Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wilderness and the Freshman Experience

The typical college freshman orientation consists of ice breakers, lectures, group exercises, all the typical bonding activities. At Kalamazoo College, there is an optional aspect of freshman orientation that goes far above and beyond as a real life-changing experience. K’s Landsea program is a 16-day backpacking trip in which around 100 freshmen can choose to participate. It ends shortly before regular freshman orientation and the start of classes. It would be expected that participants in the Landsea program would have an easier time adjusting to college life, having made friends during the trip and gotten a feel for what to expect at K. A study done by K College business students confirms that people who went on Landsea thought freshman orientation was more fun than those who did not go on the trip. When asked to rate how fun orientation was on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being “very much,” 21% of non-Landsea students responded with a 1 or a 2 compared to only 8.4% of Landsea students. Participants also reported that an average of 2.9 of their 5 closest friends went on Landsea, while non-participants reported an average of 1.2. This suggests that Landsea creates strong friendships which allowed those students to socialize more and have an enjoyable orientation. However, when both groups were asked on a scale of 1 to 5 how intimidating orientation was, 47.4% of Landsea students answered with at 3 or 4 compared to a similar 50.8% of non-Landsea students. Therefore, despite the experience of the trip, being in a new place surrounded by new people is uncomfortable to a degree for everyone.

So why do people decide not to go on Landsea? The study shows that, on average, Landsea students had gone on 2.6 multi-day backpacking trips before coming to K while those who did not had been on an average of .88. Therefore, experience could play a significant role; if someone was never backpacked before and is not used to the outdoors, an extensive trip through the wilderness would be more intimidating. Also, when asked to rate how important cost was in their decision not to participate in the program on a scale of 1 to 5, 52.6% of respondents rated it a 5, or very important. Finally, when students who did not participate in Landsea were asked what they would consider the ideal length for the program, the average answer was 9.79 days, while Landsea participants responded with 16 days, which is the real length of the program. Therefore, a combination of the length, cost, and a lack of experience are probably the main reasons that people chose not to go on the program.

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