Crammed alone in a self-made shelter made out of sticks and ferns in the middle of a pitch black forest. Rain trickling through a shelter and onto a cold and damp sleeping bag. No one around, just the sound of the river streaming to the right. Rumor even has it that panthers lurk around at night.
This was the exact scenario I endured when I went on New Zealand’s Wilderness Survival for my Interim this year. Yes, I know, Interim is now old news, but still to this day I think about the trip and the events that occurred.
Being one of only two girls in the group of 19, the wilderness survival trip seemed insane to me at first. I found myself asking: ‘Why did I sign up for this trip?’ Sure, I loved camping and hiking and had always wanted to see New Zealand, but I couldn’t imagine myself gutting rabbits, let alone shooting game.
Yet I did all of those things and more. I learned how to make my own fire, skin sheep, and navigate my way through the forest, with all these skills being put to the test at the end of the trip – in a three day challenge to “survive.” I left the trip exhilarated and couldn’t be happier about my decision to stick with it.
As I sat on the plane on the way home, it occurred to me that the stereotype of this Wilderness Survival trip is always the same – crazy, stressful, and intense – causing some students to shy away from it. Yet, all three of these characteristics meshed together surprisingly created one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable Interim experiences I’ve had.
Erica Boland, the other girl on the trip and the only freshman, also came away from Wilderness Survival NZ with a positive attitude and many meaningful memories. “I think [admin] have the right idea that it would push [students] out of their comfort zone, but that’s not a reason not to go,” she said. “It’s so much fun even when it’s scary and makes really good memories.”
However, the rigorous outline of the trip has some students questioning the extent to which SAS is willing to push kids out of their comfort zones during Interim. Senior Ishaan Madan shared his thoughts, “It’s odd because SAS disallows scuba diving and various other ‘dangerous’ activities on many Interim trips, but then feels totally comfortable having kids literally hunt and live completely in the wilderness for a full week,” he said. “It does seem like a valuable life experience though as many of the people feel tougher and a lot more capable of handling tough real world situations after completing this trip. More so, it seems, than kids from other Interim trips.”
As for girls, Wilderness Survival seems far out their comfort zone. When discussing why she refrained from choosing this trip, junior Harley Lopez remarked, “You got to survive – you have to find your own food. It’s really scary and you don’t know where you are.”
Junior Flissy Ford added, “I feel like I’m not cut out for it.”
However, there has been discussion on possible changes and additions to the trip to encourage more girls to sign up. Mr. Gaskell, one of the trip sponsors along with Mr. Evans, mentioned, “One of the things we’re looking at is a mountain-to-coast type trip, where we’re surviving and learning skills along the way.”
With or without changes, Mr. Gaskell is confident about the purpose of the trip. Despite attending other great trips in past years, Mr. Gaskell is a firm believer in providing a trip that “most kids would probably never go on.” Therefore, the wilderness survival trip is one that can benefit both girls and boys, giving them valuable skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
“If something happened and you got stuck in the wild for whatever reason – an accident and you got off course, a camping trip gone awry, that kinda thing – you would have at least some of the skills that would help you survive for awhile,” Mr. Gaskell said. “We’re not saying that in a week you’ll be an expert like Bear Grylls, but at least you’ll have some of the skills to get yourself to safety and give you the love and appreciation of living in the wild.”