La Vida Goes to China
A version of this post, by Nate Hausman, originally appeared on the La Vida Center for Outdoor Education and Leadership’s blog. Photos by Amber and Nate Hausman.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, striving to “be here now” and focusing on choosing our challenges wisely are mantras that La Vida sherpas continually share while leading expeditions. Not only did Amber and I recently have the opportunity to live out some of these La Vida refrains, but we also got to share the La Vida trip experience in China with 17 international school students. The trip was a year in the making and consisted of countless email exchanges, numerous Skype conversations and a lot of trust that it would all come together in the end.
To bring the trip to fruition, we partnered with Concordia International School of Shanghai, Journey Wilderness Adventures (JWA) and a Beijing-based company called The Hutong. The Hutong provides educational experiences for students that are a unique blend of cultural immersion and experiential outdoor education. They provided the logistical support needed for our trip by preparing a route, organizing transportation and guiding us through the wilderness.
The seven-day trip first became an idea in 2015 after Gordon’s Vice President of Student Life Jennifer Jukanovich made a connection with a staff member at Concordia who oversees all their off-campus experiences. What started as a question of whether or not La Vida could provide an international experience soon became a reality. Rich Obenschain and I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Qualls of JWA who was visiting the Gordon area and heard about La Vida from a former student of his in China. One connection led to another and soon the nuts and bolts of the trip were coming together.
It was quickly apparent to us that this experience would be a unique one as soon as we landed in China’s capital. Surrounded by a sea foreign languages and shuffling through long lines at the customs checkpoint, we were thrilled to finally stretch our legs after 14 hours in a plane. The first few days of our trip were filled not only with tourist activity, but also with final trip preparations. A visit to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Hutong district in downtown Beijing were all highlights from those first few days. In addition to seeing some of the sites though, we focused our attention on purchasing and packing final food items, including some we brought from the U.S. (because who knew it was so tough to get M&Ms in China?).
Day one of the trip quickly arrived, and with that the leadership team headed to the airport to pick up the 17 students and two teachers from Concordia. Concordia has students from all over the world, so they have a strong focus on building community within the high school. Every year the students are a part of a different “TrIBES” (Transforming Individuals By Education and Service) group, which is a weeklong educational travel experience. TrIBES seeks to develop communication, leadership skills, self-reliance and compassion. After a two-hour bus ride into the hills located outside of Beijing, gear, food and personal equipment was all distributed and our group of 23 headed to the first campsite. We meandered through the wilderness and, as often happens on La Vida trips, the students started to develop their own inside jokes, tight bonds over long days of hiking, and friendships that would last for years after their experience in the woods.
The trip was a great experience overall for everyone involved. We left feeling positive that the spiritual curriculum we had prepared reached the students well and opened the door for them to begin exploring their faith more. Topics of discussion were based on community development, cultivating your personal faith, learning to be present and not worrying about the future. During an end-of-trip debrief session, all six leaders commented on how much work went into the planning and preparation of this trip, but how incredibly evident that planning was in how well the trip was implemented. Many students commented on how they have become more aware of the role of technology in their lives and how they need to find balance with its use. But they also came to realize that time with friends and family is something to be treasured and not disrupted by the buzzing of cell phones.
Now that the trip has wrapped up and everyone is back home again, we have been able to share with numerous friends, family and co-workers about how God truly did provide for us during this entire experience. It is apparent that you don’t need to be located in the Adirondacks to experience the power of La Vida. The lessons you gain from spending time in the wilderness are universal and cross international borders. Although future plans for another trip to China are not confirmed yet, we hope this was not the last international La Vida trip.