How many World Challenge Expeditions have you been on?
Five – Thailand & Cambodia, Tanzania, Peru, Vietnam, Uganda
Why did you choose for your students to go on a World Challenge rather than using another expedition company?
Initially it was handed down to me from a teacher who had run expeditions previously. Following on from this experience, I carried the model forward at Chesham Grammar School, and then brought it to my new school (Amersham). I was keen to stick with what I knew, and had strong relationships with several contacts within the company.
How did your students embrace the build-up stage (fundraising etc.)?
On a case by case situation, this can either be outstanding independence displayed from Challengers, or very time intensive from myself. Every situation is different.
Would you agree that the fitter and healthier the students are on expedition, the more enjoyable they’ll find the experience and why?
This statement is of course accurate, but only because I believe this to be the case for general life. I always motivate students to increase their core fitness prior to expedition as the trips are always challenging and every bit helps. However, I would not say it is a limiting factor unless ability to maintain moderate intensity exercise for prolonged periods of time is a concern.
What did you as a teacher get out of the expeditions?
A huge sense of value watching young students become more adult (to varying degrees) throughout the entire two-year programme. I genuinely feel this is the only benefit as a teacher because the visiting of countries is never in the way you would visit yourself, and the 24:7 on-duty aspect of the role is one to take very seriously.
I always sell the experience to colleagues as a delayed reaction of hugely warm memories one to two months following the hand back to parents. Once you can reflect upon the positive experiences and relationships built, you can then retrospectively enjoy the memories. As an adult being permanently on duty with only two other adults for bouncing thoughts against, does require a certain skill set.
What has been your favourite expedition and why?
Too hard to select, so I will attempt to justify specific highlights from each:
Thailand and Cambodia as my first expedition was incredible, and Cambodia particularly represented a sense of genuine interest and excitement in our presence. The travelling was very challenging as was the trek. A superb destination. Thailand was a vast contrast, and certainly more beneficial having the project in Cambodia.
Tanzania was good, but being Kilimanjaro, attracted a certain type of Challenger whose agenda was very focused on the mountain. As such, some of the other qualities were not as pertinent.
Peru was amazing, very diverse country (no midges!), real challenge, and the students were an amazing team. Probably the team that made it.
Vietnam was not too much of a challenge. The Challengers still drew a lot from the trip, but I felt other countries had offered more.
Uganda was the most challenging from start to finish. Inconsistent electricity, tents 25 nights out of the 31, wet trekking, valuable project, hugely valuable experience for all.
So, probably Cambodia being my first experience will always live with me, but the Uganda expedition was how I had always imagined ‘World Challenge’, and the students really had to step up.
How did you feel the students benefited? Did they come back better people?
Every expedition has seen the vast majority of students really value the growth they could identify. I always bought postcards on expeditions around phases which reminded me of the individual Challengers. I would then spend the flight home writing how I had seen them grow from expedition start to finish. This gave me a chance to reflect, and I can say with confidence, every student grew from the experience.
Did you always feel as though you and the students were in safe hands – balancing risk against challenge?
Yes, when we called through to the Ops Room the information and support was always excellent.
Would you recommend other schools to get involved with World Challenge and why?
Yes, without reservation. It allows students to dream big, believe in themselves, and take a real challenge at an age which is otherwise not available. We used to run them for 17/18 year olds, and I feel this is then an expensive option as many of their friends may go travelling independently. We offer the trip for 16 to 18 year olds, and the majority are 16-17 on expedition. This is better value for money.
Even if a child attends the presentation, goes away, considers it and feels it is not for them, that thought process alone is a valuable and brave decision to make at a young age. I never 'convince' students to do the trip; I only pass on the experiences and share tales of others who were nervous. With the information available, they need to own the decision.
Has the school benefited from being involved with World Challenge?
A difficult statement to measure, but the fact that the first two trips at Amersham had eight then nine Challengers respectively, when the third trip had students ask us 'Where are we going?' and 'When is it our turn?', tells me that the culture had finally arrived; and the last trip had initially 23, which then dropped to 15.
Vast amounts go on in schools which offer experiences for students. I think the value is more for the students than the school.