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  • Wonjin Eum

A Long Overdue Recap of Expo 2023

On May 23, 2023, a large part of the class of 2025 headed off to the Sophomore Wilderness expedition. For the next ten days, participants and the leaders fully plunged themselves into the offerings of nature. Here are some valuable insights from this trip that were a lot of ups and downs, both geographically and metaphorically.

Participants shared several high moments throughout the expedition, mostly cherishing the moments they shared with their group mates. Junior Henry Parker says, “One moment from expo I really enjoyed was when we had just done a really hard hiking day and jumped in for a swim at the campsite.” Junior Michelle Henaku shares, “Seeing everyone coming out of solo was my highlight. It was really heartwarming to see everyone so glad to finally see each other after the 36 hours of being alone.” The expo experience brought people together and automatically created special connections.

Being out in nature without phones, showers, regular food, and shelter could be a daunting task. Henaku recollects her first day of expo: “I would say the first day because you are still adjusting to the outdoors. You realize you are sleeping in the wilderness with people you don’t know, especially for people who haven’t gone backpacking ever.” As much as the heavy backpacks and unsettledness disturbed the first few days, Hannah Fox shares a silly yet heart dropping episode: “When we spent a night at a bad campsite one day, everyone was really grumpy and ready to leave in the morning. Right then, Aki came over with a branch of poison oak, dropped it on the ground and said, ‘this was in the water.’ Everyone got really upset and started crying because they thought they were going to die, which was really hard to watch as the leader of my group.” Bob McCormick, the director of the Sophomore Expedition program, touches on explaining the importance of these hardships throughout the trip: “I think having some adversity builds character to the expo experience because it helps people learn that they can achieve things that they didn’t think they could do.”

Some would say that the solo experience of expo, a 36 hour time period where participants are completely isolated from all distractions, is the crux of the trip. We commonly hear the sophomores telling the story of solo as somewhat scary, somewhat peaceful, and a lot of self reflection time. What do the leaders do during these 36 hours? Fox gives insight to the leader's perspective: “My co leaders and I cooked good food and hung out and talked, even interacting with other group leaders. I feel like you are so busy as a dear that you don’t really get that much time to talk as leaders besides logistical things like ‘what should we do for dinner tonight? Who should have set up the tarps,’ so it was nice to just be able to talk with people and bond together.” McCormick similarly explains this year’s smooth solo time: “Our group leaders had a peaceful, relaxing time. We didn’t worry about the sophomores too much because the weather was nice. There were other trips where the leaders had to run around and check on kids, but this year was very easy.” Haneku once again emphasizes the significant influence that leaders hold during these ten days: “I remember right before solo Mr. Rymzo gave us a little speech saying that this is probably the only time in your life where you are ever going to be fully alone for this amount of time with no distractions and connections, and that really made me think. Submerged in this mindset, I feel like the solo was very peaceful, restorative, and liberating.”

When surrounded by beautiful views of Henry Coe State Park, you come to appreciate both the present moment in nature and the things you left back at home. McCormick reminisces the unique things that only nature can provide: “I really enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets because you are often not outside during those times when you are in the urban areas. I really enjoyed hearing all the sounds of nature that you don’t experience in the front country so much.” On a similar note, Fox adds that expo is an opportunity for growth: “I really love being out in the wilderness and I think it challenges you in a way that normal life doesn't. I also really enjoy going on trips like this with students because watching people discover how they can be a different person without stress or social media is really cool to watch.” Parker also expresses his gratitude for what nature reminds him of: “Outdoors always makes me grateful for basic amenities such as my bed and chairs. But I also realized that humans are just supposed to be out with nature, and that’s how it's been for billions of years. Even though there’s so many good things that come from living in cities, you have to just get back out there. One thing you can only experience in nature is getting in tune with yourself without the interruption of technology or standards from normal life.”

Expo to some extent forces you to stay in the present moment. Henaku emphasizes this idea by connecting the concept with being in nature: “Expo put me in an environment where concentrated nature was all around me, and it really forces you to be in the present. I think prolonged hiking makes you take in what's around you. In that sense, Expo gave me a new insight in viewing nature; I really liked hiking to a new location every day and seeing how the different sites are distinctly beautiful.” Fox shares a similar experience during expo: “Expo really makes you appreciate nature because you run into things that you cannot see normally. When we were going to fill up our water, there were a bunch of turtles in the pond which was really cool, and I feel like in normal life you would never actually stop long enough to discover these little things. Again, having the ability to be a bit more present without distractions was really nice.”

The participants, both the sophomores and leaders, would describe expo as a life changing experience. Henaku ends the discussion by sharing her big takeaway from the trip: “I remember I left expo with a list of ways that I wanted to live my life, based on the things I learned from the trip. I really appreciated the minimalistic aspect of expo; you honestly just need people, conversation, and books to survive. I feel like we live so extravagantly and caught up in social media in the city, and expo made me realize that you don’t need all of that to live a good life.” To summarize, here is the moral of the story: sign up for expo sophomores!


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