I had the amazing privilege of being a part of the ‘Hike to Higher Education’ program in 2016. Ambassadors from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), volunteers from Anglicare Victoria, and representatives of Federation University formed part of the team who make this trek possible. I am so thankful Joshua Lloyd (our Outreach Officer) encouraged me to be part of this aspirational experience. We attended with Year 9 students from Horsham College with the aim of having organic conversations about higher education, potential educational barriers, and basically bearing witness to the reality that anyone can have a crack. In a way we were there to emphasise that no one is perfect. We all struggle from time to time, but just like a physically-challenging trek there are different ways to make it to the top. As a uni student undertaking an Education course this experience was so valuable. It was unlike any other placement you might undertake, requiring you not to take on a highly authoritative role like you might in a classroom setting, but rather just to be you. The following was written as a recount for a compilation created by Horsham College:

What an amazing experience! Upon signing up for the trek this year I felt so excited to be part of it, but I must admit that I felt ill-equipped to complete the challenge. Being someone who struggles from time to time with fatigue and related anxiety, I was unsure that I was really an ‘ideal’ candidate. But as I came to see, this pattern of thinking was what the trek set about to defeat.

Throughout my time at Maria Island I have learnt so much from the students and the challenges we faced together. The themes of teamwork, resilience, and character development really resonated with me as I walked along. The energy of the kids and their determination that anything was possible really encouraged me. By following their lead and keeping my eyes up, I was able to overcome the weaknesses I felt and draw upon something far greater. Although being one of the last presented a mental challenge for me at times, it was a reminder of how making comparisons to others won’t do us any favours in life. It was only when I let those thoughts fall away and focus instead on placing one foot in front of the other that I was able to endure the walk.

Being faced with my personal fears was a really poignant reminder of the similar feelings students can face during school and university. While it felt uncomfortable to feel vulnerable like this, it really gave me a heart for adversities ‘unideal’ students may face. Much like our trek up the mountain, school and further education can feel like an impossible climb. At times it feels like you’ll never reach the top and you may stumble and feel as if you’re not making any progress. You may also feel like you’re the only one who’s struggling and not be the first at the top. But surprisingly much can be gained by enjoying the view at your own pace and bouncing back, developing character in the process.

It was a pleasure to meet such a lovely bunch of students and people from ANAM, FedUni and Anglicare in such a beautiful environment. I really appreciated the students’ interest in our stories and hope they gained something helpful from hearing them. Many prayers and thoughts to them and the continuation of this valuable program.

by Jess Powell

Image:  ‘Beach, Maria Island, Tasmania, Australia’  by JJ Harrison, CC 3.0