OPINION: There’s value in outdoor orientation trips that cannot be found elsewhere

A graphic of a person standing in from of a roller coaster. The person is thinking of roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
(Donnie TC Denome • The Student Life)

This past summer, when I heard that my orientation trip for Harvey Mudd College would be an excursion to the amusement park Knott’s Berry Farm, I was sorely disappointed. I had heard about friends’ experiences with once-in-a-lifetime outdoor orientation trips, and was dismayed that I wouldn’t have one. 

In previous years, HMC had given students the opportunity to embark on orientation trips in smaller groups to destinations like Big Bear and downtown Los Angeles. But the class of 2023 wasn’t given that choice — all first-years in my class went to Knott’s.

For the 5Cs, orientation is always an ongoing discussion. Recently, Pomona College decided to shorten its first-year Orientation Adventure trips by one and a half days, and also added options for trips in urban settings so that students who are not as comfortable in the outdoors may feel more at ease. The college also decided to cut all trips more than four hours away, thus eliminating the trip to Yosemite National Park and possibly other destinations like Channel Islands National Park.

Not everyone may be comfortable in the wilderness, so props to Pomona for giving students a variety of settings to choose from for its next orientation. However, there’s still a lot of value in outdoor trips as a way for strangers to get to know each other in a short amount of time.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I went backpacking in Yosemite with a group of high schoolers who I only met a few days before we left for the trip. Over the course of nine days in the backcountry, we became fast friends. Trekking through the High Sierra, skipping rocks, counting shooting stars and sleeping under the stars, we developed camaraderie in just a little more than a week.

Something about the outdoors is incredibly conducive to forming strong relationships. As an environment disconnected from the distractions of the outside world, the wilderness can help foster close, long-lasting friendships. And it’s not a surprise that a group working together to complete a challenge like a hike can quickly become unified behind a common goal.

Outdoor orientation trips can not only help create lifelong friendships, but they can also lead to important development for students as individuals. Last semester, I took a ropes course class with a few other students at the 5Cs, and during several weekends out on the ropes course, we learned about each other and our stresses, dreams and goals. As we accomplished tasks that we thought we were incapable of performing, and climbed high in the air despite our fears of heights, we also gained confidence.

Going to an amusement park comes nowhere close to replicating such life-changing experiences.

This is why I think it’s important that the 5Cs offer first-year students the option of taking outdoor orientation trips. All of the 5Cs could benefit by following in Pomona’s footsteps, as well as Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College’s — the three schools offer students a variety of wilderness and urban trips to choose from, depending on their preferences.

As the 5Cs each decide on what first-year orientation will look like for the incoming class of 2024 and future classes, I encourage all of the colleges to reconsider the value of outdoor orientation trips. They should recognize that outdoor adventures are some of the best ways in which a group of strangers can bond closely and quickly, and also for students to develop as individuals.

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is from San Jose, California. Yosemite is her favorite place in the world, and she cannot wait to go back. She also hopes that future first-years at the 5Cs will be able to create long-lasting friendships through outdoor orientation trips.

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