When I was in high school, I was a first-generation immigrant. When my debate team wanted to go to the state competition in another city, as a group, my parents freaked out. They didn’t know anything about how these things go, even with teacher-chaperones. All they knew was that I was entering a dark and dangerous world and they were losing control.
After many sobbing negotiations and assurances, they let me go. We carpooled to a nearby city, stayed in a hotel, and entered dozens of competitions. I was partnered with an experienced girl as a debate team partner. There was a national topic, and we carried a little metal file box of 4 x 6 index cards, divided between “for” and “against” the topic. You had to swing both ways. Your notes were citations, talking points, arguments. Teams on opposite sides each had two 7-minute time slots in which to argue. The hardest part was to LISTEN to the other side, and counter their points precisely, not just pitch a standard speech every time.
For some reason, my partner and I were good. First research, then listening, fast retrieval, feeding each other cards or laying them on the table for each other as the other team spoke.
Thus hero #1 was the Debate Coach. He led this optional geeky club to occasional victory. Put up with the craziness of our varied personalities and dramas. Took us through the dark journey of Travel Away From the Parents.
My parents were right. You can’t protect kids from stupid stuff. One boy, at our team dinner, slipped the key to his room to me. I pushed it back. We all SHARED our rooms with a same-sex teen. What was he thinking? He’d probably watched movies and thought, yeah, that’s how you make a move. I didn’t tell. Nothing happened. Except I remember the moment, the flush on my face, the bewildering thought, “WHAT?” “What do I say? What do I do?” I was frozen, and that was a good thing.
The Girl Scouts are really what grew me. Our leader organized our hike on the 100-mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. We took about 15 days. We planned, shopped, packaged, and divided up all the food between us. Some of us didn’t even know how to cook, but the instructions were in the plastic bag with the powdered oatmeal mix or whatever. We had to carry 30-35 lb packs, etc etc.
There were girls who cried, especially the first and second day. There was no turning back. We learned that someone had to stay with the slower hiker. Several might have to split her pack. We weren’t all equal in attitude and strength. And some were real wusses. But we HAD to get along, and everyone made the trip.
Read about the trail at http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/the-wonderland-trail.htm .
The real hero here is my Scout leader. She gave me an early adventure. The rest of my life, I could think, “I made it; it seemed impossible.” “Take care of the team.” “Don’t be afraid.” “Have fun and jump in the glacial water.” “Take care of things, and lead if a situation needs a leader.”
I never thanked her enough because I was an insecure, confused, self-centered teenager. All I could think of was “Wow, look at us!” I had no sense for all the things she did, in the background, to make this happen, until MUCH later. She took me out of my refugee-immigrant, fearful, controlling, insular home and brought me to the Wonderland Trail. Thanks, Mrs. Anderson. And the Girl Scouts.