The flagship of the Somerset College Outdoor Education Programme is the Trek, a 27-day journey of self-discovery undertaken by all Grade 9 students in November each year.
The flagship of the Somerset College Outdoor Education Programme is the Trek, a 27-day journey of self-discovery undertaken by all Grade 9 students in November each year, during which time they cover 360km on foot, in canoes and on bicycles. It is a remarkable journey that starts on foot from the school and ends on the beach in the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
The entire Grade 9 year group is divided into single-sex groups of approximately fourteen students and each group is allocated two adults; some of whom are teachers and some past-students. Students are given the opportunity to lead their group each day, make decisions affecting the group, prepare meals, write letters to family and friends and learn camping skills, orienteering and general survival. The students are not permitted to bring cell phones or any electronic devices. It is a special time of reflection, adventure and mental, spiritual and physical growth – a true rite of passage.
It is so much more than a long hike! It is a powerful journey of self-discovery during which students learn to stretch themselves both physically and mentally, to work in teams, to cope with setbacks, to take turns in leading, to solve problems and to take responsibility for themselves and their colleagues – including cooking, washing clothes and finding their way. Coming at a crucial point in adolescence – the end of the Grade 9 year – when they are busy challenging the world around them, Trek takes them out of their comfort zone and forces them to confront their real selves.
In short, it is a challenge that has changed many young lives. It is carefully planned with considerable attention to safety issues and the selection of the adults who go with each group. In South Africa many schools use initiation, which often has negative connotations. We don’t subscribe to initiation, but we do see Trek as a rite of passage, that focuses on the positive, and out of which young people emerge stronger, fitter and healthier – and ready to tackle the senior secondary phase of school.
Trek is the only school adventure of this magnitude in South Africa, and is an outstanding educational exercise that teaches children to operate in groups, and to move towards a deep understanding of themselves within the universe. Every student is tested physically, mentally and emotionally, but reaches their destination safely, with new friendships, a strength of spirit and memories of a life experience that will stay with them forever. Life skills which could never be taught in a classroom!
Trek is enormous fun – and for most of the students who have had the Trek experience, it remains one of the high points of their time at Somerset College.