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Student Leaders Embark on Walkabout

by Rachel White

Located to the south of Yosemite National park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness stretches more than 230,000 acres and boasts spectacular granite peaks, 350 miles of hiking trails, the Devils Post Pile National Monument, and numerous lakes and waterfalls. This region of the Sierra Nevada that inspired the work of its namesake, the famous American photographer and ecologist, serves as the perfect backdrop for a wilderness backpacking adventure for more than 100 Azusa Pacific student leaders each August.

On the surface Walkabout, now in its 39th year, functions as a 10-day training program for college student resident advisors. Dig deeper and participants describe Walkabout as a rite of passage, a transformative experience that challenges the whole person: physically, spiritually, socially, intellectually, and emotionally.

Douglas Harlow ’14 took part in Walkabout last summer in preparation for his role as an RA in University Village and believes the lessons he learned continue to profoundly impact his life. “Experiencing rugged wilderness alongside friends, fellow student leaders, and APU faculty guides enabled me to develop a better sense of myself in regard to others,” he said. Harlow points to the long hikes, communal meals, and nightly campfires as providing the space for lasting relationships to kindle. “I learned the significance of vulnerability between a close-knit group of trusting individuals, and I realized for the first time in my life that I truly need people.”

“With the comforts of everyday life stripped away, students connect with God and others in new and significant ways,” said Jennifer Fleckenstein, associate director of residence life. “Walkabout equips them for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as they serve as resident advisors.”

For Todd Williams '13, who was born with spastic cerebral palsy, Walkabout served as a reminder that life is about trusting God. "No matter how hard I think I have to work at something and use my own strength— it's not enough. That's something that God's teaching me. I don't have to depend on myself. I have to depend on Him."

The 40 team guides for Walkabout include APU President Jon R. Wallace, DBA, Executive Vice President David Bixby, Ed.D., and Campus Pastor Woody Morwood, D.Min. They lead students on two days of rock climbing and several days of intense hikes. The program also includes a 24-hour period of solitude, fasting, and Bible reading. At the end of the wilderness experience, students participate in a three, six, or nine mile run dedicated to someone back home who inspires them.

“Walkabout is a huge privilege, an over-the-top bonus for those undertaking the role of RA at APU,” Harlow said. “It provides a positive foundation for a full year of residence life.”