David Wall
David Wall
12 April, 2024

Why do we send kids up mountains?

Why do we send kids up mountains? - Why do we send kids up mountains

By Dave Wall, Assistant Director of Expeditions at Nord Anglia.

Outdoor education is something that I think is often misunderstood. The purpose of what we call “expeditions” isn’t to create some kind of hardy generation of extreme sports fanatics. Nor is it to push young people into overly uncomfortable situations where they crumble. What we want to do, by taking students out of the classroom, is to develop the life skills that will set them up for success.

I really believe in the power of a shared adventure. I believe that what’s unique about any expedition is the combination of physical challenges with intellectual and emotional growth. By offering students independence and agency in challenging and new situations, we are developing key resilience, flexibility, teamwork, conflict resolution, and empathy skills in a very short space of time.

How? As a team climbing a mountain or traversing a valley you’re only as fast as your slowest member. By taking teams of students into outdoor environments, you’re exposing them to a kind of adversity that they may not be used to. You quickly see how they learn to work together, think on their feet when things go wrong, disagree and compromise on action plans, and show genuine resilience to complete their tasks. All in the space of a few days. I can’t think of many other educational environments where students make so much progress in such a short space of time.

This is what makes expeditions invaluable, regardless of whether you’re in the Brecon Beacons or sub-Saharan Africa.


The value of Nord Anglia’s expeditions

Usually, the first thing people will mention about our expeditions is the incredible locations we take students, but I think there are two main things that sets our offering apart from other educational institutions.

1.    We make a real difference.

The work our students do, especially in Tanzania, offers genuine value to the communities they work with, and this cannot be overstated.

Through working with reputable NGOs like Umoja and Seeway we make sure that the work students do, however unglamourous it may be, makes a genuine and measurable impact on the local community. This means that we can offer an experience where students engage in work that’s meaningful and will change lives for the better — something that’s unfortunately all too rare in the expeditions industry.

What’s more, our instructors and partners are some of the most qualified and experienced leaders in the industry and offer guidance like no others I’ve worked with. I’m massively proud of the world-class team we’ve managed to put together.


2.    It’s a global, cultural exchange.

Another unique benefit we have at Nord Anglia is the size of our family of schools. To my mind, there is no other international schools organisation that brings together so many different schools in one location the way we do. At one point this season, we had seven schools taking part in a single Tanzania expedition. Being able to socialize with not only local Tanzanian communities, but also peers from around the world makes this a truly international experience.

Through this I’ve seen students forge incredibly strong bonds with friends they never would have otherwise met. One memory that stands out for me is two girls who came together to develop a ‘smokeless stove’ as they noticed the stoves we were installing were creating a lot of smoke. They went home after the trip and developed a prototype before coming back to Tanzania to present their idea and scout out locations. Fast forward to today and we’ve installed more than 600 of these smokeless stoves all around Arusha, thanks to those two brilliant students meeting on a Tanzania trip.

Another memory is a girl from our school in Madrid becoming really good friends with peers from Boston over the course of a week in Tanzania. When her school wasn’t running the subsequent Switzerland trip, her friends at Boston spoke to their teachers and she ended up going with the Boston school – a school in another continent. All because of friendships made in Tanzania!

After all, what’s a better bonding experience than climbing Kilimanjaro or camping out with the wild animals in Tarangire National Park?


What’s next for expeditions?

Building on this, I’m excited for the 2024/25 expeditions season and some of the new experiences we can offer students. Other than our existing trips in Tanzania and Switzerland, we have also:

  • Added a third level to the Switzerland Trekking challenge, instead of two. This will cater to students of all abilities and make our Switzerland experience even more accessible.
  • Reintroduced the Alpine Mountaineering Expedition where students learn a whole range of mountaineering skills, climbing real Alpine peaks.
  • Taken a multi-agency approach to our Tanzania service project. Whilst the work Seeway do is undoubtedly brilliant, we’re starting to collaborate with more NGOs to widen the scope of work we do across communities in Tanzania.
  • Introduced three new Tanzania expeditions, including a four-day Mount Meru trek (short enough to include some service project work and a safari), Lake Manyara expedition and the Footsteps of Man Trek, following in the footsteps of the first human beings!