The Finnish Island Survival Adventure 2018!
Giving students a chance to challenge themselves and build teamwork skills in an adventurous environment has always been an important part of my own educational philosophy (having a Scout-Master for a father will do that to you)! As a consequence; for this year’s school trip, we decided that rather than using a tour company, we would take the students to a small island called Kälkö in the Finnish Archipelago for a six day adventure trip; a trip that I ran many times when living in Helsinki. The idea of the trip is to take young people away from their mobile phones and modern luxuries and bring them back to basics. They learn to camp out in bivouacs, cook for themselves, do chores and work together in teams (both small and large) to complete challenges. They are not put into their friendship groups, except for sleeping groups, so have to learn to work together with other students they would not necessarily mix with at school. Many new friendships have been formed this way.
So after much planning, I headed off a couple of days before half-term to set everything up on the Island and to buy all the food and supplies. Four days later, the students, teachers and one brave parent volunteer, arrived in Helsinki for the start of the trip proper.
From the airport, we made our way by bus to a small port called Barösund to catch a boat taxi. It was a very tight fit with all the equipment, food, baggage and people on what looked a small boat, but we managed!
The island itself has a number of cabins; containing cooking facilities, sauna, barbeque areas, boats, and sleeping accommodation. It is always a shock for the students when the reality of no flushing toilets, hot showers, or mobile phones hits home on arrival, but they made a brave face of things and helped us organise all the food, get boats out and organise equipment for activities.
During the course of the stay, the students took part in numerous adventurous team challenges, (Raft building/war, Sponge Wars, Swamp Thing, Bivouacking etc.), which were challenging, but a lot of fun for everyone.
Given the unseasonably warm weather Finland had been having the water temperature around the island (the Baltic Sea no less) was a balmy 20C. This made canoeing and swimming a firm favourite for the students during the down time between activities and chores. Mr Davis (who is a qualified canoe instructor amongst other things), was able to teach the students how to canoe safely and Mrs Searle swam out to islands with the students in the calm seas. The warm weather did come at a price though with mosquitoes being on the prowl at sunset (10.30pm) and insect repellent was the order of the evening.
Students were expected to cook for themselves and many of the activities were wet and very muddy. All students were challenged to bivouac out in the forest under the stars for at least one night and some chose quite spectacular locations (see pictures) with views over the sea. Other students took the opportunity to fish at night (1.30am) and as it never really goes completely dark this far north, everyone felt the energy that comes with 20 hours of daylight.
Students were put into teams and expected to cook and work together in the challenges and activities. It was very satisfying to see them overcoming their fears of sleeping in the forest, learning to cook and organise a kitchen and entertaining themselves without phones, tablets and other modern distractions.
There were many highlights of the stay on the island; these included: the Swamp Thing – following a strong 900m line through a swampy forest going up, over and through obstacles whilst blindfolded. The screaming and laughing was something to behold and made great entertainment that evening when we played back the footage on a projector.
The Sponge Wars challenged the teams to fill buckets of water using paper cups carried across a field whilst a withering cross-fire of wet, muddy sponges were being thrown by the other students. Any students (or teachers) caught cheating had to take the ‘walk-of-death’ where they had to walk slowly through the sponge crossfire alone. For many students this was their favourite part, especially when teachers did the ‘walk’!
For Raft War students were given barrels, wood, string and paddles. All the equipment was slightly different and was chosen after a ‘walking-the-plank’ competition. The students had to build sturdy, stable rafts for two paddlers and one ‘gunner’ armed with a giant water squirter. This aim was for the rafts to reach a boat anchored in the bay and back twice, with every students having to make the journey at least once, whilst putting off their competitors with a continual water barrage from their gunners. Teachers and land-based team members were also armed similarly, so this was NOT a dry event! The winners were the first to get their raft back to the beach and hoist the ‘pirate’s flag’. It was a very close run battle and tremendous fun. As with all of these ‘wet’ events, the students were able to warm up in the piping hot wood sauna and cool off afterwards in the sea.
On the last night the students took part in the Spider’s Web challenge and had to work together as a team to get from one side of the web to the other, without touching the ropes on many of the gaps. This is a very demanding challenge and requires a high degree of teamwork and trust (for those being lifted through the high gaps). It was interesting to see the group dynamics and decision making processes as the students grappled with the strategy necessary to succeed. They did an admiral job in completing this challenge with little guidance from the teachers; well done!
The next morning we were up early to leave by boat after having left the island as we found it (another important lesson for many) and were soon in downtown Helsinki checking into ‘Cheap Sleep’ which, after being on the island, was the lap of luxury for the students! Immediately afterwards, we were back on trams and buses, travel card in hand to Serena Water Park, about one hour north of Helsinki. The students had a fantastic day on slides, rubber ring rapids and many other water features. We stayed until it closed and with the beautiful weather, it was a real highlight of the trip. Afterwards it was back to the hostel for dinner.
The final day, we spent sightseeing in Helsinki. We took in the two main Cathedrals (Lutheran and Orthodox Russian) which had very different styles (one minimalistic and the other ostentatious). There was the slightly odd sight of a military festival in the square in front of the Lutheran Cathedral, where we bumped into one of my former students in full combat gear.
After buying souvenirs and ice creams, we collected our bags and made our way to the airport by train just in time for our flights home.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, full of adventure and challenges as well as cultural eye-openers. We returned to the UK with tired students and teachers, but with big smiles on our faces.
– David Shandley