We know that with COVID-19 the opportunities to travel are limited, but (hopefully) that won’t always be the case. Molly Allen is a current University of Exeter student studying BA English with EEA (Employment Experience Abroad), and this is her account how of stepping out of her comfort zone changed how she feels about herself, and her future.
From July 2018, to August 2019, I worked for a wilderness tourism and expedition company based in British Columbia, Canada. I initially enrolled as a marketing intern to gain experience working in the business’s Sales and Marketing department. However, as the year progressed and my experience and skills-set grew, I was able to take on greater responsibilities and leadership positions that moved beyond my original office role. With an invested interest in devising and leading wilderness expeditions, I was offered incredible opportunities to not only gain exposure of how a successful outdoor adventure company functions, but I was able to develop into, and ultimately be employed as, one of their lead wilderness guides.
“I knew that because of its remote wilderness location, I was going to be cut off from friends, family and everything that I found familiar.”
I arrived at the company’s base, which is situated in the heart of BC’s coastal mountain range, at the beginning of July. It was a nerve-wracking experience arriving at their doorstep, knowing that for the next twelve months this was not only going to be my place of employment, it was also going to be my home. I knew that because of its remote wilderness location, I was going to be cut off from friends, family and everything that I found familiar. However, the realisation that I was not only going to have to learn how to adapt to the world of work, but also have to embrace a completely different way of living, was initially a challenging one.
The first few weeks were definitely the most difficult. From the start I was thrown in the deep end, where I spent the first few weeks on a ‘crash-course’ in marketing; receiving tuition on the different components that structured the business’s internal organisation. I was placed amongst a multidisciplinary team, where I was introduced to the different strategies needed to successfully plan, market and book wilderness guide schools and expeditions. At first it was quite an overwhelming experience, and I found it hard to retain all the information that I had being given. However, the insights I gained at this stage were invaluable, and it was this knowledge that set me up with the foundations that I needed to enable myself to grow and specialise as the year progressed.
“A distant goal of mine has always been to be an expedition leader and, as I was now part of an outdoor adventure company, I was determined to see if I could get this goal of mine a step closer to reality.”
After I settled into my role within the marketing team, I started to broaden my horizons on the opportunities that I could potentially take advantage of during my stay. A distant goal of mine has always been to be an expedition leader and, as I was now part of an outdoor adventure company, I was determined to see if I could get this guiding goal of mine a step closer to reality. I voiced my ambitions to the company early on and, when they saw my passion for working in the outdoors, they were willing to offer me an opportunity to chase this goal. However, to achieve this, I had to prove to them that I could make the cut.
“I was taught everything from backcountry survival skills, scouting and tracking wildlife, wilderness navigation and camp management procedures.”
It was at the beginning of August when a space became available for one of the guiding positions, and I was enrolled into one of the company’s Guide Training programs. This was made up of four weeks of intensive training in the mountains, where I was taught everything from backcountry survival skills, scouting and tracking wildlife, wilderness navigation and camp management procedures. Upon completing the program, I was then sent down to Vancouver to take exams for the required licences, which included: Wilderness Advanced First Aid, Food Safe, and two different firearms licences (required in case of bear attacks). It was an incredibly challenging four weeks, but I loved every minute of it. I had really found my niche and it was a job that I felt very passionate about. Furthermore, I had proven to my bosses that I could be responsible for safety and care of groups of people in the remote wilderness. This meant that, at the beginning of September, I was able to commence my new role as an expedition leader.
So in the fall season (from September to November) I led different groups on various expeditions and wildlife-viewing tours across the South Chilcotin Mountains. It was an incredible experience, where I was not only able to refine the physical skills required to be a successful wilderness guide, but I was also able to develop skills such as: effective and flexible leadership strategies, effective communication and an advanced management of trips. Indeed, once the season had ended, I found myself to be a different person; one who was not only confident in my own capabilities, but one where the team had complete faith in my own abilities, knowledge and decision-making.
“Once the season had ended, I found myself to be a different person; one who was not only confident in my own capabilities, but one where the team had complete faith in my own abilities, knowledge and decision-making.”
With the guiding season over, I returned back to the office to resume my marketing internship over the winter months. Having had these incredible experiences guiding in the mountains, I found that when I returned to the office, my performance in marketing department improved dramatically. This was because I not only had a far deeper understanding of what I was marketing, but I also really believed in it. My improved performance meant that, for the next five months, I was able to participate in a variety of tasks; from collaborating with members of the marketing department, to taking up my own individual projects. It was a very insightful and educational five months (albeit cold-it got down to -31 degrees!), and it really helped me understand that the businesses that create a work environment that is value-driven (where individuals see significance and satisfaction in the work they do), are the businesses that are the most successful.
“My new-found feeling of self-confidence has not only given me the motivation for my next chapter in life beyond University, but it has increased my expectations of the goals that I can set myself. No longer does my future seem scary; it is now very exciting.”
When May finally rolled over, and my contract for my internship ended, I stayed on and resumed my role as a guide for the summer pack-trip season. At this point, with all the experiences that I had gained since I first arrived, I was able to step up and take on the responsibilities for planning, organising and leading the multi-day wildlife-viewing expeditions and wilderness guide schools. This achievement was something that I would have never believed I could accomplish just twelve months ago. My new-found feeling of self-confidence has not only given me the motivation for my next chapter in life beyond University, but it has increased my expectations of the goals that I can set myself. No longer does my future seem scary; it is now very exciting.