The Real Mission of Outward Bound School

Forests, lakes, and rivers; mountain ranges, rope, backpacks and canoes. White gas stoves, dried food, and dirty clothes. That just about sums up Outward Bound, right?

If you have ever worked for Outward Bound or gone on an Outward Bound course, then you probably know how the question plays out. People who are unfamiliar with Outward Bound typically have a somewhat accurate yet vague idea of what goes on. “You take people out into the woods,” they might say, or, “It’s all about getting outside.”

Whenever people ask me that kind of question, I assure them that they are not wrong; Outward Bound has quite a lot to do with the out of doors. However, I also tell them that the mission of Outward Bound is not to teach people how to be better rock climbers, better mountaineers, or better paddlers, but rather how to simply become better people. It is the model of the Schools to teach the messages of self-reliance, self-confidence, compassion and empathy through the medium of outdoor challenges.

Outward Bound Teaching Moment

Inspiring the world’s youth to be the best versions of themselves is not something as simple as teaching them math, or a language, or anything considered to be traditionally academic. The spectrums of self-improvement are so widespread and varying from individual to individual that there is nothing close to a “right way” to do it. Each person responds to the reality of their life in a completely unique way, which, in my opinion, is the beauty of the human race. The idea that “you are needed,” no matter who you are, is a critical ingredient to the success of Outward Bound programs. And it is this element of inclusiveness and reliance on teamwork that we can work to achieve these outcomes. One of the ways that we try to create empathy and understanding is not through any backcountry activity at all, but instead through an act of meaningful service.

The word ‘service’ can mean many different things to many people. The word might inspire thoughts of military service, or community service; it can have religious connotation, and perhaps even suggest the idea of taking something apart and putting it back together again so that it may work better. All of those are correct, as far as I am concerned; in the context of Outward Bound service projects, service is the act of contributing one’s time, efforts and energy toward something greater than oneself.

Outward Bound Service Project

I work as a logistician for the Northwest Outward Bound School, located on the eastern slope of the Cascade mountain range in north-central Washington state. In a nutshell, working as a logistician means that I provide students on an Outward Bound course with their gear, food and transportation. I don’t get to see very much of what goes on during the courses themselves, but I always see them at the end, when the gear gets cleaned and checked back in, the students get their first shower in weeks, and we go out into our mountain valley’s community to perform service.

For most of our students, these service projects come in the form of helping out the local nonprofit organizations. We’ve worked on the local trail systems, setting sign posts at trail intersections; we’ve worked with a family planning service, helping them tidy up their grounds after a long winter. Many students go off to the combination middle and high school to help with the student garden, or go down to the food bank, recycling center, or the community’s local arts and business co-operative to lend a hand in whatever way is needed at the time.

Fortunately for us, there is never any shortage of things to do; fortunately for whomever we work with on any given service project, an increase of workers means that lots of things can get checked off their lists. These service projects definitely meet our outcomes, and are a great way for our organization…

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