Thursday December 18, 2014
Friends of OA Newsletter
A New Climbing Wall for OA
Frosh Trip Learning for the Trail and Beyond
Encouraging Difficult Conversations
by Dan Box ’07
OA has long prided itself on easing the transition to college for hundreds of freshmen each year. From academics to the social scene, Frosh Trip leaders were tasked with giving their freshmen much of the knowledge they needed to smoothly transition to Princeton. For many years, however, some of the most important topics were considered taboo.
Under the guidance of Camilo Azcarate, the University Ombudsman, the Leader Training Committee has participated in several workshops aimed at learning how to facilitate some of the difficult conversations that can arise on Frosh Trip, including politics, religion, gender, and socioeconomic differences. This past fall, Dr. Azcarate held a similar workshop for all OA leaders during the pre-trip soft skills refresher known as Leave a Trace Day. With the help of the leader trainers, Dr. Azcarate demonstrated that avoiding difficult topics doesn’t make them go away, but with the right guidance from leaders, students can explore their differences in a safe environment.
This echoes what President Tilghman said in her 2006 Commencement address, “...I fear we are at risk of losing an essential ingredient of a vital democracy and a humane worldwide community—listening to one another with open minds and mutual respect.” “Dr. Azcarate’s message focuses on keeping conversations both respectful and productive,” noted Lizzy Hammer, a junior leader trainer. “The conversation doesn’t have to be comfortable for all involved, but it should always be safe.”
Andy Brett ’07, another leader trainer, elaborated. “The leader’s job is to make sure that all the participants in the conversation feel safe. But uncomfortable conversations can mirror parts of the Princeton experience, which tells us that it’s OK to question someone’s assertions or beliefs, as long as it’s done respectfully. That can be one of the best ways to learn about others and about yourself.” Often, the most difficult part of facilitating can be deciding exactly when it’s necessary. “The two frosh trip groups I’ve led have had very different tolerance levels for certain topics, which can make it a challenge to determine an acceptable level of uncomfortability,” remarked OA leader Alex Brousseau ’08. Indeed, much of Dr. Azcarate’s training focuses on when a conversation should be facilitated or stopped. He notes that it’s OK to call a time-out in a conversation and put it off until there’s more time to devote to it—or until people have had time to reflect on what was said.
This emphasis on having difficult conversations during the trip doesn’t mean the old Frosh Trip model is being phased out; to the contrary, the goal is to enhance the Frosh Trip experience to prepare students for the truly important conversations they’ll encounter at Princeton and in the world beyond FitzRandolph gate.
Leadership Skills for Life
by Rory Truex ’07
If you can pass the “lost frosh simulation” on your Outdoor Action Leader Training Trip, you can do just about anything. At least that’s what I tell myself. This past year I worked with Princeton in Asia to develop a new service program, Summer of Service (SOS). I led a group of ten Princeton undergraduates (including several other OA Leaders) on an eight-week trip in rural China to found an English immersion program for Chinese university students of minority backgrounds. The SOS trip was by far the most difficult and rewarding leadership experience I’ve had, and OA training helped me every step of the way.
OA gives you confidence, a confidence that extends beyond the outdoors. I can remember the “lost frosh sim” quite well. It was about 11 at night, and we had gotten into camp late after suffering a host of simulations. I was feeling grumpy and hypoglycemic. Then John was missing, and it was my job to organize the group and find him. Naturally, one of the other Leader Trainers went ASR (acute stress reaction) on me, and I distinctly recall a feeling of hopelessness as I watched everything collapse around me. Then it happened, that sort of calm self-assuredness that guides us through these crisis situations, and I was able to get the group together and finish out the sim. I can’t count the times I had that mix of emotions in China this past summer. Something would go wrong (program participants lost in Beijing, late for class, violently ill, etc.), and after that initial jolt of worry, the self-assuredness guided me through until the problem was solved. It’s when you trust your judgment that you can take on a leadership role, and OA develops that judgment.
In China, the soft skills were even more important. People are more likely to suffer from homesickness and culture shock than severe hypothermia and volume shock. The magic of OA lies in the group, the bonding that occurs over the week as a result of forming, norming, storming, and performing. It is the job of the OA leader to guide the group through these processes and make sure all members are comfortable and productive. China layered the stages of culture shock on top of the stages of group dynamics, resulting in an interesting blend of group issues and personal challenges. I can recall the first week; about half the group clicked instantly, while a couple individuals seemed to be left out because they had more difficulty adjusting to the new environment. That’s a Rick Curtis classic. My ‘leader radar’ picked it up, and after a few good feelings talks and some group activities, the problem was solved and the SOS group was whole again.
I initially embarked on OA leader training hoping to learn some outdoor skills, meet new people, and lead a frosh trip in the fall. It has taken me two frosh trips and the Summer of Service program to realize that I carry OA with me even when I’m not in the woods. The training has made me a more socially conscious human being, a more thoughtful friend, and a more capable leader. This next year, two new leaders will take over Summer of Service, and they will face the array of challenges that come with running an English immersion program in rural China. These challenges are not too different from those we face in the woods with our frosh every September, and I firmly believe that the best training for these future leaders is not Chinese instruction or cultural sensitivity class, but a week in the woods on a Leader Training Trip. The lessons learned on those trips outlive the games and memories that teach them, and they can be applied to any leadership situation.
Getting Dirty and Getting to Know Yourself: Self Discovery on OA
by Meredith Kleiner ’07
“Only Princeton kids would have a conversation like this!” This exclamation can be heard leaping from the mouths of freshman on any Outdoor Action Frosh Trip. The cause being conversations ranging from how fun algorithms are to discussing the current politics of some obscure country that the bright young freshmen’s older leaders have never even heard of. Each year I lead a trip I find myself more and more amazed at how diverse and interesting the incoming freshmen are. It is no surprise they find themselves in such fascinating conversations for they are newly minted Princeton students. But what makes these freshmen even greater is that by the end of those grimy five days in OA they become themselves, which is far more interesting than being just a Princeton student.
One would be hard pressed to find an incoming freshman who did not have a preconceived idea of what a ‘Princeton student’ is. As a senior, I look at them through lenses of experience and see the thought bubbles above their heads “I’m the quintessential math major,” “I’m the sweet Princeton athlete,” and of course, “I’m going to have to buy more polo shirts to fit in here!” Outdoor Action bursts all of these bubbles. If every freshman remained irrevocably pinned to their bubble thought, Princeton would be a miserably dull place.
Anyone who has participated in a Frosh Trip can attest to the fact that walking into Dillon Gym on that very first day at Princeton could easily be classified as anxiety producing. Instead of encountering ‘The Princeton Student,’ the freshmen encounter over one hundred screaming Princeton students, also known as OA Leaders, shouting “OA” and “10” at the top of their lungs. They face the daunting image of people in costumes, waving flags and the occasional blow up animal, shouting at the top of their lungs muddled letters and numbers “BF26LH97G13!” What’s even worse: there is not a polo shirt in site. Where are all the “Princeton students”? You’re looking at them, all those wild OA Leaders.
Outdoor Action is truly a unique experience. OA encourages freshmen to leave behind the categorized ‘Princeton student’ and be themselves. It puts together twelve real Princeton students, twenty-four hours a day, for six days in a row. By challenging themselves in a safe environment like OA, the freshmen get to know themselves as they get to know their peers. By realizing how different they all are from each other, and with encouragement from their leaders, they understand that being a Princeton student is not about assimilating to the existing stereotype, but rather reshaping Princeton by bringing their own personal spice to the mix. At the end of those transforming six days of Frosh trip, the freshmen return dirty and smelly, there is no question of that. But there is also no question that through all the bug bites and grime their confidence and individuality shines through like the excited white-toothed smile on a wilderness-dirtied face.
A Hitchhiker on OA
Alumni News & Notes
Professor John Gager, OA Leader & Climber retires
Professor John Gager, a well-known faculty member in the Department of Religion, retired this year after more than 35 years of teaching at Princeton. John has been an Outdoor Action leader and an active mentor in OA’s rock climbing community since the early 1990’s. He served as master of Forbes College from 1992 to 2000. In 1998, he received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and in May 2006 received Princeton’s Behrman Award for distinguished achievement in the humanities. John will be continuing his involvement as a member of the Friends of OA Board and as the faculty advisor to the Climbing Program.
Josh Miner ’43 Experiential Education Award Winners
This years’ Josh Miner ’43 Experiential Education award was presented at Reunions to Marty Johnson ’81. The award is given annually to “a graduate of Princeton University who has provided outstanding leadership in the fields of experiential or outdoor education.” Marty is president and founder of Isles, Inc., a Trenton-based community development organization. Founded in 1981 when Marty was a senior at Princeton University, Isles manages self-help programs in community planning and research, real estate development, environmental health, urban agriculture, job training and education, wealth creation and regional organizing and analysis.
Notes from the Trailhead
Send us your latest stories on the enclosed membership form.
Bernie Van Der Hoeven ’59 stated “Winky and I did a five-day backpacking trip to the Wind River Range, WY, in July—spectacular! Will do another trip in Eastern Sierras, CA, this July and then back to Wind River in 2007—as long as my body can handle 35 lbs. for 10-12 miles!
David Kane ’81 has been doing lots of whitewater and ocean surf kayaking in Maryland as well as a yearly mountain bike trip down the C&O Canal.
Rick and Shannon Rochelle ’87 are both working for NOLS Alaska (National Outdoor Leadership School) in administrative roles and as instructors.
Torrey McMillan ’95 completed the Canadian Ski Marathon last February for the second time (100 miles, 2 days, classical Nordic skiing). She’s hoping to finish building her cedar-strip sea kayak this summer so she can get it on the water in Maine at the end of the summer.
Meredith Currier ’98 is working for Hurricane Island Outward Bound as the Program Director for Experiential Programs in Traditional Wooden Boatbuilding/Sail Training.
Anna Levy-Warren ’01 and Louis Turgel (’01) were married in the Berkshire’s in September. She writes “Our fabulous ‘outdoorsy’ Princeton friends bought us a gift certificate to kayak to our hearts content in our choice of amazing locations which we are looking forward to doing!”
Nicole “Chinook” McClean ’02 headed off to Cape Town, South Africa for some hiking and then headed to the White Nile in Uganda for some grade 5 whitewater raft guiding.
Casey Passmore ’05 is working for the San Joaquin Outdoor School, teaching fifth and sixth graders outdoor education in the beautiful coastal redwoods near Santa Cruz, CA.
Former Leader Trainers Meghan Mullarkey ’02 and Wilkie Kiefer ’04 were married in Seattle on August 26 with a number of OA friends including OA Director Rick Curtis ’79 at the wedding.
Quotes from FT 2006 Participants
My OA trip was my first experience in U.S. and I fully took advantage of it. I learned many new things, I met many wonderful people and I admired the beautiful sceneries of US landscapes. My friends (and here I mean all my colleagues from L45) introduced me to a new country and a new lifestyle. I will always remember this trip as one of the best I’ve ever had.
Taking the OA trip was the second wonderful decision I have made about my college life (the first was deciding to go to Princeton). As an international student never been to the U.S. before, my OA group gave me a warm welcome. Not only did I learn the basic skills of backpacking, camping, and canoeing, I also made my first group of college friends, and enjoyed an unforgettable trip.
I really had a good time with VA71, and, taking into account that I am from Romania, and those were basically my first 7 days in the U.S., the trip was surely a way of discovering the country and the people for me. All my nine trip colleagues offered me very distinctive characters, but overall, I really was able to discover their common values and beliefs, way of life, and means of living and thus attribute these to a more general American sense of living. On the “outdoor” part of the experience, I thoroughly enjoyed hiking and camping and the most, the woods.
Thanks to Everyone Who Supported OA This Year!
James Garrett ’65
Phebe Miner S’43
Charles Lewis ’47
Rich Weiss ’79
Chester Rice ’44
Marvin Swartz ’63 & P’97