From student, to instructor, to admissions manager: Amanda Browne’s journey with Outward Bound Canada
Outward Bound Canada (OBC) has changed my life – a few times, actually. I started as a participant on my first backpacking trip in 2016 as a young adult and I am now a valued member of the admissions team. But how do you go from wanting to go home on the second day of the expedition to working for the organization in various capacities for six years? Well, I’ll tell you.
IT ALL STARTED WHEN I FELT LOST
At first, I’d only heard about Outward Bound from my dad, who said that his brother was sent to OB Colorado in the 1970s to clean up his act, and his experience was so trying that he said he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. Despite this – or perhaps in spite of this – dad was a full supporter of OBC and thought everyone should go outside. We did a lot of that. When I finished my undergraduate degree, one of my professors who’d been an OBC instructor in Ontario suggested that I get involved. At 22, I was about to graduate and had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a bit lost and the possibility of actually getting lost in the wilderness somehow seemed like a good idea.
I signed up for the Rockies Instructor Development Program, which was held June 10-23, 2016. This was one of the programs that OBC conducted to train new instructors before the Training Academy launched. I arrived in Canmore, was introduced to the other nine participants, and then quickly taken to Ya Ha Tinda to begin our journey. Up until that point, I’d never been on a backpacking trip, except for an overnight trip I’d taken years ago in jeans and sneakers, where I ended up getting lost.
I was so uncomfortable, but then I loved it
Being in a remote place with people I didn’t know was very exciting and frightening. The first and second night I was extremely cold and tossed and turned all night because the sleeping bag I’d brought from home was no match for the cold of the mountain spring. I kept thinking that this was just the inherent suffering of backpacking, and decided that this wasn’t for me and I’d go home on day 4 at resupply. The instructors learned that my sleeping bag was not suitable and got me one from the base, which I received the night of the resupply, and it was rated for 10 degrees colder weather. This new sleeping bag changed my life: I slept and was warm, and the whole trip took a turn. It was sunny, the mountains were beautiful, and we talked about our feelings- it was incredible.
I was elected leader of the group and led a daring rescue to
help another participant with their backpack up a steep hill. Far from school, family, and everyday life, I found myself. In an environment of physical challenge and community support, I got to know myself and really liked that person. The rest of the group liked me too, despite my initial fear that I’d have no friends for the duration of the course.
Leading 14-year-olds in the rain: My first experience as an OBC instructor
After the course, the instructors selected me for an internship and so the following month I was again sent to the Rockies, this time as an intern-instructor on a 17-day youth trip. This trip had a very different tone. It rained for 14 days without interruption. We covered twice the distance of the previous course in as many days and crossed several mountain passes. Because of the cold and the rigours of the trip, the students ate more than expected and we needed extra food at resupply.
Let me tell you, cold and hungry 14-year-olds are not nice. That being said, they rallied. They came together in incredible ways, led their own conflict resolution sessions in evening meetings, and a few returned the next year for expeditions in better weather. I didn’t bring a tent with me on this trip – my mistake – and ended up having to learn how to set up a tarp on the fly. Miraculously – or as a testament to my superior knot-tying skills – I stayed dry and thoroughly enjoyed it. Plus, a wet tarp is much lighter than a wet tent and still works just as well.
I was impressed with how much I overcame and how much I enjoyed the challenges. While summiting Mount Howard was hard, figuring out how to get the students to wash their dishes without bugging them was harder. Learning how to communicate with people who are in a new environment takes a lot of relationship building. You need to establish trust before you can ask someone to do something they don’t want to do. I had to be vulnerable with them, asking for what I needed (in this case, clean dishes), and respecting their response was the hardest part. The dishes did get done, eventually.
To date, I’ve spent more than 110 days under my tarp.
SIX YEARS LATER, STILL OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE…AND LOVING IT!
Over the next few years, I continued to work for OBC as an instructor, usually doing one trip a year in the Rockies and as many day trips with Vancouver Urban as I could manage on top of my full-time job and studies. While working towards my Master of Education, I decided to make a career change and leave my secure yet unfulfilling job to work more as an outdoor instructor. After that season, a full-time role as admissions coordinator came up and I applied and was selected for it. My start date was two weeks before Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic.
For the past two years, I’ve worked in the admissions department and was primarily responsible for supporting schools and group programs at OBC. After parental leave, I’m now back as Admissions Manager and look forward to working on the post-pandemic recovery of our expeditions and programs and helping as many youth as possible to get rained on and travel long distances by foot or paddle. Being out of my comfort zone has been a theme in my time with Outward Bound Canada so far, but as they say, that’s where the learning happens.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Browne is the Admissions Manager for Schools and Groups in the Admissions Department at Outward Bound Canada. Although she now spends most of her time at the computer helping students behind the scenes, she takes every opportunity to get out in the backcountry with students.