Walkabout: 35 Years of Leadership Training in the Wilderness

by Karla Shirvanian

Before most students arrive on campus and before classes begin, Azusa Pacific University student leaders are hard at work preparing for the upcoming year. As a part of their training, a group of student leaders embarked on Walkabout, an 11-day backpacking trip in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Eighty-eight Resident Advisors (RA) from Residence Life and six Student Government Association (SGA) leaders participated in the trip, which included the opportunity to hike, repel, and rock climb. The nine teams, which hiked to various lakes throughout the Ansel Adams Wilderness, also included 29 guides from the Residence Life staff and other APU staff and friends of the university, including several Residence Life alumni.

This marked the 35th year of Walkabout. It began in 1974 as a student leadership initiative and has continued because of individuals who have seen the firsthand value of the program, an experiential form of training, and people outside of the Residence Life staff continue to volunteer their time and energy to make the program successful.

"I am in a place where I can use the lessons learned from Walkabout every day in my life as an RA, student, daughter, and leader. I realize the importance of having a strong support system. I also learned about how I have been blessed and even through the challenging times in my life I can make it through anything with the help of those around me and through trusting God," said Trinity Hall RA Lizzie Dempster '11. "I believe that maintaining humility, trust, and Christ at the center of everything has helped me survive life since we came down from the mountain."

The trip focuses on the "whole person" in five interrelated areas: physical, spiritual, social, intellectual, and emotional. Throughout the trip, it is the goal to touch on each of these five areas through different challenges and experiences.

Spiritually, Walkabout holds a three-fold objective, the first to utilize the majestic and ruggedly beautiful environment of the mountains to help students recover a sense of wonder in the magnificence and grandeur of God's creation. The second is to provide students with the opportunity for an extended period of quiet reflection, meditation, and solitude. Finally, students get the opportunity to prepare spiritually for the coming year. The latter may be the most important piece of the spiritual component.

"Walkabout mirrors many of the experiences student leaders will encounter, especially for RAs. The teams are mixed so Walkabout will be the first experience that many of these students share with one another. We like to refer to it as the rawest form of community," said Kelly Schlenz, Residence Director and Walkabout program coordinator. "Students have the opportunity to sharpen their leadership skills, learn more about one another, and experience a 48-hour solo alone with God. This time gives them opportunity to reflect about where they are spiritually as well as prepare for the upcoming year. That's really what Walkabout is all about, presenting opportunities."