Outdoor Leader.

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