The life significance of a spiritually oriented, Outward Bound-type wilderness expedition

Brad Daniel (2003)

This retrospective study examined the life significance of a Christian-based, Outward Bound-type wilderness expedition offered by Montreat College in Western North Carolina. The purpose was to discover what informants remembered, what they had learned, and whether the trip played a role in their lives subsequently. Two aspects of the expedition were studied--the significance of the entire experience and the significance of its individual components. The sample involved 227 informants who went on the expedition at some point between the years 1976 and 2000. The study used multiple methods, including written questionnaires, focus group interviews, and the findings from two pilot studies conducted with participants from the 1999 and 2000 expeditions. The answers and interviews were coded and analyzed for content. Additional researchers reviewed the data to confirm intercoder reliability. The findings revealed that 90% of the participants believed the experience had made a difference in their lives. For one third of all respondents, the significance actually increased over time. Significance was enhanced most often by three factors--how new or unique the experience was to the informant, the timing of the event in the informants' lives, and the extent to which expedition memories were connected later to other life experiences. Other factors that informants mentioned as contributing to the significance of the expedition were the influence of the instructors, challenges encountered on the trip, and wilderness setting. The findings indicated that the expedition promoted personal growth in several ways. It refined the way in which informants viewed themselves and their circumstances. Subsequently, it served as a reference point, a reservoir of life lessons, or a life metaphor. The expedition encouraged spiritual growth by drawing parallels between the informants' wilderness experiences, their life journeys, and the wilderness experiences portrayed in the Bible. One overarching theme was prevalent. The expedition encouraged a sense of something greater within informants--a sense that ranged from a greater awareness of God to a greater awareness of the natural world to a greater awareness of self (actions, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and personal abilities). Directions for future research also are discussed.