This story is a part of our “Outward Bound Stories” Series. Photography by Saskia Kahn and interviewing by Dareise Jones. Find the rest of the series here.

My name is Zari and I am in my third year of high school at Poly. I was born and raised in Baltimore City and have lived in the same house with my parents my whole life.

I’m very close with my mother. She’s a big part of my life. We like to do things together, like take weekend trips, go on vacations or to go to the theater.

She is a very wise person and loves to share that wisdom with me. She talks me through everything, she encourages me, and she keeps me going.

Dance is a huge part of my life because I’ve been doing it for a very long time, since I was three or four years old.

It’s hard to go to dance class every week, because although I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t want to go. My mom motivates me to go and to stick with it, and once I get into class, I enjoy it.

I went to GreenMount, a small school in Baltimore, from kindergarten all the way through to eighth grade.

That was a big part of my life. I built long-lasting friendships there. A lot of my friends who went to GreenMount go to Poly too. I love that I am still connected to many of my friends from elementary and middle school.

I love school. I have a lot of friends at school, and I love everything about it. I love learning, growing and everything that comes with school.

After high school, I want to go to college and become a medical examiner or a pediatrician. That’s where I see my life going: a lot of school, and then having a nice career.

I found out about Outward Bound through my mother, who heard about it through friends, or on an online forum.

She loves to find new activities for me to do and was so excited about it. She gave me details about the program, and I was on board, so she signed me up. 

I have always loved the outdoors. It’s just beautiful. I’ve always found beauty in nature. Before Outward Bound, I went to a natural resources careers camp and spent time learning about logging and different nature careers, so I knew I would enjoy Outward Bound.

Leading up to my first expedition, I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I just didn’t know what to expect, but I welcomed the experience.

I knew it was a 12-day backpacking trip and the first half was on the Appalachian trail and the second half was in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

During the first day, I had to get to know a lot of new people because everyone else was from out of state.

Getting onto the trail wasn’t too hard. I’ve done overnight camping trips and nature camps before, but I’ve never been out in the woods for that long doing that much exercise.

Backpacking was new, and it was a very steep learning curve for me because I had never backpacked before.

We had to do a lot of walking with our heavy backpacks, which was the biggest challenge for me. I overcame it with the help of everybody else because no one had backpacked like that before, so we got through it together.

One of the best things that happened during that trip was when one of the other backpackers, Ana V., wrote letters for everybody there.

She wrote them during our solo time, which is when we are separated from everybody else and have almost the whole day to ourselves to be alone with our thoughts.

I remember she gave me my letter and told me not to read it until I got home. 

I read the letter when I got home, and it was really touching. I thought it was so nice that she did that and I still have the letter.

That was an important bonding moment for me, and we had many moments like that during that first expedition. 

I remember our group singing “Roxanne” together and it was so fun. Music really brings the trips together. I’ve taken two trips so far, and each time we sang songs together.

During our time walking on the trail, we bonded through talking and making up stories together to entertain ourselves.

One time our instructor asked us ‘what would happen if a zombie apocalypse happened at this very moment?’

We built a whole world around that one question. We had so many different types of zombies and that was a great bonding moment because we were all coming up with ideas of how we would handle the creatures in our story.

I loved bonding with everyone, and I loved learning more about myself. That first trip taught me that I’m a better leader than I thought I was.

Going into it, I thought my shyness would stop me from connecting or using my voice with people I didn’t know, but after the second or third day, we all got very close, and I was able to express myself in ways I didn’t think I would be able to do.

I volunteered to serve as a leader on my second Outward Bound expedition. I had the same instructor twice, Jim, so he knew what I was capable of, and he put me in the position to help other people.

I was the only returner, so I took the lead during the backpacking portion. I was the one to give tips and help people throughout the day because I had been through the same learning curve that they were experiencing.

The biggest challenge I faced during my second excursion was getting through the sea kayaking part of the trip.

I had never done sea kayaking before that trip, and I did not like it. It was a workout of my arms, abs and back that I’ve never had before, and it was tough.

We’d never met before the trip, but we instantly clicked. We were the only girls on the trip, and we spent a lot of time talking and bonding while under the tarp during backpacking.

I made it through the challenge of sea kayaking because of my partner. She was also struggling, so we fed off each other and gave each other motivation and just kept each other afloat.

Memories from my Outward Bound courses come up in my life all the time. I still regularly talk to some of the people I was on the second course with. I’ve got Outward Bound merch that I like to wear, and I have a manuport, a rock, that I took from the trip.

I keep it on my desk, and it reminds me of the great moments I had during my Outward Bound trip.

Jimmy, one of the instructors, told me about manuports. He said they’re rocks that people pick up and take with them as a keepsake.

I chose it because I thought it was a cool rock, and you would think there’s no significance to it, but there are emotions connected to it. When I see it on my desk, I think about the trip and the experience and what it means to me.

My experiences with Outward Bound mean a lot to me, they helped me grow as a leader and I am so grateful for the bonds I created during my expeditions.

If you are reading this and thinking about doing an Outward Bound expedition, go into it with an open mind because it’s worth it.

If you’re even considering it, just apply and do it because it is so worth it. It’s a great experience, one I think everybody should have the opportunity to do because it will bring out the best in you.