I was lucky enough to receive a royal invite in the post recently. It was for a reception at St James’s Palace where members of the British Exploring Society would gather and hear from the Patron in Chief, The Duke of York. As a recently appointed patron myself I was thrilled to be invited and interested to discover how the society has changed since I was part of it way back in 2001.
I was a 17 year old lad heading off on an expedition with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) as it was known back then. I spent a month on the Arctic island of Svalbard, a place I had previously known nothing about. It was four weeks packed with memories that will never be forgotten. The experience was unique, in-fact life changing and I treasure the time spent on that frozen Island very much.
The whole philosophy of the British Exploring Society is to provide young people with an experience they wouldn’t usually get, give them a unique opportunity to travel to unusual places of the world and without realising it learn to cope and thrive in unusual or un-natural surroundings. Whilst doing this projects are run conducting scientific research in an array of different fields depending on location. It’s not a holiday, far from it, its a trip of discovery, adventure and improvement. It’s a challenge, a huge test of commitment, self drive and tolerance. I have no doubt that my time as a young adventurer has helped me to achieve goals and complete challenges I have set out for myself in my life since, and will continue to do in the future.
Meeting the young explorers excited at the prospect of heading off to a far flung, remote location of the world pleased me. It brought back the feelings I had before my trip, the expectation and uncertainty of the unknown. I knew they would come back different people. Of course they would be the same on the outside, perhaps a little dirtier, smellier, sun burnt or frost nipped but on the inside they would be changed. They won’t realise it straight away, it may take a week, a month, a year or even a few years but they will feel it. Small things they encounter in their lives will be overcome in a fashion not possible before. They will set goals and succeed because they know they can, or fail and overcome it because they will have done that too. Having spent four weeks sleeping in a tent with three other people, studying the diurnal fluctuations of a glacial meltwater river, taking measurements 24 hours a day you learn to cope, work together, tolerate others in difficult environments; It’s an amazing thing.
One girl I met is already feeling and seeing the changes. Last year she was a young explorer after previously dropping out of college. This year she’s returning with Brit Exploring as a mentor and young leader, has re-enrolled at college and has her heart set on university. The society has changed her path for the positive. I’m not saying she wouldn’t have found this route another way, she is obviously a motivated individual with drive, but somewhere she lost her way. I know it would have taken courage to embark on this experience, the opportunity was provided and she grasped it. Now she is turning her life around. This is the beauty of the British Exploring society and as a new patron I think this is now my role, to encourage young people to take up this challenge, this exciting adventure and see how it changes them.
To find out everything you need to know about the society visit: www.britishexploring.org