In order to let students learn about team leadership and management in person outside the classroom, the NTU Leadership Development Program especially planned the “Leadership Practices and Internship” course, which sent an expedition comprised of 13 students and two teaching assistants to the Himalayas under the tutorship of Professor Shi-Wei Chu of the Physics Department to experience outdoors leadership from July 31st to August 28th.
Professor Chen-En Ko, Director of the Leadership Development Program points out that, although the hardship that arose from arduous hiking put the team members’ physical strength and their will powers to extreme tests, through teamwork, mutual care and encouragement, students of the Program were able to overcome all challenges and achieve their predetermined objectives. The primitive environments of the Himalayans were a breed apart from the conditions of the material-rich Taiwan, so the students learned to count their blessings; the irresistible forces of nature spurred the students to appreciate the value of life; and the expedition was stranded in the mountainous area due to bad weather, and this experience lent the students a rare opportunity for self-reflection.
Organizational operation and team building
During the trip, the students were obligated to become Leader of the Day (LOD) on a rotational basis. The Leader of the Day was responsible for communicating with the local guides, discussing the itinerary for the next day and the team formation, while the rest of the group had to accept the leadership of the LOD. Thus, the students learned how to lead and how to be led. While the expedition was marching along, the LOD had to pay attention to the conditions of his/her team members, and find ways to boost the team’s morale. Every evening, a group session was called to review the day’s trip, and the session was orchestrated by the students themselves. The review session was for the convergence and integration of the team members’ various opinions. Professor Shi-Wei Chu provided guidance from the sideline, so that the team learned by experience how to do better.
At NTU, students of the Leadership Development Program are usually the cream of the crop. They are either the cadres of a student association, or the central figures of a department. But, during their sojourn on the Himalayan mountains, glorious titles and impressive credentials no longer bear any meaning. No matter how good their grades are, or how many activities they have organized , they are just ordinary people up in the mountains, where their physical limits are truly exposed and the high altitude disease happens to everyone. Maybe it is precisely because of this, that this group of outstanding youth felt their own smallness, that they humbly and sincerely helped each other and learned to appreciate other people’s support. For, up high in the mountains, everyone needs to be helped, and everyone has the chance to help others, if only by lending a hand to pull your lower companion up a bit.
Fulfill a heart of thanksgiving by giving back to society
Because there was no utility in the Himalayan mountains, the team members had to pay for their baths. Food transport was extremely difficult, so they only had simple food to eat. Under such austere conditions, they all felt grateful for the living style which they took for granted in the past . Mr. Wei-Hao Lin, a sophomore from the Chinese Literature Department, said: “After living here for a while, I realize that I really took my blessings for granted in the past!” So, bearing a debt of gratitude and a mind to implement the spirit of “Leave no Trace”, whenever they saw the trashes along the way, the NTU team members would pick them up for group disposal as befitting their physical prowess, which, in the words of a junior from the Department of Geography, Mr. Liang-Jhih Chen: “ At least, this is what I can do at this point to repay this land.”
Force Majeure and the Preciousness of Life
Luckily, the expedition had 16 days of clear weather during their hiking trip, and the team members finally arrived at their target: a base camp located at 5535 meters high elevation. The team members were all jubilant because they reached their final destination through individual will power and teamwork. But, on their return trip, when they were ready to board a small plane back to Kathmandu from an airfield in mountainous Lukla, they were hit by a heavy fog, which forced them to stay in Lukla for ten days. It was really depressing that they got stranded, but this incident only showed the fickleness of nature and the smallness of mankind. The team members, however, weren’t frustrated by the uncertainty of their homeward journey; on the contrary, they encouraged one another, and used the long waiting hours to review their trip so far and plan their works ahead.
On the ninth day of their stranding , the team members were shocked to learn that the small plane which they were supposed to take crashed on a hillside near the suburbs of Kathmandu. Such a shocking news led the team members to reflect on the meanings and values of life. Mr. Yen-An Chen, a junior from the Department of Mechanical Engineering said: “For the first in my life I felt that death was so near to me. I now really feel that I have to cherish every day that I live .” Ying-Chi Liao, a junior from the Department of Psychology also said: “Ordinarily I rarely think about what I will leave behind if I am gone, or how will people remember me after I pass away? Now I know if there is an important thing in life, I must do it right away.”
Reflections of the Journey
As far as the team members are concerned, the treasures that they have dug up during the Himalayan trip were not the spectacular mountain views, nor were they the jubilation which they felt when they reached the base camp. Rather, they were the tidbits that they experienced during this journey, and the mindset and behavior which they should have when they become leaders in the future. Professor Chen-En Ko, director of the Leadership Development Program maintained that, the value of the outdoor leadership course lies in the fact that the students learned the core values of the Program, i.e., a broad vision, a humble attitude, a sense of responsibility when faced with challenges, and a team spirit. All these core values are achieved through careful planning, actual implementation, and follow up activities.
This special journey to the Himalayans, Nepal will deeply impact the life path of the 13 students in their future, much like a memory box with many stories. It will affect their attitude toward life, their logical thinking, their transcendental view of life, their composure toward external affairs, their calm toward themselves and others, and, most importantly, their pledge to pay back to society.