The Black Hole Chipmunks’ Major Leadership Experience: Flashback to Chile!

Alzar School | 03.12.13
Sean gives a tour of the native Chilean trees that are found on the Bierles’ property in Chile

The last weekend in Chile, Ben, Estée, Jessica, and Kaylee (or the Black Hole Chipmunks, as they named their team) led the group in a huge weekend of travel from Choshuenco to Curicó, about an 8-hour drive.  The logistics involved in the weekend were complex—all of the group gear had to be packed up and left in the bodega in Choshuenco for the spring, and the remaining bags stacked high in the back of the truck.  Challenges arose when the truck’s tire were low, and uncertainty abounded, as the students discovered that Sunday was election day, and consequently everything would be closed.  The students faced this adversity with enthusiasm, and the resulting weekend involved not one, but two waterfall visits—the grandiose Salto Huilo Huilo in Choshuenco, and the more touristy but still intriguing Saltos del Laja north of Los Angeles.  The students also navigated the city streets of Chillán, visiting the market which was teeming with small stands, despite the otherwise shuttered shop fronts of the city.  There were heaping piles of olives, wooden souvenirs galore, colorful baggy pants, beautiful knit sweaters, and fresh fruit smoothies at their fingertips.  The drive continued, with many sleepy students in the back of the van.  The weekend concluded with a “gringo asado” as we grilled sausages, pineapple, and veggies at the Orchard College sporting fields.  The weekend concluded under a full moon.

Reflecting on leadership is an important component of the Sunday afternoon

Following are the leaders’ reflections on their leadership.  They addressed questions including: what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?  What did you learn from these challenges?  How could you take these skills back to your hometown to plan a weekend of adventure?  How have you improved since your first leader of the day experience here at Alzar School?  The students have certainly grown in confidence, and their ability to use the Alzar School’s language of leadership, and hence provide each other with helpful, constructive feedback on how to organize themselves as a group and effectively execute a plan.

Ben on “Big Picture” Leadership and the Importance of Communication

The group admires the river at the Saltos del Laja

Some of the challenges of being the “Big Picture” person are bringing the group together and tying up all the small ends of the other groups (lodging, food, transportation, making sure we stay on time, and being able to know the whole plan).  Ben did an overall good job as “Big Picture.”  He could have had a better understanding of the overall plan, but he definitely succeeded in keeping the group together and united towards the main goal of getting to Curicó.

Ben learned that despite the simplistic looking role of “Big Picture,” there is a lot of work that must be put into properly doing the work.  He learned that a “Big Picture” person needs to be able to keep tabs on each other individual in the group, something he thinks he could have done better.  He also learned that it’s important to keep on time, and that it’s hard to motivate a group to keep moving forward.  Isaac learned from Ben that having a complete understanding of all aspects of the overall plan is very important in how the group views the leaders.  When the leader is someone that people can confidently go to for questions, they trust him or her, but when the leader is unsure about certain aspects, followers can start to loose confidence.

Ben believes his communication skills have grown [since the beginning of the semester and his first leadership experience].  He feels able to confidently address the group in various scenarios.  He believes, though, that he still needs to work on knowing where the group is, both physically and mentally, so that he can effectively work with them to get them excited about an idea.  Isaac has seen tremendous growth in Ben’s resiliency and resourcefulness.  He is very effectively able to adjust the plan when situations change and create a successful solution for everyone.

Estée Avows the Importance of Contacting Resources

Admiring the scenery at Salto Huilo Huilo

The biggest challenge of the role of lodging was finding a campsite that was under the budget that we had.  A lot of the more popular campsites were much too expensive, so Estée had to go into more detail to find one that worked.  However, she overcame this challenge because she found an on-budget but reliable campsite described by another student as “a great campsite” through her extensive research and email contact with the owners of the campsite.

From this role, Estée learned that it is very useful to contact resources for the campsite prior to arriving.  Isaac commented, “I could tell you were well-prepared because you started speaking to the owner as soon as we arrived.”  This sense of preparedness was due to her thoroughness of emailing the owners.  By emailing them, she learned that the price was reasonable, the site was reliable, and satisfactory, and she even obtained directions from the main highway.  Through observing Estée as a leader, Elena learned that contacting people ahead of time can provide reliability to a plan.  Next time Estée is in a similar leadership position, she will make sure to get in contact with reliable resources ahead of time because of how well it paid off in this particular expedition.

Estée has noticed how she has grown through each LOD experience.  The main way in which she has exhibited growth is through her confidence in making decisions.  From watching Estée as a leader, Elena has observed that Estée’s flexibility and 360o thinking when making decisions has improved.  She now takes into consideration all of the necessary details as well as the thoughts and desires of the group when attempting to choose the path to success.

Jessica Versus Stove Battle Results in Stubbornly Broken Cooking Utensil, Yet Unfailingly Delicious Food

Jessica and Elena play on the fiercely debated playground equipment–is it a seesaw? a teeter-totter? Undisputedly, the volcano Mocho-Choshuenco, the namesake of one of the Alzar School classrooms, rises in the background.

Jess had to plan the food for the group for the weekend.  Upon arriving at the campsite the first night, she and Ben discovered that the stove burners leaked, which made it an impossibility to use the stove to cook the soup that they were planning on making for dinner.  Luckily, the campsite owner was sympathetic and offered to let Ben and her cook dinner in his kitchen.  After dinner, Dawn and Ian took Jess to a local store where they bought food for the next day that they would be able to cook on the grill that they knew would be present at the Orchard College field [where we would be camping that night.]

From taking on this leadership role, Jess learned to constantly plan ahead.  She learned that even when you think you’ve planned ahead, you should keep planning because you never know when something unforeseen could happen.  What she a Kate both ultimately took away from the weekend is that it is very important to be resilient and to have a Plan B.  During debrief, Elena perceived this and state that Jessica “dealt with the problems we faced well but she could have gone into the situation with more organization.”

Over the course of the semester, Jessica’s confidence in her communication with the group and relaying plans to everyone has improved.  In addition to this, she is more time-oriented and always has her constantly beeping watch with her.

Kaylee Navigates Both the Route and the 10 Elements of Leadership

Navigating the trails around Salto Huilo Huilo with Kaylee in the lead

As a team leader of the weekend, the major challenge that Kaylee faced as transportation [coordinator] was navigating through cities and around the country of Chile in a foreign language on a schedule.  Kaylee met this challenge by safely navigating using maps and other resources from Choshuenco to Curicó.  Kate agrees when she says, “Kaylee, we did not get lost this weekend.”

From watching Kaylee lead, Rutledge learned that navigating doesn’t need to be stressful.  If a person has a good plan ahead of time, it makes the day go a lot smoother.  Kaylee learned that planning ahead by looking at maps ahead of time really pays off.  She also learned that communication with other leaders of the weekend ahead of time is a good idea so that a complete plan can be made.  Estée also realized this and shared, “write things down before your weekend because it’s helpful to have something to look at and refer to.”  At home, Kaylee will continue to make plans ahead of time, accounting for and writing down directions to stores and campsites from the main road.

Kaylee has seen herself grow in her communication skills, resiliency and resourcefulness, and accurate awareness since her first leadership expedition on the Salmon.  She feels much more confident in her ability to communicate a plan and deal with plans changing.  As Elena said, “#flexibility! There was a lot of uncertainty with our plans, but the leaders made some really good decisions about the weekend.”  Kaylee also found that it is easier for her to consider all the logistics that go into planning an activity, and how to take the group’s opinion into consideration.  From Kaylee’s last leadership experience, Rutledge has seen tremendous growth.  She has become a much more assertive leader and her communication skills have improved.  For example, on the river, she wasn’t quite sure where the campsite was, but navigating through Chile she knew exactly where the team was and where they were going.