The Power of Diversity in Youth Leadership Adventures

Youth Leadership Adventures offer 9-day field courses that connect local 9th-12th grade students to the natural world while engaging in conversation about climate change and climate solutions. In partnership with North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, participants canoe, backpack, camp and complete stewardship projects while discovering their leadership strengths, building an inclusive community and identifying pathways to a hopeful & sustainable vision of the future.  Learn more at ncascades.org/yla. Enjoy this guest post by YLA instructor Talia Schmitt!

Our Youth Leadership Adventures trail group of seven students and two instructors lay down on the Big Beaver dock on Ross Lake. We were closing our Daily Summit – an evening meeting meant for reflection and gratitudes – when we all experienced an unforgettable moment.

Backs pressed against the cool metal of the dock, ears full of sounds of water crashing below us and eyes adjusted to the night sky, I pulled out my pocket speaker and played a Spanish song called “Brillas,” which translates to “shines.” Above us, thousands of stars glistened and right as there was a pause in the music, a brilliantly bright shooting star leaped across the night sky. There was an audible gasp among the students.

“That was simply magical,” a student said.

The magic continued the whole trip. And a big part of why was through the cross-cultural connections that occurred. One of our students had moved to the US from Mexico a year prior. Another student spoke Spanish at home. The two of them took it upon themselves to teach the other eager English-speaking students some Spanish slang like Que onda, guey? In response, the English-speaking students loved teaching challenging words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Worcestershire sauce. They all giggled around the table as everyone tried out new silly words and phrases in various languages.

Back at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, the Latinx students insisted on putting on cumbia and banda music and, before I knew it, all our students were dancing together in the middle of the sidewalk.

I had lived in Mexico a few years back and loved reminiscing with the students. As we paddled along Ross Lake, we sang Spanish songs like “Llorona” and “Lamento Boliviano” and traded stories about the carne asada tacos and ways of preparing the traditional dinner dish, mole.

“Es como una familia,” one girl said to describe our group. “I feel like it’s home away from home. This is the most comfortable I’ve ever felt with a group,” she explained to us.

And one little family we were! As we paddled along Ross Lake for eight days, we grew as people and as a team. We explored coves with waterfalls, swam with rainbow trout and conversed about climate change, but most importantly, we learned from each other.

Our community flags outlining our group’s values fluttered in the wind above the picnic table. In bold letters across the colorful prints read messages like “Be inclusive,” “Show mutual respect” and “Be “open-minded.”

What if we lived in a world guided by these core values?

One can only hope that our joy from sharing cultural experiences in our small Youth Leadership Adventures family can be a lesson for the rest of the world: let’s choose to embrace diversity and celebrate our many different and beautiful cultures.

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