Student stories

Alex Crawshaw (recreation and health education) sends greetings from Wales

Alex Crawshaw

Atlantic Outdoor Centre (Atlantic College)

By Alex Crawshaw

Cwtches from Wales!

I have always enjoyed traveling and being outdoors, so I decided to pursue a co-op that allowed me to do just that. I am a fourth year RHED (recreation and health education) student and this summer I lived in a castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. When I applied, I had a vague notion that Wales was on the left side of the British Isle and that it rained a lot. Little did I know that it’s a separate country within the UK which is NOT the same as England, thank you very much! And while any proper Welshman will tell you that ‘liquid sunshine’ is standard fair, clear skies heralded most days this summer!

My position was ‘Activity Instructor’ at the Atlantic Outdoor Centre (AOC) which operates out of St. Donat’s castle, a 12th century stone fortress from which the red dragon proudly salutes. It stands in isolation on the cliffs of the Bristol Channel, themselves a magnificent sight. During the school year, the castle is home to a few hundred teenagers who gather from around the world to pursue an IB diploma through the United World College program. Alternatively, during the summer, it hosts groups from around the UK for week long ‘outdoor pursuits’ camps. The children, aged 5 to 18, are from all walks of life: from those living with disabilities, to victims of abuse and conventional students. Fittingly, the activities that AOC offers are as diverse as its patrons. During three unique sessions each day, children may find themselves in knight training and staging a castle attack to rescue a princess, jumping from a 12 meter pole to a trapeze bar, off-road skateboarding, sledging the great Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes, among many more activities! It was my privilege to lead these activities, and as sessions were limited to 14 participants, I was able to work closely with them. During these interactions, I was most thankful for the leadership, management and counselling classes I’d taken at UVic.

While there was a general guide for session structure, it was open to creative interpretation. As the summer unfolded, the ideas that instructors brought forward were built upon and developed into spectacular, campus wide events, such as converting the castle into ‘Arendelle’ from the popular Disney movie ‘Frozen’. Every instructor participated in order to create an unforgettable experience. This particular session was created for a group of boys, aged 5-11, who attended an alternative school and, sadly, were victims of various forms of abuse. By the end of the session, every boy, no matter how ‘tough’ he tried to appear during the week, was whole-heartedly singing along to the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack. Moments like those were the successes of my summer and the reason I loved my job!

Now as the summer is ending, my feet are no longer itchy and I’m ready to settle in to my final academic year at UVic. Wales has become a second home to me; from Welsh cakes to Welshisms, this country is a hidden gem. I am thankful for the opportunity to have represented UVic abroad.

With cariad and cwtches from Wales!

More about Exercise science, physical and health education co-op