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Each year, we arrange scholarships to 10 – 15 NYC Outward Bound Schools students to participate in multi-day Outward Bound courses around the country. Rebecca Jimenez is a student at James Baldwin, and was awarded a scholarship to participate in 21-day sailing course with our partners at The Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. NYC Outward Bound Schools Board Member Bonnie Klein, who was instrumental in arranging for Rebecca’s scholarship, was able to interview her after she returned.

Learning to Sail, Swim, and Solo: An Interview between Board Member Bonnie Klein and student Rebecca Jimenez

Bonnie: How did you first hear about NYC Outward Bound Schools:

Rebecca: I went to a ReStart [Academy] school, and one of the principals there told me about James Baldwin. When my mom and I looked at the school, they told us about the [camping] in Fishkill, and how students have the option to experience an Outward Bound Course, and I really liked that. It was a selling point for me.

Bonnie: What was different about James Baldwin from your other schools?

Rebecca: I was super quiet when I came to James Baldwin. It took a lot for me to engage in school, and to talk with my teachers and fellow students. Right away at James Baldwin I met a few cool teachers, and I was, like, “So this is how a school is supposed to be!” Especially this one teacher, Caity [a math teacher at James Baldwin] , made me excited to go to school each day—she made me interested in learning. I never felt that way in my other school, and it made me appreciate the opportunity to get an education.

Bonnie: What made you interested in taking an Outward Bound summer course?

Rebecca: Caity is the one who told me about it and that I should try and apply. She’s a big fan of Outward Bound, and she loves talking about it and telling people that have never even heard of it how great it can be, how it pushes you out of your comfort zone. Plus you get to experience something completely different while learning new skills.

Rebecca on her HIOBS course Rebecca on her HIOBS course

Bonnie: You went on a sailing course with The Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS) in Maine. What was the most challenging part?

Rebecca: The most challenging part for me was swimming in the ocean. In the past, I had only been where I could touch the ground, and now there was a mandatory dip every morning. At first, I jumped in with a life preserver because they wanted to observe my swimming abilities. I was terrified to get in the water. And here were all these people who didn’t know me, my boat mates and instructors, and they were all cheering me on. And I was like “Wow; this might not be so bad!”

Finally, after having a mini heart attack, I decided to jump in. [The instructors] told me to paddle, so I started to paddle, and the instructors were trying to help me swim while remaining calm, because at first when I got in the water, I was freaking out. And then slowly each day with their help my swimming got stronger and stronger.

Bonnie: Did you feel your group come together as a team? How was it sleeping in such close quarters?

Rebecca: I was nervous and shy to meet new people, but from the very first day, everyone was so friendly. I think all of us were thinking: “Oh my god, how are we all going to sleep so close together for 21 days, and on such a small boat?” And yes, at first it was hard. And two people informed us before we left that they snored. And one of the students, named Brian that he hummed. I remember one night, I woke up to humming and loud snoring and I thought I was going crazy! But you start to get used to it. You get so tired at the end of the day that the snoring doesn’t even bother you anymore.

I learned that even though we all came from different backgrounds and different places, we were still similar in many ways and that we could learn from our differences. After a few days, we became a community on Boat #15.

Bonnie: What was your favorite part of the course?

Rebecca: Oh my gosh, I loved it all, but I would have to say the solo.

Bonnie: An Outward Bound tradition solo, which is a period of time during each course that students spend completely alone. Tell me about your solo.

Rebecca's heart-shaped stone Rebecca’s heart-shaped stone

Rebecca: At first, I felt lonely because I missed everyone on my boat. Then I settled in at a spot right by the water, and just sat and appreciated nature; it was all so beautiful–the sunsets, the trees, the animals, the insects, the birds. And there were so many butterflies. I had time to pay attention to the things that in my everyday life; I never stopped to look at, especially in the city.

And then I was walking by the beach, and looking down; I found a heart-shaped rock. To me, it validated my new love of nature—and it was like nature was sending me a message too! So I picked it up right away with disbelief and said. “This is coming home with me!” I don’t know why, thinking back, I was so excited about a rock. My past self would think I’m crazy. But the rock brought me so much joy. It looked just like a heart, and I couldn’t wait to show everyone else.

Bonnie: Is there anything you learned growing up in the city that you were able to apply to your experiences on Course or anything that you learned specifically at James Baldwin?

Rebecca: I learned the concept of “Leave No Trace” at James Baldwin, and to be honest before I enrolled at James Baldwin, I wasn’t the best person at that. I now know how important it is, especially with today’s climate change–whatever you leave behind can stay in the Earth for years. I was so excited when I arrived in Maine, and our instructors told our group about leaving no trace, and I was like, “Well I already practice that,” and they were like “Oh really?” And I told them what I learned at James Baldwin that, wherever you go, make sure you leave it as you found it.

Bonnie: James Baldwin puts a great deal of emphasis on restorative justice, a set of practices that emphasize resolving and preventing conflicts and potential conflicts, in place of punative action. Did you get to use any of those skills while you were on your course?

Rebecca: On the Maine course at the end of each day, we all gathered together to discuss how we did sailing, how we interacted as a group, what may have bothered you in the course, or about somebody so that we could clear the air and all feel comfortable. We called it Tending the Garden. Doing this each day helped us work better as a team because communication is essential on a tiny sailboat. It was always very positive, even though some people had to learn to agree to disagree. But everyone felt heard, and I think that was very important to help us work better together. Tending the garden, that was our restorative justice.

Bonnie: How are you going to apply what you learned in your course to your day-to-day life at James Baldwin or in NYC?

Rebecca: I was terrible at time management before I went to Maine, but when I was on the course, I quickly learned that time management was crucial. Depending on where we wanted to go, we would have to catch the tides, and sometimes the wind cycles would change. So we tried to utilize timing to get to a specific place at a particular time, depending on the miles we needed to cover. Sometimes we would wake up extremely early to catch the tides, one morning we woke even up at 4am! Now that I’m back home, I’m going to try and use this in my daily life. For example, most days I miss the train, and I end up arriving late to school. Now, I’m going to think that the train is the tide that I’m trying to catch. I’m going to wake up at a specific time so as not to be late.

Bonnie: So do you think when it’s mid-winter, and you have exams, you’re going to say to yourself, “I got up and jumped in the water every day, I can do this?”

Rebecca: Yes, the trip taught me self-discipline. My experience showed me that even though it may be hard, [you have to] get out there and just do it! You have to do it. And afterwards, you feel so amazing, so confident. You’ll surprise yourself. I surprised myself. I feel so satisfied knowing I did that, and I think it will carry over into my schoolwork.

Bonnie: What is the most profound impact from your experience?

Rebecca: The course made me appreciate life, to have more gratitude for what I have, every little small thing. I learned how to talk with strangers, to become comfortable meeting new people, and how important it is to keep my body moving. Because every morning, every day, I was rowing, sailing, pulling ropes. And I felt so healthy — I left there with much more energy.

I will take every experience from the solo, on the boat, even on rainy days, with me and think back that I got to do something that in the past I was not comfortable doing. I pushed my limits daily. It feels fantastic looking back and thinking: “I did that; I faced my fears every day.” Even now talking about it, I believe that before I went I would have thought it crazy to do all the things I did. Knowing that I can do that, it makes me feel like I can do anything in the world.

Special thanks to Bonnie and Brad Klein for making Rebecca’s trip possible, and to our partners at HIOBS for their incredible work in Maine and beyond.

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