Staring at the vertiginous summit in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California with her fellow Outward Bound backpackers, Naomi Wong ’22 was highly skeptical that she’d be able to manage the ascent. “I’m thinking to myself: ‘I can’t do that. Are you kidding? That’s insane,’” Wong said. But an hour later Wong and her crew were looking down at where they were first standing awestruck. “The experience instilled in me this feeling that I am capable of hard things. There were the most incredible views, and you can see so far, and it’s so beautiful,” she said. “And I started to cry because I had no idea that I was capable. It’s incredible - that newfound confidence and the idea of pushing yourself through something when you initially doubted yourself. And, it can be applied not just to a physical experience; it’s life. You keep on pushing.”
Wong was the recipient of KO’s Perry Levy The Perry S. Levy Outward Bound Scholarship, an endowed fund that provides an annual grant for a Kingswood Oxford student to attend an Outward Bound program. The scholarship was established by Judie and Coleman B. Levy, their children – Dean ’87, Matthew ’89, and Evan ’93 – and Perry’s wife, Melissa Levy, in memory of Perry S. Levy ‘85, who passed away of cancer in October 1999. In order to be considered for the opportunity, students are asked to submit an example of how they lived their life to the fullest. Encouraged by her father and her advisor Nancy Solomon to apply, Wong shared in her essay how she was once a picky eater and she used that as an analogy about how she grew to try new things. “I realized that my experience didn’t have to be so narrow,” she said.
Wong admitted that she didn’t fully understand fully the extreme “no-frills” conditions in her two-week Outward Bound trip this past summer- sleeping under the stars without a tent, iodizing water from local water beds, lugging a 50 lb backpack, hiking 12 miles a day at times in rugged terrain, and not looking in a mirror for two weeks - an experience she described as “refreshing.” “The physical part was hardest. The first couple of days were the most challenging, but it was really rewarding. This was hard but it also a positive thing in my eyes,” she said. “I missed my bed, showers, fresh fruit, ice water. The experience brought with it a heightened sense of gratitude when I came back. It made me realize that once these two weeks were up, I was going to have access to all these things again which is so much more than most people have.”
During the expedition, the backpackers took turns and served as clean-up crew, cooks, and leaders. In her time as a leader with another young woman, the two spent the night before planning their hike with the instructors, determining the best route to get to a given point, how long it will take, when to wake up, and how to navigate with a map.
The experience allowed for a lot of introspection. Since the backpackers surrendered their cell phones to the instructors, there were no nagging pressures of social media. Wong felt that it was refreshing to exist without her phone and not be preoccupied by “things that really aren’t that important.” Wong experienced a 24-hour solo stationed near a pond adjacent to a lake where she was instructed to write a letter to herself, a letter to someone she was thankful to (her dad), and a list of 100 goals. Her goals included showing more gratitude for the things in her life, living in the moment, and spending more time with her family. In her letter to herself, she expressed a heightened sense of gratitude and appreciation for the seemingly prosaic things in life which are not little when you don’t have them and an admiration for nature.
“I would recommend the experience to any student even if it seems so outside your comfort zone. It can be hard but it’s an amazing experience. The fact that KO has this opportunity is incredible, and many KO people aren’t even fully aware of it,” she said. “Being outdoors made me realize just how much it helped me feel grounded in my life.”