Yesterday, I returned from a retreat with the rest of my year 12 peers. I spent three days and two nights with old friends, new friends, complete strangers, and teachers, and now I feel as though I am seeing with new eyes.
Over the course of the retreat, we completed activities and discussions both as a large group of 90, and in randomly selected small groups. We were given the chance to reflect on what we thought about ourselves, what others thought of us, our family life, where we stood on faith, and where we wanted to take ourselves in the future.
In all honesty, before we embarked on the trip, I had a few trepidations. Year 12s from previous years had given me both sides of the argument: some had said it was boring, some said it was the most amazing thing ever. Truth is, each person’s retreat is completely unique to them, and no two experiences are exactly the same. All the same, I had some skepticism.
On arrival, we were divided into dorms we chose ourselves. It’s one thing to have group discussions with complete strangers, and another to sleep with them, so I was lucky enough to share a dorm with some of my best friends, which turned out to be a party of screaming over spiders, awful singing, and going through five bags of chocolates and lollies. Good times.
In my small group however, I had actually never really met any of them before, despite being at school with two of them for nearly 7 years. The three of us had just belonged to completely different worlds and our paths had never crossed. But over the course of the retreat, we, eight of us altogether, got to know some really personal things about one another and I really felt as though we became good friends in such a small amount of time.
In the larger group discussions, I got to know a lot more about the teachers and leaders on the camp as they shared some truly heartbreaking stories about their pasts. Sometimes we forget that teachers are people too with pain and dark places and tragedy in their lives, and this camp really made me see them for who they really were; ordinary people with their own baggage to carry through life. We also were given the opportunity to explore our faith and our opinions on religion and belief. As someone who at this moment in life is unsure of where they stand in terms of faith, I had always felt a bit lost and alone. But this session made me see that there were so many people like me, standing at the crossroads of faith and still undecided on which way to turn. I felt less alone. I was also surprised by the kind of response that the group had and the variety of issues discussed. I hate to label or to impose stereotypes, but usually the “jocks” of my school aren’t really the kinds of people who have much to say about religion, so I was amazed by the amount of them who actually contributed really well and brought some incredibly insightful opinions to the table. Just shows that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
During free time and meal times, we would write little affirmation notes and letters to each other and slipped them into each person’s personalised envelopes. These were then given back to the students to read through, and I was surprised by the amount of affirmations I got. Some of mine were signed and some of them were anonymous, but all of them touched me so deeply. I have often wondered what other people thought of me, and I was amazed at the amount of positivity within each of the notes I received. They really made me feel good about myself, and I did my best to give back what I got, writing to as many people as I could over the course of the retreat.
The part that touched me the most though was the letters we received from our families. I hadn’t known beforehand, but the school had asked our families to write us letters, to be read on the last night of the retreat. I received one from my parents, and one each from my sisters. I sat there, reading in a corner next to one of my best friends, both of us crying silently as we read the beautiful words our families had written for us. I hadn’t know my sisters could write the way we did, and I was just overwhelmed with emotion.
Not all of the camp was completely deep and emotional though, and after the letter writing we spent the rest of the night singing songs and pulling pranks. It just felt so good to be completely free from school commitments and stress for a couple of days and get the opportunity to bond with our peers.
If I were to describe every detail of the retreat in-depth, I’d be here writing for days, but I really just wanted to share a little bit about how this wonderful experience really spoke to me and opened my eyes to the beauty of those around me. It’s been said that nobody except those who have been on a retreat can fully understand it, but I’ll say that how I felt about my experience cannot be expressed in words. If you ever get the opportunity to go on a retreat, be it with work, school, or just friends, I urge you to seize the chance with both hands. It’s an experience like no other and I can guarantee it will change how you see the world.
Sorry for such a long personal post, I just really felt the need to share this.
-Christie 🙂 xx