I had the distinct privilege of embarking on a life-changing—and I truly mean it when I say “life-changing”—experience with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) on a Future Global Leader Expedition. I spent 20 days backpacking in the Rocky Mountains with some of the brightest, most accomplished students from all over the world. During our adventure, we learned of four different types of fun an individual can have, but before I get into that, let me tell you just what I did exactly during my first three weeks in August.
On July 31st, the 15 of us who received the coveted Future Global Leader Fellowship had to take part in the first component of a 3-year fellowship: survive in the wilderness for 20 days. The following morning, the NOLS staff took our luggage, our backpacks, and worst of all, our phones. Then they explained to us the gear issued to us—hiking clothes, water bottles, warm layers, tent, food, cooking supplies, maps, and a compass to name a few—and all of this was to be carried throughout the duration of our three weeks. Once our backpacks had all the sufficient equipment we needed to survive and live comfortably, we were all placed onto a bus, and driven 3 hours away from Lander into the Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. And so began an excruciatingly difficult expedition. Now on to the 4 Types of Fun!
Type 1: When it’s fun in the moment.
There were many instances when I enjoyed what I was doing with the people I was with during NOLS. For example, I enjoyed singing along to Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” from Frozen, or the time when my friends and I played a game where we would meow the lyrics to songs and we would try to deduce the song by the feline cover. I also had lots of fun learning how to cook good, backcountry food, or laying on the beach after hiking up a mountain, or playing “Never Have I Ever” with a bunch of college teenagers. But what was also always enjoyable were the conversations exchanged with the other students. Since it was an international fellowship, there were students who came from all over the globe. I made friends from parts of the world I hardly ever heard of, and grew to appreciate diversity on a whole new level.
Type 2: When it is not fun at the time, but it is fun when you look back on it.
Have you ever done something ridiculous and you tell yourself “Oh, well this will be something to laugh at when we look back on it”? Well that is this type of fun—and it is perhaps the epitome of my experience. NOLS was hard. NOLS was tiring. NOLS was painful. NOLS was not fun… well, not at the time anyways. One of the hikes we had to do were called passes: a point of high elevation gain between the peaks of two mountains. (Imagine walking uphill for about 6 hours gaining 1000+ feet of elevation in just under a mile and a half). During these trips, you are pretty much scaling a mountain, just not reaching the highest point of the mountain—you’re just getting darn close to it. It takes a lot of physical stamina, and when you’re carrying 50+ pounds of gear, it is not exactly “fun.” The fun part comes afterwards when the day is over and you are at camp, reflecting and looking back at the mountain and saying “Wow… I climbed that.” Then there are days when you do climb to the top of the mountain. And then squeeze in four more passes. And when all’s said and done, you realize that with each pass, it becomes physically and mentally easier nor does it take as long, but the feeling of accomplishment when you get to the top does not diminish. You then look back at the terrain you survived and feel so glad that you endured it now seeing the positive results they had.
Type 3: When it is not fun for you, but it is fun for others.
This kind of fun is more about respecting others who are living it up, and just because you may not be perceiving the same level of excitement for an activity or endeavor, that doesn’t necessarily translate that your peers may not be getting a different sensation from the same thing you’re going through. So this type of fun makes you appreciate that what you may find humdrum or boring, others may have a BLAST—and that’s okay. I personally did not feel as if I experienced a time when I wasn’t having fun with others while others were, because I generally derive my happiness from people, and I was surrounded with 14 of the most beautiful people for 20 days away from societal distractions (so what more could I ask for!).
Type 4: When it just isn’t fun for anyone.
Believe it or not, but there were a few times when I am sure that, during a particular event, no one was having fun. On our first day, my group faced dehydration, as we started our first ever backpacking hike walking 8 miles. Uphill. With full packs. And in very, very hot weather. As a result, we depleted our water faster than we should have, and did not manage to reach a body of water in order to replenish our water bottles. This subsequently resulted in us experiencing dehydration (and it hurt so much…). Then the following day after not having adequate water, we managed to get stuck in a lightning storm, and were rained on for two hours. When you face the unexpected, and the only thing you can do is wait it out, it was difficult to have fun, or at least your mind is preoccupied with other things like reevaluating how you took that water bottle for granted or how much you really missed your blankey to keep you warm. Nevertheless, I learned that it’s okay if the situation is not fun. What is not okay is how you approach it. Even though the situation is not dubbed as “fun,” there isn’t a reason you can’t look at your current state in a positive perspective or have fun through other channels. For example, during our rainstorm, as we were quickly trying to set up our tent to take shelter, I noticed my instructors calmly setting up theirs and laughing the whole time, while my group was panicking and rushing through our task. What I realized was that they did not enjoy being soaked, but they decided that wasn’t going to stop them from making the most of the situation in a different sense, and that was making jokes or just getting their minds onto something else.
So NOLS was difficult to say the least—but it was an experience I would never exchange for anything. NOLS awakened skills I possessed that I was not even aware of. NOLS taught me how to communicate with people who are far different than me, but how to respect and love those nuances. NOLS reinforced my desire for medicine as a means to offer medical help should someone get injured, and to be equipped with the right skill set to assist in any situation. When I say that NOLS changed my life for the better, I am not exaggerating—I am not lying; the person I was on August 1st is not the same person on August 20th. For one thing, NOLS inspired me to live my life in Type 1 Fun, but to not fear any other Type of Fun. Because life is always fun no matter how you look at it.
Also: Do check out the Future Global Leaders Page! If you’re interested in securing a 3-year fellowship to meet some of the most talented, resilient students from across the globe, and get funding for your summer internships, then this is the program for you!
This blog was previously posted on the I’m First! Scholarship Blog Series and recently migrated here to my personal site.