Breaking Out of her Comfort Zone in the Great Outdoors

What would impel someone who had no affinity for the outdoors to apply for the Perry S. Levy ’85 Outward Bound Fellowship? “When I was applying to the fellowship, one of the essay questions was: how do you live life to the fullest? I thought that was a cool prompt. I joined the volleyball team at KO, and I had never played before. I like trying new things. That's the only way to grow. I kept that central belief in mind,” said Esha Kataria ’20, the most recent recipient of the award.

For seven days in August, Kataria white water rafted the Colorado River in Utah with four instructors and twelve other students. She readily admits to a case of nerves prior to the trip since she describes herself as "not outdoorsy,” and she had never traveled without her family before. Esha broke new personal ground for herself despite these intimidating circumstances.

She shared an intense experience in “cataract canyon," a notoriously challenging spot called Big Drop 3. She understood the severity of the rapids because the instructors reinforced safety procedures and defensive swimming positions while they were scouting the location. While the crew was navigating the rapid, their raft caught on a rock, and the raft began to fill with water. “The instructor made everyone go to the front to try paddling off the rock. After five minutes, everyone was so shaky with the rush of the adrenaline. It was such an experience. Everyone remained calm and thought, ‘We are in this together. We can do it. We can push through.’ It’s something I will never forget,” said Kataria.

Every half day, two of the students in the group were selected to lead and organize part of a day. Kataria was uneasy when it came to her turn and acknowledged that she previously was neither vocal nor comfortable in the role of a leader. She and her co-leader spent the night before planning the excursion that included waking some cranky campers at 6:45 a.m, directing who should take down the tarps and who should set up breakfast. “I gained confidence from the experience. I don’t see myself as a leader, but now I’m super excited to lead something.  The way that you approach being a leader is with enthusiasm and energy. If you approach things like that every day, you will be more successful and happy.”

Kataria also appreciated the time spent away from technology since the group’s phones were collected at the start of the trip. She believed that without the distraction of her phone she was able to make better connections with the people around her and gain more time learning about herself. Initially, without her phone, she said, “At first it was FOMO, but nothing was really going on.”

Throughout the trip, Esha wrote in her journal and reflected on her values. “I know I want to continue to do well in school. I want to strive for whatever I choose, and I am committed to that.” Beyond forging forward in her school work, Esha refined her thinking and learned how to express gratitude and learned more about herself as an individual. “How lucky I am to be here right now! I’m learning to live in the moment. I’m learning what kind of person I am with other people. I’m practicing to help other people more. It feels good to help someone. It's super important in our daily lives and makes life more meaningful.”

Read Esha's Rafting into Reflection about her trip.
Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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