Bridge Scholars Expand Leadership Skillset on Colombia Trek

Colombia Bridge Scholars Trip

This spring, ten Bridge Scholars embarked on a trek through the steamy tropical jungles of Colombia in search of a lost ancient city. It was the first trip of its kind: Taking the outdoor education experience to an international location. When they returned, they brought back much more than the physical mettle they earned on miles and miles of mountain hiking (though the physical aspect was certainly grueling).

“I didn’t realize how much more we’d get than a hiking trip,” says Dylan Compton ’19, after returning from the eight-day trip to the jungles of Colombia. “We had the cultural aspect and learning from our local guides, supporting and encouraging one another, and the physical aspect. I do think everyone underestimated how much we should physically prepare for this,” Compton says.

The trip took place over Spring Break 2017 and was a collaboration between the Office of Outdoor Education, the Butler Center, the Office of International Programs, and the Academic Dean’s Office. The participants were first-year and sophomore students in the Bridge Scholars program, which serves as a gateway into college life for first-generation students, who applied for the opportunity to travel to Colombia over Spring Break.

Throughout the trip, students got to explore and experience the local culture, learn about its rich history, and develop their own leadership style and skillset. All participants completed CC’s Ahlberg Leadership Institute Backcountry Level I Training curriculum throughout Blocks 5 and 6. Now, they’re qualified to lead fellow students on Outdoor Recreation Committee and New Student Orientation Priddy Experience trips.

“Our goal is to help these students develop as leaders,” says David Crye, assistant director of the Office of Outdoor Education and one of the trip guides. The trip was the culmination of a two-year process initiated by the Office of Outdoor Education to make CC’s outdoor experiences more inclusive.

“The college has had several conversations about the outdoor culture at CC, outdoor education, how to continue to engage a spectrum of people with different levels of experience, and with different ideas about outdoor culture,” says Paul Buckley, director of the Butler Center and assistant vice president, who led the trip along with Crye. “This is an ongoing collaboration; we are always in pursuit of ways to make these (outdoor education) opportunities more inclusive.”

Compton says he experienced the trip both as a participant and also through the lens of being a future trip leader. “It’s interesting to recognize how much the group dynamic can affect what people get out of a trip, and learning how to foster that positive dynamic.”

It’s a positive dynamic that can make a difference for students as soon as they arrive at CC. NSO trips are important in developing students’ initial connection to the campus community. “The investment to develop this more diverse group of leaders, who also have a keen interest and ability to help nurture an inclusive experience for those new students, the importance of that can’t be overstated,” Buckley says.

For many of the participants, it was their first time traveling out of the country; for students like Karina Grande ’20, the success of the jungle trek has empowered her to explore other travel opportunities.

“After going to Colombia, I feel like I could travel anywhere,” she says. “I’m starting to make a list of where I want to go; it made it possible to think that I can actually go outside the US and travel. I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity to travel abroad and experience the outdoors abroad.” Next up for Grande is this summer’s trip to Iceland with the Office of Outdoor Education. She says trips like the one to Colombia not only built her confidence, but also strengthen relationships with other students.

“You get a different connection with people in the outdoors. You’re not tied to the internet, or your phones. My favorite part was connecting with one another, the talks we had over dinner. In the span of a week we became a little family together,” Grande says.

Buckley says experiencing a trip like this creates strong bonds among participants. “It helped me to understand firsthand how meaningful it can be to develop relationships with people on these trips. Having the shared experience creates a unique connection. That’s special.”

They also got a taste of the local culture, with guides preparing locally sourced meals for them at the camps where they stopped each night along the trail.

“It was better than what I cook at home, and this was out in the jungle,” Crye says. “Fish, fresh juice, plantains; it was very local, we ate whatever what the locals would eat. And everyone would try things. The group was awesome – they were very open to experience it all.”

Grande says she embraced local meals at the end of each long day of hiking. “After the six hours on the trail, we got to have coconut rice and plantains and fresh fruit, the food was really great,” she says.

The long hours of hiking were often followed by group discussions about the region’s culture and history; Buckley says it was also a chance to think intentionally about the definition of “the outdoors” and how we engage with it. “It doesn’t have to be extreme, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It is about the relationship between the environment and people. We were thinking about how to nurture this interest in the outdoors for a range of students, students with a range of experience in relation to the outdoors; these student leaders will now help their peers to engage with their environment differently while they’re here at CC,” he says.

“We’re excited to see how this ties in to the greater goal of the college to make sure our experiences are welcoming and open to all,” Crye says. “Making sure we have knowledgeable, experienced leaders that reflect the diversity of our student body will help ensure there are different perspectives on every trip.”

Buckley says he will continue to foster support for this new program, and would gladly lead another trip. “I’m all in with this partnership. I strive to facilitate the cultural exchange and to help the leaders think about how they themselves will help facilitate a more inclusive experience for other students. That’s my passion point, that’s why I do what I do.”

For those who haven’t experienced a trip like this, or an opportunity to get outside their comfort zone and test physical and mental limits, Grande says, don’t be discouraged. She learned she’s stronger than she thought she was.

“A lot of it is not just physical strength, it’s mental strength. If anyone’s hesitant about not being able to do it, don’t worry about your physical abilities. It’s all mental strength, and you’ll acquire that on the trip. It will make you a stronger person. For us, it was a shared intensity; and we were in it together.”

Photos courtesy of Padah Vang ’19.

1 Comment

  1. Daniel says:

    Great to hear of this program bringing young travelers and students to Colombia.

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