International students explore off campus on OP trips

Tasha Hall, Campus Life Reporter

The Whitman Outdoor Program (OP) has been making strides in improving accessibility to off-campus outdoor experiences by offering international students discounted, independent opportunities. These international student Outdoor Program trips vary from skiing to snowshoeing to hiking to ice climbing.

Junior international student Sherry Wen has gone on around 20 OP trips in total and plans to go on more in the future.

“I think for most of the international students I know, including me, we didn’t have a lot of outdoor experiences before coming to the U.S.,” Wen said. “Most of the things, like hiking, camping [and] rafting, these are all new to us. I feel like this is an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in very different experiences that we did not have before.”

These trips can allow students to safely get out of their comfort zone and make new friends while making memories that last a lifetime. 

Director of International Student and Scholar Support Services Greg Lecki helps to organize these trips. Usually between eight to 25 students go on these trips. He looks forward to all the trips have to offer for the students and himself. 

“[I enjoy] seeing students enjoying their experience, seeing them building new connections [and] getting to know them on a personal level,” Lecki said. “[There’s] no better way to make a new friend than camping together.”

Mehrimo Bakhtalieva also leads some OP trips and is interested in using them to enhance her leadership, organizational and interpersonal skills.

During my first semester at Whitman, I signed up for a few trips, and I really enjoyed it,” Bakhtalieva said. “I got excited about leadership in the Outdoor Program and decided to sign up for the leading OP trips position.”

Bakhtalieva agrees these trips are a great way to make new connections or bond with people. She is also leading BIPOC Outdoor Club, with her goal to make a safe space in the outdoors at Whitman for the underrepresented community of students of color. 

It is always awesome to have international [student] trips,” Bakhtalieva said. “There is so much diversity and everybody comes with very good energy. I love leading those trips because I relate to a lot of the students’ experiences when I have conversations with them.” 

Visiting famous international outdoor locations can be great for the view, but the experience is often spoiled by tourism and being around too many people. Wen explains the stark contrast between visiting the tourist attractions in her home country and the outdoor trips she has participated in at Whitman.

“In China, if you’re going to a mountain, usually we would go to one that is pretty famous. There would be a lot of people there when it’s on a holiday, so the experience is not engaging in the natural world; it’s just like tons of people,” Wen said. 

Wen added to the sentiment that it is enjoyable to go on trips that aren’t targeted around tourism. 

“Because we live in more urban settings, it’s harder to get out there and actually engage – to actually see a nature that’s without any tourism,” Wen said. 

Make no mistake, the U.S. is not above making bucks out of nature. Many nature reserves are riddled with capitalist enterprising and tiny shops for tourists.  The aim of OP trips is to find opportunities for real adventuring: rafting, skiing and hiking without the big dollar signs. Not only do these trips provide a way for international students to make connections and bond with others, but they also give them a way to connect with nature. 

For international students looking to make exciting memories and meet even more global Whitties, these trips may be a perfect opportunity.