I Survived a Survival Camp in the Middle of Nowhere

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In February, it was a Monday like any other, the 3CMGM class got on the train for a ten-hour ride to… the middle of nowhere. Why? To test our leadership qualities during a survival camp.

Even before classes had properly started this school year, we had already gone for a teambuilding weekend in de Hoge Rielen. However, this was nothing compared to what was yet to come.

After the night journey to Jamshedpur, which was followed by a bumpy ride in a bus where we saw civilization disappear further and further behind us (and with it went phone reception as well), we arrived at a place that looked a bit like the cages of the African animals in the Zoo of Antwerp or Planckendael. Rocks were sticking out of the ground here and there. Quite central was a big pond. A few buildings were spread out as far as I could see. One of them would be the building where we would store our stuff to protect it from people with bad intentions and the climate. And besides this… there was nothing but nature.

I already said it in my article about the trip to de Hoge Rielen, but I don’t think you need a real reminder that I am a total city girl, right?

The first assignment that was waiting for us after breakfast was to pitch our tents on concrete blocks. With the help of the guides that actually went quite well. Next, we were divided in teams in which we were supposed to do all future tasks and exercises. Each day, one person in the team would be assigned the leader by its members. This person was supposed to make the final decision when the members can’t reach an agreement for example. Seeing as most guides didn’t speak (proper) English, some of our Indian batchmates had to take the lead more often than usual.

So what kind of things did they make us do I hear you thinking?

There was an obstacle track that we did twice against the clock. I went all out at this! I used to spend my childhood summers in the woods, climbing on and off stuff, building forts and stuff like that. But now I wasn’t alone of course: I had a team to think about. I knew that our weakest aspect wouldn’t be in the physical, but rather in the mental department. Communication – I was convinced that this was going to be our road blocker. And it was.

The obstacle track started with two ski-like sticks on which we had to stand all six of us together to get to the other side. Yeah, we sucked at this part. It is obviously an exercise that requires communication. Fortunately, the other obstacles went a lot better and we were able to catch up on lost time. Between two ropes we had to climb to the other side between two trees, we climbed over a 5m high wall made of car tyres, we climbed through a car tyre (and, man, those are heavy!), we crawled through some improvised, narrow tunnels (one was made of barbed wire) etc. And all of this was timed of course.

Even though our strategy was on point, the first exercise kept causing us to become second in the ranks. On top of that, I was also incredibly stiff after every round because I really put my everything into it. But how much fun it was to let go like that!

Other activities that we did included a death ride (which I did twice because I had to support and encourage a fellow batchmate with fear of heights), abseiling (that was a first for me!), some kind of treasure hunt, and (the thing I liked most) rock climbing.

Even though I don’t like to climb on ladders for example, I don’t have a fear of heights. Granted, rock climbing wasn’t exactly on my things-to-do-before-I-die list. Together with our guide, a woman who has climbed a couple of famous summits (including Mount McKinsey!), we quickly picked up some handy tricks that would help us climb the rocky hills that surrounded our camp. Even though I wasn’t a mountain goat like some of my male batchmates (who thought they were invincible I think), I got quite the hang of it. I think the reason why I enjoyed this activity so much is because I could never ever have thought that I could like doing something like this… let alone be not too bad at it either!

During all these exercises I learned to be patient and to assess my teammembers’ skills better. I learned to explain my ideas in such a way that everyone can understand them and to compromise when we couldn’t agree. In addition, being a true individualist, I learned that it might be good to wait a bit for my team to catch up with me and offer a helping hand instead of going off on my own. In hindsight, these also seem to be qualities a true leader should possess.

This survival camp was about much more than just the physical. It is more about exploring your mental capabilities. How do you deal with teammembers in stressful and tiring situations? Of course not everything went smoothly. Day four is the best example of that. I realized quite early on that the water activity day was not for us. When this seemed to be even worse than I imagined, I even got angry at one point. But I guess that’s part of the game. I learned from this that I still have difficulty letting go sometimes, and this is a key learning point this year.

After the rafting, which was one of the water activities, we got one final assignment in the evening: cook our own meal. So this is where I was probably the weakest link in the group. Which I openly admitted. I helped out with peeling potatoes and vegetables, and handing over the cooking utensils, but for the rest I stayed out of everyone’s way to avoid forest fires or explosions. (No, I really am not exaggerating.) May I also add that this is the only activity that didn’t leave me with any scars?

Completely and utterly exhausted we arrived back at XIMB on Friday after that same train ride. But we were a few life lessons richer than before. My batchmate Ashley listed some on her own blog and some of these apply to my experience as well. For example, that the feeling of having succeeded at a tough task is much more valuable when it has been accomplished in a group, or that it is okay to be weak at something because other people in the group will compensate for you where you have to do it for them. And also, that you can only say that you really can’t do something after you’ve really tried (and I even wanna bet that you will succeed anyway).

Very few pictures have been taking during this adventure. I mean, what are we supposed to do with expensive phones and cameras during a survival camp, rock climbing and rafting? More importantly, we share these memories and experiences amongst ourselves within the group. Because it is together that we did this and together that we move forward.

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