An Pham Nguyen ’18 spent 65 days last fall summiting mountains, rock climbing, and earning his Wilderness First Responder certification, all for college credit. He did all this through Outward Bound’s California Instructor Development Program.

Nguyen’s journey started in in Northern California’s Yosemite National Park. From there he traveled through the High Sierras, South into Joshua Tree, and back up again to the Bay Area. Once in the Bay, he spent the last portion of his trip leading San Francisco youth on sea kayaking and rock climbing expeditions.
An Nguyen ’18's time in the California wilderness included several “solos” - periods of 24-56 hours where he subsisted on small amounts of food and water in complete solitude.An Nguyen ’18's time in the California wilderness included several “solos” - periods of 24-56 hours where he subsisted on small amounts of food and water in complete solitude.As a California native, Nguyen describes this sort of migration through the state, and his college path as a whole, as that of a salmon.

“Salmon are born in a river, and as they grow into adulthood they swim toward the ocean. But they eventually make their way back to the river, to hatch new spawn. It felt like I was the salmon, and the river was San Francisco,” he said. “I went on a journey from San Francisco to Maine, with all these places in between, and then I came back. I came back to teach, to give back to the community in San Francisco.”

Communication is key

Nguyen cites communication as a vital skill he brings back from his journey. As one of the most important aspects of a good leader, he says that this can be the difference between getting lost and staying on the trail.

Inner communication held a similar importance: Nguyen learned to deal with the “inner roommate” and work on self-love.

“I’m surrounded by people doing all these fantastic things at COA, and my inner roommate says, ‘You’re not good enough. You should have wrote three research papers by now. You should be in a literary journal.’ But I brought back a lot of self-love, what I’m doing is important to me and that’s all that matters. I have no one to disappoint but myself.”

“That’s the thing with experiential education - it’s all about continuing to learn. It’s learning to never stop learning” - Andrew Pham Nguyen ’18.

A lasting impact

During a portion of the program he even had the opportunity to lead other participants in backpacking navigation. Even though he has led youth and backpacking trips in the past, Nguyen felt he gained something new. He described having a “beginner’s mind,” approaching each opportunity as a learning experience.

“That’s the thing with experiential education - it’s all about continuing to learn,” he said. “It’s learning to never stop learning.”

True to the motto, Nguyen enrolled in Collaborative Leadership at College of the Atlantic this winter. As for the summer, he has applied to form intern positions with Acadia Mountain Guiding School and Outward Bound Vietnam.

An Pham Nguyen ’18 says his most memorable experience of solitude occurred while he was in Joshua Tree National Park, during his two-month journey through the California wilderness.An Pham Nguyen ’18 says his most memorable experience of solitude occurred while he was in Joshua Tree National Park, during his two-month journey through the California wilderness.

“I consider Vietnam to be my homeland, even though I wasn’t born there,” Nguyen said. “Being someone of Vietnamese descent living in the U.S., learning all these things about outdoor education and how meaningful it has been in my life, and then going back to Vietnam and showing my family, Vietnamese people, an Outward Bound Education - that would be really cool. That’s truly a salmon returning home.”