Why My Semester Group Thrived

Posted by: NOLS Blog on 1/14/16 7:44 AM

By Shannon Reiser, Outdoor Educator Semester '15

Hiking together Dean squishes water out of his boots while Lucila looks on all smiles. Photo by Luke Fortezzo.

As I reintegrate into normal life after my NOLS Outdoor Educator Semester in the Rockies, I am frequently asked about the group of people I spent three months with. My group, cohort, squad, crew ... whatever you want to call it remained intact for the whole 90 days: no evacuations, few breaks from each other, and many tears shed when we said goodbye.

Although we were far from perfect, it was said that within our group there was a special feeling present that doesn't exist on all expeditions. I have reflected on this, wondering what was this "magic" that was felt within our group? I have narrowed it down to at least one thing ... we loved each other.

Summit of Wind River Peak Taking the view on the Wind River Peak summit. Photo by Luke Fortezzo.

Love! LOVE! The love where you'd do just about anything for the other person (people). Love where you feel like you literally couldn't go on without the other person (err... people). Think of just about any cliché about love, and it somehow applied to my group as we lived and traveled together for the past three months.

But what did love look like on our NOLS expedition?

On the most basic level, we lived together. Cooked, cleaned, hiked, climbed, and slept side by side. I remember many nights falling asleep to the sound of someone reading out loud to tent mates, or talking and processing the day. This physical proximity for such a long time bred close, loving friendships rather quickly.

In one of the best laughs of the semester, we fed each other a butter-soaked cake around a campfire while celebrating our “two week-a-versary.” It’s still funny to think about now, clumsily feeding a relative stranger I’d only met two weeks prior who had butter running down their chin.

Beyond simply living together, we adapted to each other’s needs and helped one another. It doesn’t take long to recognize what makes another person tick. But what does take time is learning how to mesh one’s own needs and habits with the routines and personalities of others. For example, one of my group mates might make coffee before breakfast even though they don’t drink it. A relatively simple gesture, but one that could transform our whole morning. Or you might let someone cuddle up to you for warmth in the night, sacrificing some of your own comfort. *As a cold sleeper, this wins the good expedition behavior award for me.

Splitboarding and backcountry skiing Luke, the lone split-boarder, working on his fast transitions. Photo by Luke Fortezzo.

Later into our friendship, things got difficult. We fought, got irritated, and had hard days. During these times, love looked like talking issues out, putting work into our relationships, and deciding to let things go for the better of the group. Once the “honeymoon phase” was over in our group, I observed everyone actively striving to keep the love alive. Sometimes this took the form of large group meetings or one-on-one conversations between individuals. Ours was a cohesion that took work to maintain.

I would argue that, indeed, our successes were more than just coincidental. Early in our semester, we were pushed by our proctor to write down guidelines for a group culture and a creed for our behavior. Throughout the semester we were held to the standards we defined that first week. I attribute much of our group’s positive vibes to instructors who modeled supportive behavior, professionalism, patience, and effective communication throughout the semester (seriously, hats off to our instructors, about whom I could write several blog posts: KO, Patrick, Kate, Jamie, Robin, Anne, Roger, Morgan, Kyle, Jim, and Joji, you are remarkable).

Bouldering Instructor Morgan spots Roger while he pulls on some rock. Photo by Luke Fortezzo.

I’m pleased to admit that one of our group anthems was Cher’s “Believe.” In the chorus, Cher bellows, “Do you believe in life after love?” You could hear us screech these words while climbing rocks in Nevada, dropping slot canyons in Utah, and shredding snow while skiing in the Wyoming Range.

As my semester came to a close, I pondered if going back to my regular life was possible after NOLS love. The love of my outdoor educator semester, the OESF 9/18, felt like the kind where you’re not sure if you can go on without the other people. And here we are, a few weeks past graduation, each member of the group back in school, back at home, job hunting, and adventuring. I believe ours was the kind of love where life is now more exciting because we shared so many amazing moments together, and I am better for having fought and laughed with each of them.

The last night of the course Our final night in the field around a fire built in the snow. Photo by Luke Fortezzo.

About the Author: Shannon is a nomad who has landed, for the time being, in Jackson, Wyoming. She spends her time cooking, reading, climbing, hiking, skiing, and water coloring. In the spring and summer months, Shannon can be found backpacking, canoeing, or kayaking with youth, all the while singing badly and swimming often.


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