Learning the Magic of it All: From Student to Instructor

Nick Hazell, Apprentice Instructor

“I first heard about Outward Bound through a social worker,” said Nick Hazell, who hails from Trenton, New Jersey. “I think he realized I was interested in things most city kids weren’t into, like the outdoors. I didn’t have video games. I was 15 years old.”

Nick was encouraged to apply for a spot on the Philadelphia Outward Bound School’s New Jersey Youth Leadership program, a merit-based scholarship expedition that features 14 days of backpacking, rock climbing, and canoeing in and around the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

“There was some paperwork involved,” said Hazell. “I went to the library to print out the forms and fax them in. There was a phone interview too. Then a couple of weeks later an instructor from the Philadelphia Outward Bound School called me and said ‘we’re sending you a train ticket, we’ll meet you at 30th Street Station.’”

Hazell was met by POBS staff and driven into the woods to start the expedition. “They provided me with anything I needed: hiking shoes, sleeping bag, a headlamp. I don’t come from money so I needed everything. They even gave me socks. I had packed some deodorant and they said, ‘you won’t be needing that.’”

“There were 10 of us and we did some games to introduce ourselves to each other. I found out I was the youngest one there. They were all talking about applying to college and I was in 10th grade.”

“Ever since that first trip, I knew I wanted to work for Outward Bound.”

“It felt great to be outside. At one point I looked over as we’re hiking along and there’s a really far drop over the side right next to me, with no railing or signs or anything. And I realized, this is real. I could trip, it could be dangerous. When I saw that, I realized the trust I was given.”

“After two or three days, I forgot I was from a poor home. We were eating good meals, I was outside all day, I felt great. It just clicked. I hadn’t known this kind of outdoor experience existed. If you had asked me, I would have said you need to go to the Amazon for that.”

This is a pic from the day I got home from my first Outward Bound trip. The energy behind it was it’s ok to be happy. I was so amazed with what I had done and just wanted to capture the moment.

“Another thing, everyone was so nice to the students. The adults in my house weren’t like this – why is everyone so nice? I thought it was weird. I learned that’s how you treat people, like you want to be treated. People like to be taken care of, to be heard. Outward Bound makes you realize you need to think about other people more.”

On the last day of the trip, Hazell met Jenn Raymond, Alumni and Scholarship Manager at the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. “She said, ‘I hear you’re having a good time. You excelled. How would you like to do more?’  I said of course!”

Raymond emailed Hazell a link to Outward Bound expeditions taking place the next summer. “She said ‘pick a course.’ I looked and saw the prices and was like wow, but she said don’t look at the prices. I picked an eight day kayaking course on the Chesapeake Bay.”

“That trip opened my eyes even wider. I learned to really appreciate the Leave No Trace concept and was just amazed at how small humans are compared to Nature. I hadn’t traveled outside of New Jersey up to that point. It was a completely different feeling.”

“Some time after that trip, Jenn reached out for me to meet up for an alumni event but by then I was a senior in high school and really into basketball, so I didn’t go. Then I was injured and that was the end of basketball. I got a little depressed. When I turned 18 I moved down the shore and got a job.”

Two years went by before Hazell’s next encounter with Outward Bound. “I was 20 and I was still getting emails from Outward Bound. I heard they had an apprenticeship program to be an instructor. Ever since that first trip I knew I wanted to work for Outward Bound. So I talked to Red in HR and was about to come out to Philly to start my apprenticeship when Covid hit.”

Flash forward to August of this year, when Hazell was finally able to show up at the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. “I came and it was everything I remembered from when I was younger. Everyone was so caring, so nice. They welcomed me with open arms.”

“The staff expedition had all the elements of what I remember from my trips, but with professional parts as well. We learned how we would interact with the students as instructors, how to deal with their food, their mood, and how to care. I didn’t realize when I was a student how much went into caring for me. Now I felt like I was learning the magic of it all.”

“After staff training I went on a couple of expeditions and I have also been doing a lot of Insight days. Insight days are so fun. That’s when kids from schools in the area come here and get a little bit out of their comfort zone. It’s so great for the city kids.  I try to explain to my other friends, but they don’t get it. They’re not out of Trenton. There, it’s like the only way out is the army or jail. Outward Bound took me out of my house and out of my city. I’ve been blessed with this job, this life.”

“I love it when the kids I work with say ‘I didn’t know they had spots like this in Philly!’  That’s music to my ears. They are experiencing something they never thought of before. I have my memories of my first encounter with Outward Bound, then I see me creating them for other kids. It’s a real déjà vu moment. I can see a kid looking at me thinking, ‘why is this adult so nice?’  And I get it.”