Adventure Education: Turning Fear into Growth

The ride to Rugove Valley was full of the chatter and silliness typical of a bus full of school aged children. You had the two students sitting next to each other having a quiet conversation, the readers, the gamers and the students who’s volume control is always on 10 and goes to 12 on a bus. When we arrived at the information center in Peje to meet our guides you could finally begin to hear some comments about the coming adventure; “How high do you think the zip line is?” “How long is it?” “How much weight can it hold?”

“How long til we get there?” asked the students as we re-boarded the buses. “About 10 minutes or so,” was the casual reply. You could slowly feel the mood change and the conversation now revolved around the zipline ride. As we drove into the gorge there were the occasional ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at the natural beauty surrounding us. Finally, we passed under the zip cable which ran above the road for a short distance while crossing from one side of the gorge to the other and continuing above the river, which I happily pointed out to the students. There were mixed responses. “That’s not too high” “that’s really high.” Although there was some disagreement about this as they tried to either talk themselves out of their fears or justify them, the one thing I knew everyone seemed to agree about now, without saying it of course, was; “What did I get myself into!”

As we pulled into the parking lot there were two cables that could be seen coming from the hill above us. One was low enough to the ground to give the illusion that falling off would be ‘safe’. The second one was much higher and all you could hear were the loud swallowing sounds that translated into; “uh, oh, we’re not going on that right?” As we walked up the pathway, we continued straight past the first cable. The mood started to get a little serious and tense now. We approached our guides who had arranged the harnesses and helmets neatly on a line for us. The students got quieter and quieter as they put on their gear, knowing that there was no turning back now. Even the students who usually talked non-stop were now quiet and pensive. “Are you nervous?” I asked one of them. A nod of the head was the response. I smiled inside knowing the trip was a success. The students were experiencing the fear this type of challenge evokes and they were ready to face it and overcome it!

But there was still one big looming question……WHO WAS GOING FIRST? And……..would we ever see them again. Luckily, we had a reluctant volunteer and we were flying. I watched the first five or six students leaving, enjoying that look of uncertainty and fear mixed with determination on their pensive faces and then the echoing screams and squawks of joyful exhilaration as they disappeared into the distance. I then went to the landing platform and equally enjoyed the ear to ear smiles as they approached the landing and then the looks of satisfaction and exhilaration as they dismounted. Many sat and watched the arrival of the others enjoying the distant screams as they flew through the gorge and the happy smiles as they landed.

In this activity the final happiness and joy seems to be in the landing but I would say the prize is really in the struggle. The common student response is, “that was awesome can I do it again?” They want the experience at the end of the line and the experience of flying through the air but that sweetness wouldn’t be the same without the struggle. The struggle that challenges students to overcome their fears and push themselves beyond their comfort zone, requiring them to dig a little deeper inside than normal. When they have pushed through it and come out the other side, they have often learned something new about themselves and discovered their own inner strength!