I love meeting these groups in the beginning and then watching them grow and change over the year. They gain confidence in themselves, they learn to be independent thinkers, they learn how to solve difficult problems, how to deal with new situations, etc. I know that this group will be nervous, many of them did not think of Alaska when they signed up for this thing. To them the USA meant Florida, New York City, and California - the world portrayed by Hollywood and by the view-the-states-in-a-month tours that people they know may have gone on. They will be freaked out about how they will survive the cold, the dark, and sometimes the isolation of small town life. They will be freaked out by all the dogs in this place. And they will have a blast. By the time they leave they will laugh at their worries. They will have done things they never dreamed of doing: skiing, dog mushing, kayaking, camping, hiking. Many of these outdoor things that Alaskans take as a normal part of life are completely alien to these kids who live in places where there isn't quite the same wildness left so that even when you are recreating in it you are always on a well marked trail (most of Europe) or in places where the wild is seen as a dangerous place that you strive to conquer or get away from (much of Africa, Latin & South America, & Asia).
Wild Geranium (Geranium erianthum)
When I lived in Northern California I used to take the kids and their liaisons on a backpacking trip about 3 months after they arrived and I would tell them that it was a metaphor for their experience. In the beginning you are scared, nervous, not sure you are going to like it and it seems like a huge trip. In the middle you are tired, you have blisters, you may be grumpy, you think it is never going to end. At the end you are having so much fun you don't want to go back even though you are looking forward to showers and your own bed but you know you will be leaving fine company who knows you in a way that other people don't because it strips you down to your essentials and you can't believe how quickly the time passed. When you leave it changes your outlook and you look back on it as one of the best things you've ever done and you have a wealth of stories and memories from it.