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This story is excerpted from a speech written by Shane Cho, a 12th grader at MELS, a NYC Outward Bound School in Forest Hills, Queens. Shane presented at a March fundraiser in support of scholarships that send NYC students on North Carolina Outward Bound School summer expeditions in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Hi everyone, just to introduce myself, my name is Shane Cho, I am a senior from MELS, a NYC Outward Bound School in Forest Hills, Queens. Last summer I went on a 14-day backpacking and rock climbing expedition in North Carolina. Prior to this, I’d had no experience with the outdoors but had always wanted to go camping. My family never really had the resources to go camping, given the costs of equipment and gear, nor did they have any real experience to share with me, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try something new. 

When I arrived in North Carolina, I knew nothing about backpacking or camping, but I left with a lot of knowledge. I learned about water filtration, campsite layouts and set-ups, cooking with fuel stoves and even learned to live with the occasional addition of trail spice in my food — trail spice is dirt. It’s crazy thinking back on it, but you do develop this new perspective on how many things you should be grateful for: running water, an actual roof over your head, a working bathroom, readily available food at a moment’s notice, all of that good stuff we have here in the city. 

However, there is one important thing that I learned that may be even more important than everything that I’ve just listed. And that is — whatever task may be in front of you, it’s important to know that there is always a way to push yourself further. During the course of the expedition, I expected to be challenged in some way, and there wasn’t a day that went by where it felt too easy. Some days, I felt more confident than others. And other days were particularly hard. But just getting through that day meant that I had conquered another challenge. I mean, there’s even a portion of the trip that’s called the personal challenge, which I will admit that I had underestimated because of my background in cross country and track and field. What I had forgotten was that this wasn’t New York anymore, and I would be running up literal mountains. So it humbled me, but also allowed me to see that I had just run probably the hardest course in the entirety of my running experience. So I felt pretty proud, and it is a personal challenge of course, so I only ever had to beat myself. I know it sounds like I’m a sore loser but I promise you I am not.

Without the funding and generous donations that go into this program, I never would have had this opportunity. I think it’s important for children and young adults to grow up with opportunities like these because they allow us to learn more about that world and what it means to us. Before this trip, I would often think: What did I want to do in life? Now I know I want to continue to challenge myself and travel the world, maybe even pursue rock climbing. I never would have found that out about myself if not for people like you who create these opportunities. Unfortunately, opportunities like these are rare and hard to come by, so for that, I am truly grateful. Thank you.

Interested in supporting this cause? Give online at Select “Scholarships” from the dropdown and include “NYC” in the Special Instructions.

Watch a video that features Shane on his expedition:


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