Case study

Field instructor — Bailey Palmer

Bailey fell in love with working in the great outdoors after completing an internship with Outward Bound Costa Rica (OBCR). She now works for the organisation as a field instructor

Tell us more about the OBCR courses you completed.

I came on my first course as a Girl Scout because I loved nature and the ocean. I had never traveled outside of the USA before and my parents thought this was a safe way to send me abroad.

I took part in every activity OBCR had to offer - hiking, surfing, scuba diving, conservation projects, volunteering, ziplining, waterfall rappelling, whitewater rafting, kayaking, ropes, first aid and CPR, as well as every personal development activity there was.

I took the Outdoor Leader Semester (OLS) course after one and a half years of community college. I was taking general classes such as math’s, science etc. but I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had hobbies but wasn't sure how to make them into a career that I would enjoy.

I had little to no motivation to sit in a traditional classroom setting at university so I decided to take the OLS course because I knew I loved the outdoors. I had learned a lot during my previous OBCR courses and I wanted the chance to gain the certifications that were offered, plus learn more about the outdoor industry to see if it was something I potentially wanted to pursue as a career.

What was the OBCR application process like?

For the Outdoor Leader Semester course I filled out an enrolment form then had a phone interview with my future instructor where we got to know each other. We talked about what the course would be like and he answered my questions.

I also had to write a personal essay about why I wanted to come on the course and what my goals were - a huge part of an OBCR course is personal development and stepping outside of your comfort zone. We no longer require a personal essay but instructors spend a lot of time talking to participants about why they are on the course and what they are looking to gain from it. Instructors then work to support participants to achieve their goals.

Describe your experience in five words

  • transformative
  • empowering
  • challenging 
  • fun
  • rewarding.

How did you get your job at OBCR?

After my OLS course I was invited to work as an instructor intern the following summer, where I worked alongside senior staff on surfing and CPR courses. I also got to work on my teaching and leadership skills.

After finishing my internship I returned home, started working as a barista at Starbucks and started studying again at community college. I had decided I wanted to study outdoor recreation and began taking classes with more of an emphasis on the outdoors, (things like environmental science). But adjusting to learning about the outdoors in the outdoors, to learning about it in a classroom was rough. All I could think about was my experience as an intern at OBCR and my desire to be outdoors. My summer internship at OBCR was the first time I felt truly happy and excited about life, like I was contributing something positive to the world and I was where I was supposed to be.

I contacted OBCR about the possibility of a full time position, they agreed and I moved to Costa Rica in 2015.

What’s a typical day like? 

The only way I can describe a typical day is using the outdoors and nature to teach young adults life skills.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Helping people discover their passion in life. Oftentimes our students arrive here burnt out and discouraged from their experience with traditional schooling, many often feel like they aren't achieving enough or aren't doing as well as they should be academically.

I also enjoy watching them learn new skills (gaining certifications where relevant), through hands-on, kinesthetic learning and helping them take part in new activities.

What are the challenges? 

For me the hardest part of every course is saying goodbye. During all of our courses, but especially our longer gap year and semester courses, we form deeper connections and friendships than most people have with their friends back home. You rely on one another for everything. So when the time comes to part ways it can be very emotional and challenging. 

People fighting the process can also be a challenge. Because life on our programmes is so different to what participants are used to, we sometimes get students who simply aren't willing to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace new experiences. It's challenging for us as instructors because we know if they let go of their doubts and fears they are guaranteed to become a better and stronger person through the course experience. 

In what way did your experience with OBCR impact your career? 

Being a student at OBCR gave me exposure to outdoor recreation activities (rafting, kayaking, scuba, wilderness medicine, ropes, etc.) that I had no idea I'd love so much. If I hadn't come on my initial course I wouldn't have had the opportunity to discover these new passions and learn new skills. 

Without my experience as an OBCR student I also likely never would’ve discovered my passion for teaching.

What are your ambitions?

I hope to gain my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) licence in the near future, so I have more knowledge and experience to share with students during the Wilderness First Responder course.

I'd also like to encourage more women into the outdoor industry. This is an industry that has always been overrun with men. Through our courses I hope we encourage girls and young women to explore the outdoors more and see that we as women are capable of doing these adventure activities and making a career out of it.

Someday I would love to run an outdoor programme for underprivileged girls. That's a group of people who often don’t have access to outdoor adventure/education activities and I feel like they could benefit so much from a program like this.

How do I get a job with OBCR?

  • Take one of our semester programmes and truly commit to the experience. Through semester courses we hire field instructor interns and that's the easiest way to get into the team.
  • Get outdoors and find your passion. Finding the activity and area (water/land) that you are most passionate about and learn as much about it as possible.
  • Gain experience by working at other camps or outdoor recreation organisations.
  • Learn Spanish. Although our courses are taught in English, knowledge of Spanish is useful.

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