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March 9th, 2021

Finding a Path to Purpose: A Q&A with Open Sky Alumni Wei

Open Sky Alumni Student

Wei came to Open Sky while struggling with an unhealthy relationship and navigating the tough transition from high school to college. These challenges were severely and negatively impacting their mental and physical health. Their experience at Open Sky helped them find purpose, grow as a person, improve their relationships, and even influence their career path.

Wei, Open Sky alumni student who found purpose in a new career path after Open Sky.

How did the staff and your fellow students impact your experience?

So positively! To this day, I fondly remember my field guides, my therapist, and even the transporters who brought me from the airport into the field. The staff let me safely test the boundaries of my own physical and emotional limits by continuing to invite me to grow and learn as a person. Ultimately, I really believed that the people I was surrounded with really had my best interests at heart. When I think about my time at Open Sky, my best memories are of the relationships and connections I made.

I most valued the other students in my team. They became my family and loved me unconditionally during some of the most difficult weeks of my life. Many of us went to aftercare together, and I became particularly close with those students. We don’t stay in touch as regularly anymore, but we do keep track of each other on social media, so I know how they’re doing. Some have gotten married, had children, went to graduate school, or are starting new careers. That’s very nice to see.

 

Why was wilderness a good setting to support you with the specific challenges you were facing?

I think it was really important for me to do something I had never done before in a completely new setting with completely new people. The physiological aspects of eating well, sleeping well, exercising consistently, and living as part of a community were so valuable to me. It was of course challenging at times, but all those components together really make wilderness therapy special.

Before Open Sky, my relationship with nature was that I knew it was there and that it was nice, but I have a new appreciation for it now. Living in New York, it’s hard to seek it out, but I’m lucky in that I live super close to Central Park, so I go running there a lot.

 

How have your family dynamics and other relationships been impacted by this experience?

My relationship with my parents, while seldom rocky, has certainly improved since I attended Open Sky. I believe that the process pushed us all to grow and consider the ways that we both contributed to an at-times harmful family system.

 

What has your life been like since Open Sky?

So much has happened in my life since attending Open Sky. Attending Open Sky redirected my career. While I originally wanted to be a medical doctor, I am now on my way to becoming a psychologist. I graduated from college with departmental and college honors, summa cum laude. I now attend Columbia University, where I am earning a PhD in Counseling Psychology. I work as a psychologist-in-training within the New York State prison system and at one of New York City’s hospitals. My dissertation is on the mental health outcomes of LGBTQ young adults in wilderness therapy. I think this topic is so important, given the relatively high percentage of LGBTQ students in wilderness therapy across programs, yet it’s one that has not been explored much. There’s almost no research on this population; there are no published studies and the rest of it is kind of informal or just guidelines. I hope I can help fill this niche in the literature, which I believe speaks to how much wilderness therapy has remained with me, even though I graduated almost a decade ago.

Finally, and most personally meaningful, I got married.

 

What would you say to a new Open Sky student?

In my experience, how much you get out of treatment depends on how much work you put into it, which is difficult given how challenging the process of wilderness therapy is for both children and parents. I’d add, then, to fully expect yourself to make mistakes and to trust that they, too, are part of the growing process.

Open Sky Wilderness

March 9th, 2021

Open Sky Alumni Student