Introduction to Odyssey’s Expeditionary Program
The Odyssey School Expeditionary Program consists of 3 major expeditions each school year. All students and all faculty members participate in this important “value added” curricular component. We consider our Expeditionary Program to be one of the four anchor points of our school mission statement and we are consistently buoyed by alumni(ae) testimonials about the “life changing” potential of Odyssey’s rich and challenging adventure travel program.
Fall Orientation Expedition
This journey occurs early in the school year usually within a few weeks of the start of school. We originally designed our orientation concept by emulating Harvard University’s approach to student orientation – called “Opening Days.” At Harvard, school administrators realized that proper orientation to a new and demanding school culture might take 2 to 3 solid weeks. Consequently, they engineered a new and longer orientation program to ensure student success when freshman finally tackled the college’s rigorous educational program at the conclusion of orientation activities.
Historically, all Odyssey students have ventured to Etna, California for a week of team-building challenges in a beautiful outdoor environment. During that week, our 8th grade students leave Etna for a 2-hour bus ride to the base of Mt. Shasta. After establishing a base camp at around 6,500 feet, the students acclimatize to the altitude overnight before tackling the mountain early the next morning. Our goal is to reach a place on the mountain known as Helen Lake at about 10,500 feet. The main objective of the climb is to begin the long (1-year) preparation for the Mt. Fuji ascent when our students are on the Japan Expedition. This climb occurs every year in late May and we like the fact that our oldest students start and finish their final year at Odyssey climbing two “sacred mountains.” Ultimately, we believe that the lessons learned about challenge and success in mountain environments can be directly translated to any challenges that students encounter in middle school, high school, college, and life, in general. Hard work, student commitment to the task, teamwork, and comprehensive preparation always combine to pave the route to achievement, accomplishment, and triumph. There have been several education books about the recent subject of grit that relate to the aforementioned pedagogical philosophy.
When the 8th grade students return to our base camp in Etna during our Fall Orientation Expedition, they participate in a few more days of rigorous challenge activities before all Odyssey students “switch gears” and journey north to Ashland, Oregon. Our students and faculty stay at the University of Southern Oregon and participate in seminar classes about Shakespeare taught by university professors. Each day, our students attend two plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) and this immersion experience in “all things Shakespeare” punctuates our Fall Orientation Expedition. In summary, each year’s 11-day Orientation Expedition prepares all students for future challenges both in and out of Odyssey’s classrooms. Students enter the academic year with increased levels of grit, resilience, confidence, and commitment and pupils apply these assets to schoolwork and community teamwork.
To get a better feel for our most recent Fall Expedition: Orientation – Finding Our True North please see the Head’s Logbook entry with that title. Also see the Ashland Reflection 2015 entry for more information.
Early Spring Expedition
The second expedition of the school year is designed to build upon the teamwork and challenge framework that was introduced during the Orientation Expedition. All Odyssey students and staff participate in this trip experience. From year to year, locations might vary but, generally speaking, our student body travels to either the mountains or to the sea. In 2014, our students completed a winter mountaineering trip to Mt. Whitney. A year later, in 2015, Odyssey students lived aboard a converted oceanographic vessel and spent a week experiencing the natural history, marine biology, and ecology of the Northern Channel Islands. At the same time, our students climbed the tallest mountains on 2 of the islands, kayaked on the Pacific side (south coast) of Santa Cruz Island, and snorkeled in the warm water currents influenced by the El Nino oceanographic event that was unfolding. Students studied the biology of the islands at school before the expedition was launched and they were fully engaged in the experiential learning process while on station at California’s magnificent offshore islands. It was simply marvelous to see our students piloting the ship (with the captain’s instruction) across the Santa Barbara Channel with cetaceans and pinnipeds frolicking in the ship’s wake!
Late Spring Expedition
In early May, our 8th grade students participate in the capstone event of their Odyssey School career. All students travel to Kyoto and stay in exquisite temples for the first week while studying Japanese history through the lens of castles, temples, and other historic sights. Students grapple with the trials of communicating in a foreign language, navigating city streets by foot or public transportation, adjusting to a new schedule and culture while learning about Japanese history and current events.
At the end of the first week, students and staff journey to Hiroshima by bullet train to visit Odyssey’s sister school, Shinonome, a lab school of the University Of Hiroshima. Our students live with gracious and generous host families and attend academic classes every day. Japanese language, family life, and culture are further explored during this stimulating portion of the expedition. Students spend a full day at Peace Park and visit the Peace Museum where they complete a U.S. history project the Second World War. Finally, during the second week, Odyssians take a ferry to Miyajima Island to study the history and sights of this magical paradise. Students climb to the summit of Mt. Misen as part of their preparation for the Mt. Fuji assent that occurs at the end of the expedition.
After leaving Miyajima Island, students board a bullet train for Sendai, an attractive city in Northern Japan, where they unite with host families from Tokiwagi High School to start the second home stay experience of the journey. Odyssians attend high school classes during the day and sample the attractions around Sendai during the evenings. After exchanging gifts and heart-felt goodbyes, the Odyssey Expeditionary team heads for the base of Mt. Fuji for final preparations for the crew’s last conquest together as a class. After the final morning Puja Ceremony, the climb always proves to be epic and the emotional post-climb celebration dinner punctuates the student’s world-class learning adventure in the land of Wa.
The 6th and 7th grade class members remain in their usual academic classes while the 8th graders are in Japan. In early June, Odyssey’s younger classes head out on their final mountain expedition of the year – to various mountain environments in California. When this expedition concludes, all students and their families prepare for the final celebration of the school year. Odyssey’s Rites of Passage Ceremony is a powerful tribute to departing 8th grade students who have successfully completed The Hero’s and Heroine’s Journey during their residence time at Odyssey.
For more information about Odyssey’s experiential learning adventures, please take a look at our expedition packets and reflections below.
- Japan (Packets: 2013-2014, 2014-2015)
- Channel Islands (Packet: 2014-2015)
- Big Basin (Packet: 2014-2015,)
- Mt. Whitney (Packet: 2013-2014, Reflection: 2013-2014)
We are proud to say that, unlike other schools, at Odyssey, we do not take trips with our students. Trips are too easy! Instead, we endeavor in challenging expeditions and learning adventures that have the potential to be “difference makers” in the lives of our students.
- Shinonome Elementary School and Shinonome Junior High School Information:
- Hiroshima University – attached school information:
- Tokiwagi High School Information:
- Harvard Business Review On Experiential Learning: