Brigid Mueller first attended the Educo Adventure School as a child, but this year she spent the summer volunteering as a staff member. The real Educo experience is less about the challenges and activities, said Mueller, and more about personal reflection and the development of one’s self.
“Educo’s given me so much over the years,” she said, “[Now] I just want to give some back.”
Mueller is from Victoria and has participated in the discovery, leadership, intermediate, and senior’s programs at Educo over the years.
A major part of her experience has involved conquering challenges she once found insurmountable. The adventure always includes plenty of surprises, said Mueller, since “you never know the time and you also never really know what you’re doing next” at Educo.
The staff’s choice to disregard time is all about grounding participants in the present moment, said Mueller.
“If they know what’s going on, then they have time to worry, but if they’re just completely in the moment and just taking every challenge as it comes, that’s what I think the magic of Educo is, just being in the present moment and not really worrying about whatever’s coming next.”
The staff do have clocks, Mueller explained, but any clock that’s in sight of children has been changed.
“I think in one of the vans the clock is just stuck at 5:45 p.m.,” said Mueller. “We wake the kids up at 7 a.m., but if you don’t know what time you’re waking up, you can’t be upset about it.”
I would definitely say Educo was a touchstone experience for me in my life as a young kid,” she added. What Educo has to offer that other camps don’t, she said, are the mountains and the solo experience.
During her first visit, Mueller hiked to snow-capped mountain tops. “That was the hardest thing I had ever done at that point in my life,” she recalls. She wasn’t alone in the experience, either.
“I’ve been here four times and each time there’s been one kid that has really, really struggled. But you struggle and you don’t think you can do it, then you do it. That’s the experience: proving to yourself what you’re made of and building confidence, having faith in yourself and your own abilities.”
“I think that if I hadn’t had the experience of being at Educo and living like this, and just kind of toughing through it, I definitely would not be the person I [am] today, for sure.”
“It’s not just about overcoming in the mountains, but we also do solos,” she said.
The solo experience is borrowed from an indigenous tradition of going out onto the land and being alone with yourself, freed from all distractions. Mueller has participated in multiple solos over the years, since the age of 13. Some have lasted six hours, but the longest solo she has completed was 24 hours.
The activity requires one to face and overcome challenges alone, with the promise that their space will be held in the larger group when they return.
“Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to Educo says that their favourite moment is coming back from their solo because it’s such a celebration,” said Mueller. “People have all sorts of realizations. The idea is just to be still and be silent in the mountains and in that reflection.”
Participants are challenged to take as little as possible with them on their solos, to prevent distraction.
“It’s just about being alone with yourself because we so rarely get that in our regular lives. You’re always on your phone or talking to somebody, in class or at work, then when you’re finally alone it’s like you want to distract yourself because you’ve been so busy all day, and rarely do we take the time to just be completely alone.”
“The mountains that you go to aren’t that hard to get to, but they’re the type of mountains you see in movies. Snow-capped- peaks, things you wouldn’t think would be so easy to get to just with your own two feet.”
In the course of working alongside a group of strangers, Mueller explained that you get the chance to see people at their very worst and even at their absolute best: “You see people cry, you see people in pain. You see people excited.”
Another important part of the Educo experience for Mueller has been the appreciation ceremony that closes each of the school’s programs. The ceremony requires participants to share something they appreciate about each person.
“You find out by the end that you can say something good about everybody,” explained Mueller. Despite the negative things one may be able to say, participants often discover more ways in which they admire one another.
The challenge for the person in the hot seat is to look the person who is complimenting them in the eyes and accept their compliment without response or justification, which is harder than you think, said Mueller.
She recalls the first group she worked with and how she thought some participants actually hated her. During the appreciation ceremony, those same people complimented her creative mind and her ability to dream big.
“It was just so beautiful to hear that about people who I really genuinely thought didn’t like me,” she said.
For Mueller, the experience at Educo has always been about more than just the time spent in nature. She has been able to grow personally and find commonalities amongst others, despite their differences.
“Educo is important to people for a lot of very specific reasons,” she admitted, but for Mueller, there have been a plethora of reasons to keep coming back to this special summer camp in the South Cariboo.