The joys of higher education

Hearts pounding.

Adrenalin pumping.

Nerves a-flutter.

“Okay, Joan and Jennifer – I see you’re roped up, so let’s go,” the group leader calls out while guiding them forward.

“He’s not kidding, is he?” mumbles Joan under her breath.

“No,” murmurs Jennifer. “There’s no way out now. We have to climb and jump!”

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” the two say in unison. “But I like the excitement,” Jennifer admits as they begin to climb the 30-foot pole, which seems to sway slightly as they move upward.

“Aren’t there better ways to get to know yourself?” pants Joan.

“I hear climbing the pole is more fun than therapy,” chuckles Jennifer.

“It’s not climbing the pole I’m afraid of. It’s letting go!” groans Joan as both scramble onto the small platform. “I am so out of my comfort zone!”

“We are supposed to have strong feelings up here, so you’re doing great!” encourages Jennifer as she straightens herself and eyes the suspended object in front of them hanging at a slightly higher altitude.

“Ready?” someone shouts from below, followed by an encouraging cheer from fellow students.

“Ready?” the girls ask one another. They both nod. “On the count of three we go?” suggests Jennifer. Joan nods again.

“Okay, we are going on the count of three,” Jennifer calls to those below.

“Ready! One, two, three!”

They both leap up from the platform and stretch their arms forward and high above their heads towards the swinging trapeze. Jennifer’s hands clamp onto the metal bar. Joan misses.

Both swing: Joan lands in the safety ropes held taut by her fellow classmates below while Jennifer rests confidently in the rhythm of the moving trapeze.

The above activity is part of a Challenge Course – a requirement for a Masters’ Degree in Leadership at a local Christian university in B.C. For Joan, Jennifer and fellow students, the objective of this course is “to become more aware of how you respond to yourself and to others.” It is an activity that demands teamwork, encouragement and strength, whether you’re 30 feet in the air or on the ground.

Risk-taking and trust
After the experience, the students analyze their roles and discuss why certain strategies did or did not work for them. They focus on the group’s communication, leadership and teamwork, but also on one another’s ability to trust, take risks and adapt to change. Needless to say, they may learn some things about themselves they would rather not know, but in a supportive environment that too can be worked through in a manageable way.

In short, the exercise teaches its participants to recognize the necessary components of an effective learning community. And while we as Christians talk a lot about community, there is no harm in asking ourselves once in a while whether we are in fact the supportive, trusting, encouraging and challenging community we hope to be. It’s a tall order. But it’s clear by this glimpse into the above hands-on and practical exercise, we are definitely working in that direction.

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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