Meet Shoestring Warrior and Outdoor Educator Gijs de Jong

While his university peers were sitting in classrooms listening to lectures, this adventurer was out mountaineering in the dead of winter in Scotland to learn about avalanche hazards or on a canoeing trip with his professor to develop canoeing skills. Meet this week’s Shoestring Warrior and outdoor educator, Gijs de Jong. Gijs spent his undergraduate career studying Outdoor Education at a university in the United Kingdom and now spends his time facilitating experiential education experiences for students in Thailand. Born in Aruba and educated around the world, Gijs has experienced first hand the value of learning in the outdoors. He is passionate about encouraging youth to spend time outdoors and facilitating those experiences in different cultural contexts.

I love the cultural challenges that my work brings. I have found that culture has such a huge impact on how Outdoor Education can be taught and learned.

Learn more about this inspiring educator by checking out his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram! While his university experience sounds fun, we all know some adventures don’t always go as planned. Keep reading to hear about the time he and his classmates ended up with soaking wet clothing, a lesson learned, and an adventure to debrief!

Hometown:

Oranjestad, Aruba

Current Location:

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Profession:

Outdoor Educator

What are your passions outside of work?

I love anything outdoors really. However, at the top of my list consists of trail running, canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking (in that order).

Tell us about yourself!

Well, although I was born in Aruba, I didn’t grow up there. I moved around a lot and by the age of 14 I had already lived in 4 different countries. I then joined a traveling high school called Think Global School where we spent about 3 months in a different country. University was spent in the Lake District, UK where I completed my undergraduate in Outdoor Education. Shortly after, I began to work for a Canadian NGO where we took students that were either on their gap year, in-between universities, or were wanting to go abroad, and I got to lead 40-day expeditions in the Peruvian Andes. We did a whole bunch of stuff, including hiking, learning about essential oils, and sandboarding. I then moved back home after 16 years and found myself doing a bunch of different jobs on the Island. One of the most exciting ones was working as a sea kayak guide! Now I find myself in Thailand furthering my career as an outdoor educator!

My goal in life is to change the way we educate by inspiring youth to go outdoors more and to encourage educators to use the outdoors more frequently in their day to day teaching.

My favorite color is green, my favorite food is sushi, and my favorite animal is the wolf.

How would you describe your level of camping experience?

Well I really enjoy it! Both alone and with friends! I really enjoy a good wild camping experience and getting a little lost every so often.

When did you first discover your love for the outdoors?

I don’t think it was until after high school. It was a slow process. I mean as a kid I was always climbing trees and did some hiking here and there. During my first year of university I hated how it rained so often (who knew it rained a lot in the UK). Gradually I began to take advantage of the space I was living in. A hiking trail started literally 3 minutes away from my home. And as soon as I could drive, I explored even more areas around my home.

I began to accept the weather and I eventually learned that there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing, and if you don’t pack your waterproofs it will rain.

The outdoors also became a place for me to stay sane. It has become my getaway place to calm down, think, or get energized!

You spent your high school years traveling the world as a student at Think Global School. What is one of your most memorable experiences from that period of your life?

Hard to say. When I think back on those 4 years I just kind of see it as one big blur. It happened so fast I’m not really sure I can remember everything! Even today I’m processing some of the experiences every time I come across an old Facebook memory or I Skype with some friends.

I think one of my most favorite experiences was in ninth grade. We were in China, learning about The Great Wall. The memorable part about it was that we spent the night right next to it! We camped under the stars and the next day we walked on ruined parts of the wall learning more about the ancient history and culture of the structure. I think that that was a perfect moment because it shows how Outdoor Education can be and it’s something I look back at when I think about what I want to achieve in life.

How does your degree in Outdoor Education influence your work?

Well to know how my degree influences my work I will give you a bit of background on my degree. While at University I did a whole range of activities. I went winter mountaineering in Scotland to understand avalanche hazards, and to practice navigational skills. I went on a few canoeing expeditions to develop canoeing skills where I was eventually put to the test and had to teach students my age to develop their technique (for a class assignment). I also focused on working with school groups and planning and running creative outdoor sessions based on what they were learning in the classroom. My work today revolves around planning and running creative outdoor sessions, so fortunately I have had time to practice under appropriate supervision. Having had the experience at university, I often turn to my past assignments and notes when I find myself a little stuck.

What do you enjoy most about the work you’re doing?

I love the cultural challenges that my work brings. I have found that culture has such a huge impact on how Outdoor Education can be taught and learned.

Working in the Outdoor Education sector in Thailand (and Peru in the past) means that our participants come from many different cultural backgrounds.

Every program teaches me something new and forces me to go back to the drawing board and redesign programs and games in order to make them accommodate the different cultural needs and expectations.

Certain activities seem challenging or inappropriate for certain cultures. For example in Chinese culture it is offensive to crawl in between a person’s legs, so games such as “freeze tag” have to be restructured.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about pursuing a career in outdoor education?  

If you’re already thinking about it, then do it. A degree in Outdoor Education has a big focus on how we can use the environment and outdoor activities to develop groups and individuals. Make sure you don’t focus too much on your work, and allow for your own time to develop your own interests. Since the work is closely related to being an outdoor adventurer you can sometimes find yourself getting into a little loop. Instead of laying in bed and watching Netflix use your weekends/days off to develop your outdoor skills.

Which mountaineers, ultra runners, kayakers, educators, or adventurers inspire you the most?

My favorite is just watching an outdoor video. My pre trailrun hype involves watching Brandon Semenuk on YouTube, mountain biking all in one shot. Or scrolling through Instagram looking at pictures of Timothy Olson on the trails. The smell, sights, and sounds of the outdoors is what keeps me going during my run. Post run usually involves watching Alex Honnold climb something (rope optional).

However, when it comes to education I am continuously inspired by some of my previous teachers. Some fictional, some real. Mr. Martino, Mr. K, and Tintin are probably my top three educators/adventurers that I look up to.

Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?

Ah…I have a few of these already. However we’ll stick to the time our tents flooded knee deep. You’re probably thinking, did they camp in a river? Lake? Wrong and wrong. Let’s start from the beginning. It was my first year of university and as part of our course we went on an overnight navigation practice expedition. It involved day and night navigating. What wasn’t meant to be involved was rain. But that wasn’t our choice. Since leaving the university campus it had been raining. And it didn’t stop until around 4pm. We looked around and discussed viable camping sites. It may have stopped raining but there was heavy wind. So somewhere sheltered from the wind was the best option. We found a lovely (or so we thought) sheltered spot that was still pretty dry. 3 tents were pitched there and our lecturer’s and another group’s tent were pitched up on a knoll (away from possible flooding but in the wind). Then we cooked our dinner. Which, according to the packing list, wasn’t allowed to be canned food or instant noodles, it had to be a bit “fancier”. Thus, according to the criteria my tent mate and I figured we should eat mussels cooked in white wine with rice. Which we did, and it was delicious. Fortunately while we ate and cooked it didn’t rain! However as we were preparing for our night navigation it began to rain. After a 3-hour night navigation session we returned to our temporary campsite, tired and ready for bed. Even though it was still raining, no signs of flooding were visible! Around 11pm I woke up. I lay awake in my sleeping bag as I wondered why my feet were wet. Fifteen minutes in deep thought, the “wetness” slowly started to creep up to my body. My tent mate and I began spooning as the water was pretty cold. Eventually, what felt like 10 minutes but was probably only 1 minute I sat up and turned on the lamp in the middle of our tent.

“Dude. Get up.”

“What?”

“Get up man I’m floating!”

“Oh my god! Lets go!”

As I got up from our floating mattress frantically looking for my head torch I see my cooking pan drifting past. We walk out, knee deep in our own tent and create a 2 man fire line passing and chucking things on dry land. As we do this we hear behind us,

“DANNY, WE CAN’T GO ON!”

It’s the lads behind us, their tent barely in the water.

We hear some grumpy moaning from Danny’s tent. “Mmm…what now…..”

Danny pops from his tent and sees what’s going on. He Immediately wakes everyone up and tells us to break down the tents and pack up!

Fortunately only mine and my tent mate’s stuff were soaked.

Within 30 minutes everyone was packed up and ready to go.

With a soaking backpack, soaking socks and shoes, my friend’s purple sweater and gloves on, and another friend’s pink beanie on we race back down the mountain. We get back to our apartments, dry up, hang out the wet gear, and woke up the next morning to debrief the crazy night (with coffee in our hands).

Where’s your next adventure?

I always have about 10 adventures in the back of my head. Some are small micro adventures and others are full on 3-7 day adventures! However, the one that seems most likely is a hiking trip up in the Northern Jungles of Thailand. I’m hoping to do some jungle camping and see some unique animals.

The perfect s’more? (if you don’t like s’mores, what’s your favorite campfire dessert?)

Not a fan of s’mores but I do have a go to campfire desert. Banana Boats. Those chocolate filled bananas wrapped in foil and laid on the embers of the dying fire.

Photos © 2018 Gijs de Jong



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