Kat Kirk, a J!Experiences Program Manager, was another JUMP!er who escaped to Germany for the Into the Wild Experiential Education Conference. While having an amazing time, she found incredible insight that she wanted to share:
“Swoosh-whack”, “swoosh – whack” the sound of two wooden sticks repeatedly hitting a rolled up blanket on a bench in a small grass meadow echoes across a still pond nearby. A tall 32-year old man from Eastern Germany, swings down the stick with intensity as another older man copies his action over and over. The theme question of this metaphorical activity is “What do you want to put your energy into?” After finishing the exercise, my co-educator, out of breath and with an exhausted smile on his face, explains that he is at a crossroads in life and is looking for a new meaningful path. He noticed that the older man, the guide in this activity, mimicked the force and speed of his beat. “I believe that this means,” he exclaims “that as much energy as I put into life and finding what I really want to do, I will get back. I feel very inspired now.”
While he was reflecting on his question, other participants were aiming a bow and arrow, asking themselves what they want to focus on; walking through a laid out labyrinth to ponder where they want to deepen their knowledge; and following a string tied between trees blindly to consider who and what they put their trust in. These and several other similar reflective exercises were part of the metaphorical opening and stepping “into the wild” for the “Into the Wild International” Experiential and Outdoor Education conference. This 5-day 5-night event was held at a beautiful old countryside resort in Saxony, Germany and it brought together newbies and experts in the fields of youth and social work, outdoor guiding and experiential education, and provided a platform for sharing methods, frameworks, and new perspectives. A variety of presentations, workshops, and panel discussions kept the 140 participants from around the world engaged in brainstorming and learning.
Representing Jump!, we were asked to facilitate one 4-hour program and then the next day another 5-hour workshop around Global Citizenship. We were delighted by the response of the participants. The first day, we took our 10 participants on a metaphorical hike through the Leadership Mountain Range and showed them experientially our approach to “Think Globally, Act Locally, Start Personally”. On the second day, the attendance had doubled and conference participants from different regions of the world came prepared to discuss the meaning of global citizenship and ideas on how that concept and mindset can be shared with the Youth in their respective regions, and how they can be inspired to create positive change in their communities. After a community strength assessment and a fun group draw on what we think a Global Citizen looks like, we split off into smaller groups and discussed various global issues such as refugees, immigrants, education, access to outdoor projects and environmental issues.
It is difficult to put the experience of the exchange program into words as everyday was so rich with great experiences and fun memories. The whole program and the conference was beautifully inspiring and enriching. I learned a lot in the sessions, made great connections in a very rich network of experts, and simply enjoyed the nice unstructured times together with conversations and songs around the campfire. Today I received a message from one South African participant, Nolu. During one of the reflection sessions, she committed to one day running for a position as the Minister of Social Development in her home country. In her message, she thanked us for the JUMP! workshop during the conference and told me that she had already used a few activities she learned in our workshop in one of her youth programs. There is a lot of potential for us to develop strong partnerships in South Africa and Europe, especially in Germany and run various Jump! Programs at international schools as well as in development projects for underserved youth.
I’m immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the Germany Experiential Educators Exchange program and the “Into the Wild” conference. Though the program was only two weeks long, the learning experience, personal and professional growth, and the amazing memories will last a life time!