Two Perspectives, One View from the Summit ALICE BROWN & VENUS CHEUNG
Although there are a number of level-up challenges students may choose in Grades 11 and 12, few are as physically demanding as the advanced hike. Paired with two days of preliminary backcountry hiking and camping, students and their guides cover 40 kilometres over four days—summiting Mt. Albert Edward is not for the faint of heart. Participating girls often share a profound experience and come back as a tightly bonded group after going through such a huge challenge together. “When you’re at Outweek, you create a bond with the group you’re with because you’re doing something outside your comfort zone,” says Alice Brown, Class of 2017, a self-professed “nature person” who has attended several Strathcona Outweeks, but admits nothing could have prepared her for the challenge she faced on the mountainside. Alice points out that no matter what a person’s skill level or strengths, they find their own struggle outside. “You’re pushing yourself and facing obstacles, but everyone is dealing with something,” says Alice. “In math class, some people are good at it and others struggle, but when everyone is really pushing themselves as hard as they can, you feel a sense of community. Every year, especially for new students, it’s good to start with that bond of sisterhood being reinforced.” Venus Cheung also decided to take on this ultimate challenge, even though this year was her first and only Outweek at SMS. “I often hike with my dad, but I wanted to challenge myself,” she explains. “In Hong Kong, I never had the chance to do an alpine hike. After I signed up I had some doubts: I didn’t know whether I could do it.” Things got worse when the realities of the backcountry set in. “It was very cold and I didn’t sleep. It really shattered my expectations of what camping is.” Over subsequent days Venus got increasingly fatigued, and on the final day’s summit trek she pulled a muscle. “My leg hurt so badly, and my feet kept slipping on the rocks, but I also felt my determination was really strong, and that’s something that I’ve never felt before.” In the end, Venus credits her team, including Alice, for helping her pull through. “They held my hands when my feet were slipping, pulled me up when I couldn’t climb, switched packs with me so I wasn’t carrying as much weight, and never complained that I was slowing them down,” says Venus. But amid the pain and vulnerability she discovered something else: strength. “I had no idea how I was going to make it, but I was determined to persevere.” At the summit the whole team cried, and then held each other’s hands and sang as they made their way back down the mountain, legs shaky but strong. The combination of team building and self-discovery are what Venus points to as the key strengths of the Outweek experience: “It’s the opportunity to find something out about the self that [students] cannot find. At school you’re always focused on academics, and this experience can help somebody discover the true self, or abilities they didn’t think they had. It also helps to create bonds with other students. When I registered I didn’t care if I was going with my existing friends; I just wanted to meet new people. It’s a great chance to expand your social circle.” In spite of pain and demands, the experience was positive. “It’s the same as with travel: the experience at Outweek is rounding you out as a person,” says Alice. Both she and Venus spoke about having greater faith in their own abilities, and having left behind some insecurity. “Whenever I’m doing something difficult or something I don’t think I can do, I just remind myself: ‘I climbed a mountain! I can do this,’” says Alice, ever insightful. “I know I’ll always have doubts ...but now maybe a little less.” 12 The Experiential Learning Issue
Published on Feb 7, 2017
Spirit is a semiannual publication by St Margaret's School for girls. SMS provides empowering education for girls from Junior Kindergarten t...