“How would you like to spend a whole semester living and learning completely outdoors? Yes, we camp out every night, cook and eat outside, and our classrooms are boundaried by rocks, trees, rivers, etc., not by walls!”
While traveling and recruiting for the Expedition at Marlboro College on the USA Gap Fair tour this past January and February, I often led with a question about having an interest in sustainability, the environment, nature, social and environmental justice, saving the above lines for second. That our program’s focus is environmental and that it happens in nature and outdoors, either allows a prospective student to know they can move on, or causes their eyes to light up and sometimes their whole being to vibrate with excitement. It’s fun to realize you’ve just made someone’s dreams come alive when they didn’t even know such an incredible university educational experience was possible.
Once someone shows enthusiasm for the wildness of spending a semester traveling through a region of the U.S. living and learning outside, then I might describe a bit more about the physical world we live within:
The full size school bus is retrofitted to carry a group of up to 21 people – 18 students and 3 faculty guides – and everything they need to live well together for many weeks. There are overhead personal storage spaces above the seats in the front of the bus and the back is similar to a “tiny home” for an academic learning community. Around the top are shelves that hold a 400+ book library, below that is the kitchen and food storage and below that group backpacking gear, bins for hiking boots and for recycling. There are spaces that hold musical instruments, art supplies, and games or sports equipment, a tent bin, a sleeping bag bin, and even a tall file cabinet for office materials. LED lights on the ceiling help us find our way and make evening reading and writing a lighter prospect. Finally, there is a ladder to the roof rack where everyone stores backpacks, extra gear, and luggage and under bus storage for water and stoves.
It’s pretty sweet, a design that’s been improved over many decades and many buses.
More questions follow: “But wait, you’re with Marlboro College. Where is that? And, how does that work?”
Marlboro College is nestled in the beautiful mountains of southern Vermont and we work closely together to make these programs possible. While the expedition programs are through the college, only the pre-college summer program happens in Vermont. The traveling semesters unfold within broad regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, the Desert Southwest, the Adirondacks to Appalachia, etc.
Finally, we get to the integrated curriculum and the academic strands, how the learning happens, how essential skills for relationships, leadership, living and learning, are developed, and how the program transforms and empowers. A multitude of real life stories emerge depending on individual interests and questions. We talk about everything from inspiring people we meet with, to breathtaking landscapes we encounter, to the wonderful work and play, deep learning, and community building that happens because we are growing in our relationships to nature, to each other, and with ourselves.
For many I speak to it is intriguing and exciting to realize that they could get on the bus at a number of points in their lives – as a gap year student or a summer program participant, but also as an undergraduate (visiting from other colleges or as a Marlboro College student), or even later to get their Masters degree as a MAT-E student.
Some of my favorite days on this recruiting tour were those where I was joined by a bus alumnus. In two different cities, alums from last fall joined me. At the end of a grueling two hours of speaking with prospective students and parents, they both exclaimed, “I could talk about this all day long!” We can safely say they are on fire in their enthusiasm for the program, which is exactly what we need in order to keep the momentum going.
I’m grateful for the support that gave me the chance to travel, allowing EEI to reconnect with old and new friends, many who are alums from the bus, and to meet so many incredible young people searching for a meaningful way to spend some of their next few educational years. I look forward to their joining the weaving that creates the fabric of the bus expedition alumni network.
Please share this post, or the link to our website, with anyone who you think might benefit from a semester or two on the bus! The most common refrain I hear when recruiting is, “I wish I had known about the bus when I was in school!”