~Matt Norcini, Dean of Student Life
“Camouflage!” Jenna’s cry sent us scurrying in all directions around the woods in search of hiding places. It was early afternoon, we had just arrived at camp, and one of our two Outward Bound facilitators had called for a game of Camouflage—essentially, a forest hybrid of hide-and-go-seek and tag. It was unexpected, simple, and fun. For a few minutes, we were all kids again, and the only thing that was important was finding a good hiding place.
The morning was one filled with the same nervous energy that drives the first day of school any year. From deer-in-headlights to frenetic conversations exploring the possibilities of Outward Bound groups and not having access to the Internet or cell phones for five days, it was clear: these kids were nervous.
And rightly so. Outward Bound uses demanding situations and unfamiliar environments to challenge students, as individuals and as groups, to grow, explore, and reflect upon themselves and their experiences. By putting students in safe but uncomfortable situations, Outward Bound seeks to stretch a student’s awareness about his or her own capacity to set goals, overcome obstacles, and what it means to be a part of a team and community.
My group, G Unit (as we came to call ourselves), spent most of our first morning together in silence. We introduced ourselves with zany charades, packed and repacked the bags we would carry for the next five days, and sought comfort in the shared experience of not knowing what lay ahead for us. We were headed to the Appalachian Trail; together, just us—no Internet, friends, or family—for the remainder of the week.
It was a two-and-a-half hour drive to our starting point on the Appalachian Trail. While I chatted with Jenna in the front of the van, the students sat in silence in the back. Most of my attempts to engage, rally, and distract them failed. The journey into the unknown seemed to have paralyzed them.
I chose a V-shaped tree as my first hiding spot. I was wearing a bright blue shirt—the same one I would eventually wear all five days—and it proved decidedly unhelpful apparel for “camouflaging” myself in the woods. Jenna continued the count down from 20; 13, 12, 11—kids scuttled from spot to spot, trying to improve their chances of disappearing into the woods while not straying too far from our camp. The goal of the game, after all, was to be the first person to tag the counter—an element that kept its players from disappearing too far into the woods. It was a safe game in an unfamiliar environment that challenged us all to have fun together. Jenna had surprised the group with the game as a way of jolting us out of our silent awkwardness. And it appeared to be working. The next four days would hold challenges and opportunities aplenty, but in this moment, playing Camouflage in the woods, we were all kids again, and we were all in it together.
Read – Day Two: On The Trail