Choose your own adventure
Illustration of a tent

Outdoor Adventure Experience

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: a student’s story.
OAE leaders plan their course on a map.

Outdoor Adventure Experience (OAE) came into my life at exactly the right time.

I was an awkward, nervous, unsure first-year student with only one thing on my mind: making friends. And that’s when I decided to spend a week in Seneca Rocks, W.Va., attending a Pre-Fall Program before starting the adventure they call college.

Before coming to Loyola, I had done some hiking with family, a few paddles in a rowboat, and maybe a rafting trip prior to that. In other words, I wasn’t exactly what most would consider an outdoors person. Despite this, I quickly learned that the outdoors is my home—and that there is no better place to find solace and peace of mind. I’ve also come to appreciate the fact that while the outdoors lifestyle may not be for everyone, there’s something for everyone in the great outdoors.

There’s something for everyone in the great outdoors.

During my time in West Virginia, I pushed myself in ways I never thought I could. I met 12 amazing people, many of whom I’m still proud to call my friends three years later. I was exposed to OAE’s philosophies like Challenge by Choice and the Full Value Contract, which call you to be present, hold yourself accountable, and step outside your comfort zone. I was embraced by a welcoming environment If you have the courage to climb a rock face or belay someone, you can channel that courage when giving a presentation or when meeting someone new.which fostered my yearning for growth.

Following my Pre-Fall trip, I began my first semester at Loyola. I found I was eager to spend more time outside and off campus, to continue forging the bonds that had started while we were caving in West Virginia. So my friends and I spent most weekends trying a new OAE activity. OAE offers day trips, like hikes in local state parks, rock climbing trips to well-known mountains in the area, and whitewater kayaking along the Potomac.

Students on a climbing trip. Paddler prepares to enter whitewater. Students on a backpacking trip.

A few of the students who led the trips reached out to us to ask if we had considered becoming leaders ourselves, to which I immediately replied: “That’s way too hard, you are all invincible, I could never do what you do.” With a few nudges from friends and family, I applied for a position and anxiously awaited that email that would ultimately change my life forever through my connection to the outdoors.

In our tents and under the stars, I connected with my friends to create lasting memories and bonds.

Fast-forward through 75+ hour wilderness medicine training, more than 300 hours of in-field trainings for the various outdoor experiences offered through the program, and weekly Monday night meetings. OAE leaders devote an extensive amount of time each week and every semester to becoming the best leaders they can be, all in hopes of affording the amazing experiences we have had as trip-goers. The trainings, the close connections, and the team building provide OAE leaders with the skills and tools necessary to foster that incredible journey of an outdoor experience for other participants, including fellow students, faculty, and members of the Loyola community.

OAE leader demonstrates how to shoot a bearing on a map.

As leaders, we do our best to find new locations to keep the experiences fresh, while balancing the skill level of our participants and our comfort in new areas. Whether you go on a day trip, a weekend overnight, or join us for one of our week-long spring break trips, you’re guaranteed the adventure of a lifetime.

I’m not sure where I would be without this group. It has turned into my extended family right here at Loyola, and I would trust any of my fellow leaders with my life.

OAE leaders gather around in a circle. Students look out to sea after the sunset. OAE leaders excitedly hold a coconut.

OAE has given me self-confidence. I feel comfortable in my own skin. I care less about what others may think of me than I ever would have without this experience. I also know that I have the skills to make educated judgment calls and can offer my medical training in a necessary situation. My involvement and my leadership role with OAE has given me the ambition and ability to set realistic goals for myself—and then work to achieve them.

Students backpack through the snowy wilderness. Morning yoga in front of a rocky landscape.

If you’ve never been on an OAE trip, grab a friend and sign up. That’s the hardest part. From there, get ready for an experience of a lifetime, a journey that will allow you to grow, change, and maybe discover a new passion. And remember...

Life begins outside your comfort zone.

Learn more about OAE