Nevin Harper is passionate about experiential, outdoor adventure education.
“The value for me is in the hidden curriculum,” says the popular Camosun College sport management instructor who led 19 students on a field school to Bolivia in 2014. “It’s about expanding global perspectives and intellectual growth through exposure to different cultures and new forms of knowledge.”
Harper is busy preparing for his next Bolivian adventure with a new cohort of students who study exercise, wellness and sports management. This year’s “high altitude” field school in Bolivia runs from May 9–24.
“It was by far the best experience I’ve had at Camosun. It allowed us to take the classroom to new extremes,“ said Karly Cameron, a current Bachelor of Sport and Fitness Leadership student who took part in the inaugural field school.
It begins with an orientation week where students learn about Bolivian culture and how to cope with altitude sickness. This is followed by an intense two-week trip to Bolivia with hands-on activities such as hiking, camping, climbing and cross-cultural and environmental learning.
“We camp by Lake Titicaca to do acclimation exercises, where on a clear day, you can see the mountains we will hike and climb to over 5,300 metres,” said Harper. “We visit a research centre where they are studying the health effects of high altitude exposure on locals and athletes, ascend glaciers to study the impact of climate change, and mountain bike over six hours from a summit pass to the edge of the jungle 12,000 vertical feet below.”
As intense as the itinerary is, there is time for the kinds of deep, one-on-one conversations that help students reflect on and grow from their experiences, as well as ample time for journal assignments.
“I don’t think young people today have enough time for introspection,” says Harper. “Exploring another culture is a visceral experience. I encourage my students to slow down, so that their time in Bolivia becomes a true, experiential learning opportunity beyond the classroom.”
One of the highlights is a working visit to the Senda Verde ecological reserve at the base of a river in the Yungas forests. With a population of 700 animals and growing – many of them rescued from the cruel hands of poachers and traffickers – the refuge is home to a variety of wildlife including ocelots, parrots, reptiles, capuchin, spider and howler monkeys and a pair of Andean bears. As a registered charity, it relies on the generosity of volunteers from around the world to contribute both expertise and money.
The 2014 student team wants to pay it forward. They aim to raise $750 for the incoming cohort to give directly to the refuge. So far, they have raised $400.
“We decided to fundraise because the cost to keep such a place running is extensive. When we were there you could see and feel the passion the volunteers and owners had for the animals and for creating a safe sanctuary for them,” said Cameron.
Dollars raised help to employ local staff, provide food, water and veterinary care to the animals, and upgrade infrastructure such as an aviary for injured parrots and a purpose-built enclosure for the Andean bears. To donate, visit: gofundme.com/tcuuxpbw. For more information about Camosun’s sport and exercise education programs, visit: camosun.ca.