picture survey group

Upwards – Realising Potential


An increase in personal confidence is perhaps the best-known outcome of youth expeditions, and the one which will spring most readily to mind for participants, parents and providers. Accordingly it is one of the most widely discussed outcomes in the existing literature. This outcome is well described by Pike and Beames, with one participant stating: "I think other people will possibly look at me differently…it says something about you, that you have a certain character or personality that you would want to do that" (Pike and Beames 2007, pp.150-151).

The expedition experience is a series of freely chosen hardships, and it is the overcoming these hardships which produces an increase in confidence. "[...] Many participants [believed] that coping with the challenges they felt would be offered by Raleigh would enable them to present a more confident self in the future." (ibid.)

There are a wide variety of terms used to describe an increase in confidence, and it is futile to attempt to distinguish between slightly different aspects of the same phenomenon. In essence, there is very good evidence that the expedition experience makes young people believe that they are better able to cope with adversity. This evidence is largely the result of self-report questionnaires. These have their problems, but confidence is one phenomenon of which they are a reliable measure (Watts et al. 1992; Stott and Hall 2003).

Confidence is closely related to a number of other outcomes which merit a separate discussion: self-reliance; ambition; resilience and overcoming challenges.

Courage, gameness, integrity & composure (Pike and Beames 2007)
Decreased cautiousness (Watts et al. 1992)
Confidence - ability to cope when bad things happen (Sheldon 2009)
Increased ascendancy (Watts et al. 1992; 1993 (a); 1994)
Increased vigour (Watts et al. 1994)
More willing to undertake challenges (Beames 2005)
Perseverance (Ewert and Yoshino 2007)
Equanimity (Ewert and Yoshino 2007)
Enthusiasm (Stott and Hall 2003)

Physical and Social Resilience

After an increase in confidence, an increase in resilience is the most widely discussed expedition outcome. This outcome is essentially the 'character-building' of which the first youth expedition programmes were so fond. In the modern literature, there is some debate about the extent to which the lessons learnt on expedition transfer to more mundane situations in participants' home lives. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted that short-term expedition experiences can produce a long-term personality change (Ewert & Yoshino 2007).  

One aspect of resilience is the ability to tolerate physical hardship, for example constant cold or physical challenges such as long treks or rationed food intakes. Another equally important aspect may be termed 'social resilience'. Expeditions typically involve living and working with strangers, and participants learn how to manage relationships with people that they would not normally associate with - either because of personality differences or other barriers such as social class or access to education. Moreover, there is evidence that expedition friendships often take on a meaningful quality quite different to those developed within normal social structures.

Mental resilience (Beames 2005)
Cope with constant cold (Stott and Hall 2003)
Resilience (Ewert and Yoshino 2007)
Increased facility for living and working with strangers (Beames 2005)
Ability to live in crowded circumstances (Stott and Hall 2003)

Self-reliance / Overcoming Challenges

One study found a significant self-reported positive response to statements such as "I can deal with whatever comes in the future", (Ewert and Yoshino 2007). Others link this increase in self-reliance to the degree of the participants' involvement in the practical operation of the expedition (Ashby 1999; Kennedy 1992). Stott and Hall (2003) concentrated on practical problem-solving skills, and found significant increases in participants' self-reported ability to set and achieve goals, manage time and solve problems efficiently.

Overall, there is good evidence for the claim that expeditions increase young peoples' ability to address and tackle problems. In keeping with other outcomes, the question remains whether the specific type of problem-solving experienced during an expedition can be transferred to more general challenges at home.

Self-reliance (Ewert and Yoshino 2007)
Confidence and self-reliance (Ashby 1999)
Ability to manage time efficiently (Stott and Hall 2003)
Set priorities, achieve goals, solve problems efficiently (Stott and Hall 2003)