Winter Break in the Everglades

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Skylar Seitz and Benjamin Zhand paddling through the Florida Everglades. Image courtesy of Skylar Seitz.

While some William Jewell College students spent their winter breaks going on vacation or relaxing at home, sophomore nonprofit leadership and psychology major Skylar Seitz – along with several other Jewell students – traded leisure for exhaustion and giant mosquitos. As part of the Pryor Leadership Program, Seitz embarked on a 13-day Outward Bound trip through the Florida Everglades. 

Pryor is a three-year program that identifies students with leadership potential and refines their skills in the classroom before asking them to demonstrate these skills on the trip.

“An effective leader must be prepared for all situations, especially situations that push them out of their comfort zone,” Seitz said. “The Outward Bound trip does exactly that. It forces students to lead in the most unexpected circumstances.”

Seitz and the other Pryor Fellows were challenged with exercising leadership by navigating the Florida Everglades in canoes through mangroves, waves and wind, all without access to modern technology – including indoor plumbing.

“Once you have conquered leading a team to find an island none of you have ever seen through 25 knot winds in the dark with only a few days of navigation and canoeing experience, leading a sales team to meet a quota seems a lot less daunting,” Seitz said.

For Seitz, and average day on the water looked something like this:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up, make eggs or oatmeal with a propane stove, make a navigation plan for the day.

7:30 a.m.: Boarding down, which entailed transferring supplies to other canoes in order to move the boards used for sleeping on top of the canoes back to the bottom of the boat.

8:00 a.m.: Begin navigation, stopping only a few times a day to get bearings and eat lunch.

1:00 a.m.: Reach the destination and put boards back on top of anchored canoes.

1:30 a.m.: Have a discussion on what the next day may entail while making and eating dinner.

2:00 a.m.: Go to sleep.

For Seitz, Outward Bound was a great learning opportunity.

“I can navigate unknown islands on my own with nothing but a compass and a canoe,” Seitz said. “I now know the difference between a red and white mangrove and lots of other fun flora and fauna facts. Most importantly I learned a lot about myself, as I was exposed in a very raw way to aspects of my personality and leadership style.”

Seitz found the most difficult part of her trip to be dealing with cold weather after the sun went down.

“You are constantly splashed or in the water, so your canoeing outfit is often soaked which makes the temperature so much more painful,” Seitz said. “You also have to change back into the same wet outfit in the morning often before the sun comes up which is a painful experience.”

Despite these difficulties, Seitz said the experience was very influential and recommends it to others who want to strengthen their leadership skills or their connection with themselves.

“My most memorable experiences are the fun times I spent laughing with my crew,” Seitz said. “I also saw dolphins everyday – including babies – playing a few feet away from me, which is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.”

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