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Discovering resilience in Lombok: Reflections on the Grade 9 Mt. Rinjani expedition

By Dr Christopher Wolsko, Associate Professor of Psychology, Oregon State University—Cascades, and Dr Michael Gassner, Outdoor Adventure Education Consultant.
7 June 2024

UWCSEA Grade 9 and 10 Mt Rinjani OED Expedition

At a recent Summit of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Jensen Huang, co-founder and CEO of multinational technology company NVIDIA, was asked what advice he would give to students aspiring to be successful entrepreneurs. He discussed the high expectations that Stanford graduates have, noting that “people with very high expectations have very low resilience. And unfortunately, resilience matters in success. I don’t know how to teach it to you except for I hope suffering happens to you.” This is why, at NVIDIA, he talks openly about pain and suffering “with great glee.” He said that, “greatness comes from character,” and “character isn’t formed out of smart people, it is formed out of people who’ve suffered … I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering.”

By our account, the Outdoor Education pedagogy at UWCSEA is clearly synchronised with Huang’s counsel. At the end of March 2024, we accompanied a group of UWCSEA Grade 9 students on their Mt. Rinjani expedition in Lombok, Indonesia. We can attest to the fact that the trip offered a literal all-you-can-eat buffet of nasi goreng, pain, and suffering.

Of course, we’re not talking about some sort of sadistic endeavour. This was not encouraging suffering for the sake of suffering, but rather that particular variety of enjoyment and learning that comes from having to find and conquer new limits within oneself, and to persevere, alone and with others, in the midst of challenging circumstances. Mountaineers and other endurance athletes know the feeling well. As Sir Edmund Hillary once remarked about his experience of climbing: “There is something about building up a comradeship that I still believe is the greatest of all feats,” and “the intense effort, the giving of everything you’ve got. It’s really a very pleasant sensation.”

Over the past several years, we’ve been studying the outcomes of Middle and High School students’ Outdoor Education experiences at UWCSEA. We have witnessed numerous ways in which these trips have improved students’ psychological wellbeing, their internalisation of profile skills and qualities, and their sense of connection with nature. While the effects of these trips on personal, social, and even academic development are multifaceted, the cultivation of grit and resilience has always been a primary aim of the outdoor expeditions, and this year’s hike up Mt. Rinjani was a testament to that endeavour.

UWCSEA defines resilience as the ability to persevere in unfamiliar and challenging situations, with courage and confidence. Angus Lawrence, the owner of Rinjani Dawn Expeditions, our provider in Lombok, said of this trip, “I think it will be the most physically demanding activity they’ve ever undertaken.” Indeed, the ascent of the mountain required two very long days of steep hiking, carrying overnight gear, up over 2,745 vertical meters. Much of the route was on volcanic scree, turning two steps forward into one. The weather was scorching hot on the first day, with extensive travel through sun-baked grassland. Staying hydrated was challenging due to the amount of sweat. Steep sections of the trail tested some students’ fear of heights. Blisters, chafing, sunburn, aches and pains had to be managed and endured. And the overnight camp at the crater rim, while breathtakingly beautiful, was not the Ritz, unless your idea of luxury is sleeping on the cold, hard ground in a damp tent and defecating by head torch into a shallow hole on an unfamiliar, wind-scoured ridge at the edge of an active volcano.

UWCSEA Grade 9 and 10 Mt Rinjani OED Expedition tents
UWCSEA Grade 9 and 10 Mt Rinjani OED Expedition by the waterfall

In the fading darkness of pre-dawn, one group of students we accompanied was nearing the summit, but they were almost completely spent. At least one student remarked that he couldn’t possibly go on any more. Suddenly, a student from the back of the group offered a clear and strong admonition, “Let’s go guys, let’s dig!” With those words, they found another gear that it didn’t seem like they had, and they were on their way to the top.

Two other students were on the final stretch of the climb when a teacher adroitly asked in a calm voice, “Are you okay?” One student shook her head sideways indicating “No, I am not okay.” This student was obviously struggling with the mental and physical challenge. But in almost the same moment, through an expressive glance, she conveyed such a profound sense of grit and determination that it is hard to put into words. There was steel in her eyes, and onward she went.

This is resilience, grit, and determination. This is the kind of character you want on your team, in your company, by your side. 

Not everyone made it to the summit. For some students, the goal was reaching high camp at the crater rim, while others were uncertain how far they could push themselves. In each case though, the journey revealed an aspect of each person’s character and offered an opportunity to demonstrate resilience. Throughout it all, students did not need someone to ask them if they wanted to turn back. That is the last thing many of them wanted, and such a question would have been a disservice to their grit and integrity. Yet, it is one of the easiest questions we often ask ourselves. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable to push a little less, to rest more within the confines of a secure and predictable life, to avoid unpleasant experiences of vulnerability? Why should we passionately engage in risk and challenge at all?

Because that is the edge where learning and innovation occur, where deeper connections, meaning and character are revealed, and where life is truly lived. Outdoor Education excels in offering curricula and environments unlike any other, engaging and illuminating the whole person—psychologically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. 

A climber once interviewed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, pioneer of work on the psychology of optimal experience, said that, “There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.” While we have seen all sorts of learning transfer between what happens in outdoor education and other areas of students’ lives, one deeper purpose of these trips is precisely that self-communication. We would go a bit further than Huang to say that resilience is not just something you must learn in order to be successful, but that enacting resilience is the success itself. Making it to camp or to the summit may bring temporary feelings of accomplishment and pride, but the true satisfaction often comes from overcoming those limits within ourselves and experiencing a new sense of what is possible.


Huang, J. (2024, March). Presentation at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Summit.

Robert. (2008). Edmund Hillary, first on Everest, dies at 88. Retrieved from 

Czikszentmihayli, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

This article was published for Dunia June 2024.

Read the full issue here!