Traditionally this is the time of year that Aiglonians of all generations remember as the season when school empties for students and teachers to embark on various expeditions to European cities all over the continent.
The "Cultural LongEx" is a memorable trip, and central to how we as a school take advantage of Switzerland's proximity to many unique places.
This year, however, it comes as no surprise that things needed to happen differently. Most European cities were impossible for us to access, so we decided to return the spirit of "expedition" to the LongEx. Instead of cultural capitals, we decided to take advantage of our backyard. We live atop a beautiful mountain, and autumn is a wonderful season to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the type of activities that are sometimes more difficult to do in just a typical weekend's expedition.
I had the privilege of joining Aiglon's Year 9 students (the first year of Aiglon's Senior School) as they spent three days working through the theme of "journeying" through multiple outdoor mediums: canoeing, biking and navigating. The central question was, what does it take to get from point A to point B in an itinerary? This certainly looks different if you are on foot or in a canoe, so students had to work together to practise new skills in a familiar environment.
Each morning a rotating group of Year 9 students set out from campus to either canoe on Lac Léman, use a map to find their way down the mountain, or explore the many cycling routes of the iconic Rhône Valley. This series of adventures not only offered some time away from the usual routine in what is an extra long term, but it meant the year group had to work together to explore new outdoor activities.
I was impressed with what I saw. Rorika learned to ride a bike in just a couple of hours thanks to the patient instruction of Mr Dargaud. They even caught up to the leading group later in the day!
Those of us in canoes had to practise as a team. Aaron's boat did capsize, Kira fell into the water, and a few others jumped in by choice (with wetsuits, of course) but despite it all, Kira still confidently reported back that this had been the best expedition ever. Sometimes you do have to get wet to embrace that pivotal learning moment.
A pump track was the fun, challenging lunch-break stop of our biking day. Noah was an expert on the track, expertly moving through its challenges at impressive speeds. Karen, by contrast, had never tried a pump track before, but within a few minutes, she was confidently making her rounds. Mr Logie wisely limited our time on the track to a maximum of "three falls for the group". Donna certainly helped contribute to that count, but always with a big smile and the energy for one more round.
After the first full day, the students also had to learn to cook for themselves at a campsite. From getting a camp stove going to cutting vegetables, these basic camp skills are the first of many practical steps to embarking on "independent" expeditions. I won't say all the food looked delicious, and I may have seen Mr Cornish stepping in to help cut a few carrots, but I think there will be many more opportunities to practice the perfect camping meal.
This year may not have had our Year 9 students (along with the rest of the school) exploring the cobblestone streets of Europe's cultural heritage. However, we remain convinced that a little time away from campus to work on some new skills, embrace a different adventure and just have some fun is healthy for everyone.
Story and images by Seth Barker