One of Outward Bound California’s program partners, San Francisco International High School (SFIHS), has been offering opportunities to recently immigrated high school-aged students to transition to the public school system in positive, supportive, and inclusive ways since 2009. Edith Melendez was a member of SFIHS’s first graduating class in 2013, and we called Edith to share her story.
As many of the students at SFIHS, Edith was not a native English speaker when she first arrived. Right before her sophomore year, Edith applied to participate in Outward Bound California’s Youth Leadership Corps, an annual merit-based scholarship program that accepts a group of ten diverse and deserving students from around the Bay Area who are dedicated to service, motivated to learn, and are looking to challenge themselves on a 14-day backpacking and rock climbing course in the High Sierra.
Accepted to the 2010 YLC class as a sophomore, Edith actively participated in the monthly service days, met up with the group to build team rapport, and prepared physically for the mid-summer excursion in the High Sierras. As the days got closer to their departure date, Edith started to get nervous. She was anxious about not being able to shower for two weeks, had never been rock climbing or camping, and Edith was the only student of ten going on the course who spoke English as a second language.
While her fears are on the list of most-common student concerns, Edith said that her experience was anything but the stuff of nightmares. She laughed as she explained how she and her cohort used body language and hand gestures to bridge the gap that words could not fill. In her words, “I always felt like a part of [the group], even if sometimes I didn’t understand everything people said. We used signals to help us all accomplish our group goals.” This example of how Edith was able to overcome challenges and discover a strength in herself and her team is the mission of Outward Bound California.
When asked what she remembered most about her OBCA course, Edith replied, “Being in the forest, out of the city. I felt different there. I felt free.” Her memory of feeling different was the motivating catalyst when Edith returned to school that Fall she helped create mentorship and welcoming programs at her school. She told her teachers upon her return that the course helped her figure out who she is as a leader, and that anyone can encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones, but it takes a leader to step beyond fear and be “the first one up to the edge”.
Edith has just finished her first year at UC Davis studying communications with dreams of becoming a news anchor or marketing executive. Just like many first-year college students, Edith felt the pangs of homesickness. She shared that when school pressure and the struggle to make new friends weighed down on her, she drew upon her experience with Outward Bound years ago, remembering how she learned that her inner strength is unlimited. She is excited to be home for the summer and hopes to make a lasting imprint in the communities here that made such a positive impact in her life. To this end, she will be volunteering at her old school, SFIHS, and she will be speaking with this year’s Youth Leadership Corps to offer advice in applying for colleges and show her support of their goals this school year.