Taking on what he expected to be a challenging experience, rising Frederica Academy senior, Joe Levitan, spent much of his summer participating in and working for Overland Summer Camps. Focused on teaching fourth through twelfth graders how to be better individuals and team members through outdoor adventures, Overland has been inspiring youth since it was founded in 1982. To get an accurate understanding of the experience and impact it has had on Joe’s life, read the excerpts below from his summer reflection.
My summer in Alaska started with a wet six days in the Chugach backcountry. Blood, sweat, and tears were shed and leaders bred. My friend got sick and we had to evacuate a couple days early. After the Chugach, we drove up to Palmer for our two day, sixteen-hour wilderness first aid course. My instructor’s name was Deb and she was one of the most intense, most terrifying, and most amazing individuals I have ever met. Later that week, we kept heading north to the Kesugi Ridge for our four day, second backcountry. Mount Denali is breathtaking, literally. The group powered through and after those quick four days we were ready to ice climb the Matanuska Glacier. I am confident when I say that climbing that glacier was and is the craziest thing I have ever done. We then plunged into the Talkeetna backcountry for our last six days of the trip. Our group’s leaders, Ben and Emma, sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the show. My peers and I basically ran this trip by ourselves. It was awesome to see how everyone in the group worked so well together, and we really did fit the description of a well-oiled machine. Our last day was cloaked with a sadness to be leaving all the great friendships but also a sense of gratitude and excitement for the future. Overall, my trip to Alaska was and is the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had.
As soon as I left Alaska, I was lucky enough to be thrown right back into the Overland community. My internship in Williamstown, Massachusetts, while different than my experience in Alaska, was equally impactful. My time spent here in Williamstown has consisted of working in the office, helping with gear, and joining groups in the field as a leader figure. It has been truly amazing seeing Overland in the eyes of a student and later in the eyes of an employee. I’ve been able to interact with leaders as more of a peer and hear what actually goes through their heads when they are leading a trip. Also, I’ve seen just how much goes into making a company like Overland run. I thank everyone at Overland for taking me in.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from my trip in Alaska is how to be open with myself and to new ideas. Through spending extensive amounts of time with so many amazing and different kinds of people, I’ve learned how to be prepared, how to listen, how to reflect, how to take criticism in a positive and effective way, how to understand the ways in which my actions can affect the people around me, and how to not rely on others to help me accomplish or complete my tasks but instead to take ownership and do it on my own. I have also learned the power of compassion, kindness, and acceptance. Something else that I have learned is to be responsible for myself and to always be prepared for whatever it is I am doing. The environment that Ben and Emma created made it vital for members of the group to always be on top of their own “stuff.” And, through having to always be ready for a day in the woods, I’ve learned valuable skills that I will bring with me wherever I go. I’ve learned to not judge others for their actions. I haven’t been in their shoes, so how do I know what reasoning they have behind their decisions.
My transition from student to support staff has been amazing. Being able to put my skills to use in the field and in life in general has changed me for the better. I have observed leaders’ strengths and also weaknesses and how their different styles of leading affect the group dynamic and environment in general. A specific strength I observed was while hiking Pinecobble with a BA group. A girl fell and hit her knee and was quite nervous. One of the leaders walked over to her and did a breathing exercise with her that was amazingly calming even for me to watch. I’d never seen someone so calming and helpful before in a situation like that. I’ve been aware of my voice during my time with the groups and leaders. I’ve been aware of how and when to share my ideas and also when to sit back and observe. I’ve felt extremely comfortable with talking through situations with leaders and students alike, whereas before my AKL trip, I would not have been.
The biggest challenge that I faced this summer was being my best self when I was hungry, tired, or sick. I need to get better at not letting those things affect me. All of the things I’ve learned, I am going to bring back home with me. I’m going to put full effort into everything I do. I’m going to be aware of how I affect other people. I’m going to always be prepared for the things I do, and if something goes wrong, use my skills to figure out a solution. I am going to be open with myself to people. I’m going to bring new ideas to my community that I know are there but nobody has intentions of talking about. And finally, I am going to try and be selfless.