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Hiking Like a Girl

By Caroline Dooley on Mar 16, 2020
Photo by Caroline Dooley

Every day for years I wore the same outfit: baggy red basketball shorts and pink floral sandals.

For me, this is what it meant to be a girl. My love of floral print combined with a hatred of form-fitting clothing, creating a unique juxtaposition that made me me.

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Topics: leadership, Sea Kayaking, backpacking, kayaking, Alaska, Alaska backpacking, stories, student-stories

My Path to Outdoor Education from a Semester in Alaska

By Katiya Gombar on Jul 15, 2019

Editor's note: Katiya took a semester in Alaska in the summer of 2016 and became a NOLS instructor in May 2019.

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Topics: Semester, moutaineering, skills, NOLS Alaska, backpacking, kayaking, outdoor education, Alaska, stories, student-stories

There and Back Again, a Patagonia Tale: The Patagonia Cultural Expedition

By Jen Antocci on May 29, 2019
Photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition

I was sitting in my doctor’s office, awkwardly fussing with my johnny gown and glancing down at the NOLS health form in my hands. My doctor comes in and after some formal chitchat I ask her to complete the health clearance for this month long hiking and cultural expedition in Patagonia.

“A month of hiking? Sleeping in tents? In South America? Are you being punished?” she half joked. “No, I’m paying to do this” I joked back. “Well good for you, I don’t even like going out in my backyard.” She signed the form and I left the office, mentally checking off the final item on my expedition to-do list.

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Topics: Patagonia, NOLS Patagonia, skills, backpacking, culture, cultural expedition, stories, student-stories

Finding What Makes Others Tick on a Baja Semester

By Alison Peterson on May 8, 2019
Photo by Alison Peterson

Two months into our fall semester in Baja and dinner had just ended, wrapping up a weary day of classes and cleaning the kayaks. I strolled over to my coursemate, who was writing on the beach, asking if I could join in. In waves, a few more came to join us.

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Topics: study-abroad, NOLS Mexico, Baja, NOLS semester, outdoor semester, stories, student-stories

12 Days That Changed My Life: A Homestay in East Africa

By Steve Stoddard on May 6, 2019
Photo courtesy of Steve Stoddard

Rather than my watch alarm bringing me out of sleep, it was roosters and cows. Instead of bundling up to get out of my tent and start boiling water for my cook group, I was waking up in someone else’s home.

This was all pretty different than what I had gotten accustomed to during the previous six weeks of backpacking on my NOLS semester.

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Topics: study-abroad, culture, NOLS East Africa, homestay, stories, student-stories

Dream with Your Eyes Open: Women's Baja Sea Kayaking Expedition

By Jessey Jansen on Apr 15, 2019
Photo by Lynn Petzold

Jessey shares rhythm and memories from the spring 2019 Women’s Baja Sea Kayaking - Adult course.

I have always been a dreamer. As a kid, I would perch myself on our hard living room floor, nestled in front of the heat-vent, and longingly riffle through the heavy Encyclopedia Britannica.

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Topics: NOLS Mexico, Sea Kayaking, skills, Baja Sea Kayaking, kayaking, women in leadership, stories, student-stories

Brave, Not Perfect

By Mairin Rogers on Mar 19, 2019
Photo by Alison Peterson

My mom always told me that I was brave. Brave for learning to play a new instrument, brave for trying out for a sports team, brave for venturing off on my own. During my three months in the backcountry on a NOLS course, however, I realized she was wrong. I wasn’t brave—I was scared.

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Topics: Semester, NOLS Mexico, Baja, outdoor semester, Semester in Baja, stories, student-stories

"There Is No Limit:" A Kenyan Mountain Guide Advances Her Wilderness Training

By Carol Wanjiru (Mimie) on Mar 13, 2019
On the right is Ol Doinyo Lengai Mountain, which we would attempt summit later that night. On the left is Lake Natron (on the Tanzania side of the border) and Shompole Mountain Conservancy (on the Kenya side). Photo by Carol Wanjiru.

Editor's note: NOLS began operating in East Africa in 1974, opening our first location in Narumoru, Kenya (1974-2003), which closed and later reopened as NOLS East Africa in Arusha, Tanzania in 2011.

In 1987, legendary instructor James Kagambi (KG), a native Kenyan, joined NOLS and launched NOEP, the NOLS Outdoor Educator Program. These courses are designed solely for East Africans and provide training in backcountry travel, leadership, and risk management.

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Topics: skills, backpacking, mountaineering, inspiring women, NOLS East Africa, women in leadership, stories, student-stories

Discovering My—Slightly Strange—New Normal on a NOLS Gap Year

By Tricia Ballard on Mar 7, 2019
Kevin Castellanos

I’m normally apprehensive about opening up to people—so I was nervous when I showed up to a random bus stop three plane rides away from home for the start of mySemester in New Zealand. That day, I met nine strangers who would supposedly become my new best friends during the following 77 days in the mountains of New Zealand.

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Topics: study-abroad, NOLS New Zealand, NOLS semester, Gap Year, inspiring women, outdoor semester, Semester in New Zealand, stories, student-stories

My Semester in Baja, as Told in Food and Sunsets [Photo Essay]

By Claire Burgeson on Jan 22, 2019

On the seventh day of my Spring Semester in Baja, we bought a goat.

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Topics: sailing, skills, backpacking, kayaking, culture, photos, Semester in Baja, NOLS Expeditions, stories, student-stories

Do NOLS Even (and Especially) If You’re Scared

By Olivia Hewitt on Dec 10, 2018
Photo courtesy of Olivia Hewitt

About four months ago I sat in one of my college’s campus cafés and procrastinated away my final few minutes before class. I was in the middle of a season of complete chaos, and was trying to find something that would re-energize and center me. I was scrolling through a bunch of NOLS blog posts when suddenly a strange thing happened:

As I read about tents being blown over at 3 a.m. by torrential rain, days of brutal heat and scarce food and blistering heels, I started to cry tears of joy.

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Topics: Pacific Northwest Backpacking, expeditions, stories, student-stories

How to Take the Mountains Home: A Gateway Scholar Reflects on Horsepacking

By Cristina Edwards on Nov 19, 2018
Photo by Eve Cinquino

Before Rebeca Espinosa set off on her Wilderness Horsepacking course, she wasn’t sure she’d be challenged on the 21-day expedition. With horses carrying all the gear, and students and instructors riding on horseback, it was hard to see what about the course could be difficult.

At 5:45 a.m. the next day, it became clearer.

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Topics: horsepacking, scholarship, Live the Dream, Gateway Partner, Gateway Scholar, stories, student-stories

Sketches from Tanzania

By Mingyuk Chen on Nov 14, 2018

At the first camp site in Tanzania, I was so taken by the silhouette of the thorn acacia trees outlined by the setting sun that I found myself sketching them in the dark with just a dim light behind me.

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Topics: wildlife, NOLS East Africa, NOLS Tanzania, safari, visual art, stories, student-stories

Tolerance for Uncertainty: Sea, Mountains, and Culture on a Patagonia Semester

By Molly Herber on Jul 30, 2018
Enjoying rainbows in Patagonia. Photo by Ignacio Martínez.

“Learn, just learn about this unique and remote place in the world, connect with the people, nature, history, and its wild places—the glaciers, ice fields, rivers, lakes, islands, and sea.”

This is the advice that Semester in Patagonia graduate Ignacio Martínez would give to anyone thinking about taking a NOLS course in Patagonia. A native of Chile himself, Ignacio discovered many of the unknown parts of his own country, and himself, on his course.

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Topics: chile, study-abroad, Semester, Sea Kayaking, skills, kayaking, culture, mountaineering, Semester in Patagonia, stories, student-stories

Pay It Forward: How My NOLS Semester Helped Me Lead My Own Backcountry Trips

By Carolyn Highland on Jun 27, 2018
Photo by Carolyn Highland

November 21, 2012 was one of my favorite days on this planet. Up until this point, the idea of identifying a favorite day had seemed impossible, like choosing your favorite drop of water in a rushing river. But this was a day that made you realize if you couldn’t identify days that made the shortlist, you hadn’t yet experienced the type of day worthy of it.

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Topics: leadership, Semester, skiing, NOLS New Zealand, NOLS semester, outdoor semester, stories, student-stories