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The next great adventure | Senior School expeditions programme

30 May 2018
Wellington’s Senior School expeditions programme continues to expand in scale and ambition each year, presenting pupils with new opportunities to challenge themselves physically and academically while teaching them important life skills in the process. With Ms Jo Evans having taken over the programme from Mr Matthew Corke last November, both give their perspective on what they think makes expeditions such an important part of Wellington’s educational offering.   From Mr Corke: In recent years, we’ve already seen pupils enjoy lifechanging experiences from Moganshan to Mongolia, from the lakes of Dianshan to the rainforests of Sabah in Borneo. Each time, they’ve come back to Wellington stronger and more aware of their capabilities than when they left. While these expeditions are valuable for a great number of reasons, principally it’s about getting pupils to enjoy and learn from a series of hands-on activities and experiences outside of the classroom. While classroom-based activities are all entirely necessary and important, being able to see, smell, touch and taste different real-world environments invariably gives pupils a richer experience and lets them hone a wide range of skills in an entirely practical manner. They’re equally valuable in terms of encouraging positive characteristics and mental traits. By getting pupils away from the 5-star mentality of travel, it encourages them to be more independent and resilient. For example, during the Borneo trip, the accommodation was very eco-friendly but basic; there was no electricity, no WiFi, we used rainwater for washing and the food was clean but relatively basic due to the camp’s remoteness and isolation. This presents pupils with a mental adjustment that can be difficult at first but it’s an invaluable experience because it forces them to adapt and overcome the novel challenges that they face. Ultimately, this often helps them forge strong bonds of friendship with other pupils along the way, as they work together and create positive memories of their shared experience.   Personally, I have many great memories of past expeditions. Often the more gruelling and difficult moments make for the strongest memories once you look back on them. One example that springs to mind is discovering the “somewhat basic” bathroom situation in Mongolia once we’d arrived at the camp after a very long bus journey. An evening of unblocking toilets really sticks in your memory! However, it’s emblematic of that idea of experiencing wholly different environments and adapting to new circumstances while learning from them. I think that this is an area where our pupils genuinely excel, because they are resilient, curious and always ready to give things a try. I’m certain that they’ll face the new challenges of our expanding expeditions programme in exactly the same manner.   From Ms Evans: As Mr Corke rightly says, the expeditions are an integral part of the Wellington curriculum and he has done an incredible job of setting up the programme. Continuing this great start, we aim to keep on expanding and diversifying the challenges that our pupils will face and overcome whenever they head out on their adventurous expeditions. Some will be more physically demanding, whereas others will test pupils’ knowledge and reasoning skills, combined with chances to show their ability to lead, to organise, plan ahead, prepare physically and mentally, observe, adapt and overcome all manner of challenges set before them. As the 2017-2018 academic year rapidly draws to a close, I’m extremely excited at the prospect of seeing our Senior School pupils tackle their planned expeditions. We are less than three weeks away from the departure dates of trips to Yunnan Province, Cuandiaxia and Tongzhou. You’ll notice that all of these events are located in China. This is by design, as I feel it’s very important that Wellington’s staff and pupils get the chance to gain a better understanding of our host country, its culture and geographical beauty. The Yunnan expedition will be a big physical challenge, as pupils will be hiking, climbing and cycling their way across some of China’s most gorgeous mountainous terrain. The year 10 pupils travelling to Cuandiaxia, a beautiful rice-growing area north of Beijing, are undertaking their practice expedition for Wellington’s inaugural year participating in the internationally respected Duke of Edinburgh Award programme. This will not only test their physical resolve but also their organisational skills, as they plan their route, consult maps, source and prepare appropriate provisions and gear, and so on. The overwhelming majority of the year group have signed up to participate in the award scheme, which I feel sets a fantastic example for Wellington’s first year of DofE involvement. Lastly, the Tongzhou expedition is a shorter trip with much more of an environmental focus, allowing pupils to learn about the local area and its environment, as well as the impact of tourism, similar to last year’s Borneo trip. This “Planetwalk” element of the expedition is based on the work of environmentalist Dr John Francis. It will also feature an “Amazing Race” setup, where pupils are taken to an ancient marketplace and have to communicate with locals to find out the local history and get the clues needed to get to the next stage. In each case, we are trying to give pupils the chance to push themselves and allow them to discover capabilities that they might never have known that they had. This will equip them to deal with all manner of challenges that their subsequent school years and later life beyond education will throw at them. We’re also starting to get the pupils involved in planning expeditions along with Wellington staff members and professionals from Jump! (our external provider). It’s a hugely exciting time for the Senior School expeditions programme and I cannot wait to see how our amazing pupils run with the ball we plan to give them. I have no doubt that they’ll rise to the challenge, both in terms of conquering this year’s planned expeditions and also preparing for those that follow next year.