8 reasons why the Gold DofE expedition is great for student wellbeing
1. Sleeping in the wilderness
There is something wonderful about sleeping in a camp you have made yourself, your own personal home for the night. Maybe no-one else has ever put their tent up exactly where yours is. Waking up and already being deep in nature is also a fantastic feeling. It really gives you a new perspective on your relationship with the environment and your relative importance in the scale of the universe. Also packing up your stuff and seeing how little impact you can make on the ground underneath your tent is pretty inspiring.
2. 5 days without technology
An expedition means 5 days without a phone. No text, no iMessage, no Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. This makes Gold DofE one of the least narcissistic experiences our students can have. Also not looking at a phone screen before bed improves the quality of sleep.
3. Fresh air and a bit of cardio
Everybody knows that when you're feeling down, even if you don't feel like it, going out side for some fresh air is one of the best things you can do. On DofE students don't experience anything other than the freshest of air for 5 days straight which gives their mood a real boost, until they get really tired. But even when they are tired they are generally in high spirits; I think it's the fresh air! Bonus: This means they are breathing in fewer pollutants which makes them feel great.
Although DofE is not an intense cardio workout, climbing up hills with a heavy bag is not to be under-estimated as a means of raising heart-rate. This is also linked to improving physical (obviously) and also mental wellbeing.
4. Forming deep bonds of trust in others
Any significant expedition in a group requires trust. Trusting each other to bring the right food, or the tent pegs, trusting each other to walk at the pace of the slowest person, trusting each other to keep motivating each other. During a 5 day expedition without technology students open up to their team members about all sorts of things they might not normally talk about as they are in an environment of trust. The trust in each other that students can build up over an expedition can be transferred into normal life when students return and gives them another safety net, another person they can lean on when they are having a hard time.
5. Providing skills and opportunities for the future
Successfully carrying out a DofE Gold expedition requires map reading, camp craft, planning, cooking, teamwork, etc. All of these skills can be applied in other areas. It also empowers student to organise their own expeditions and travels for the future, which may involve carrying a tent on one's back, but could also be kayaking along the Amazon river. Students start to see opportunities where they never saw them before and have the skills, and confidence, to take advantage of them.
6. A sense of satisfaction
Hiking for 5 days with a heavy bag, setting up and breaking down camp 4 times, staying positive when you're lost, finding solutions to unanticipated problems: these are all aspects of a Gold DofE expedition and succeeding at all of them is immensely satisfying. Great for student wellbeing.
7. Generates a healthy appetite
A worrying proportion of teenagers have food issues, which may be eating disorders such as anorexia. Walking all day with a big heavy bag is strongly associated with a healthy appetite. Students need to snack all day to keep up their energy levels, and then are still starving in the evenings. Most students complain that they haven't bought enough food: I have never hear one complain that they had bought too much. The next step is to get them eating healthier and more filling food on DofE trips...
8. Removes traditional social barriers
Students do Gold DofE for a range of different reasons. This means that they are thrown into an intimate situation with a group of people that they may not usually hang about with. Since it is almost impossible to go through the Gold expedition and not end up firm friends with the rest of the group, this means that students are forming friendships with students they would not have done without the experience: jock and Geography geek; aspiring lawyer, and free-spirited artist. This broadening and strengthening of students' real (as in not virtual) social networks is associated with improvements in their mental wellbeing.
All in all, DofE is worth the investment in terms of time and money for schools because of the positive impact it can have on students' physical and mental health. It is also extremely worthwhile for students to make the progression from Bronze to Silver and then Gold, so that they have these opportunities time and again, with an increasing level of independence, and, hence, satisfaction, in their undertakings and achievements.