Written by Candy Yan

On a crisp Saturday morning, a group of students headed to the Jockey Club Ah Kung Wan Outward Bound Training Centre in Sai Kung. Outward Bound are a provider of experience-based outdoor leadership programmes. The students were there for a leadership camp, and they were all looking to gain the qualities they’d need to stand out in their quest to become the next Student of the Year.

The excitement was palpable and, even in the early hours of February 11, the candidates were eager to start a full day’s worth of activities – from mid-air rope courses to raft-building. Any awkwardness or unease that any of them might have felt dissipated when the instructor guided them through a series of fun activities, from thigh-slapping and feet-stomping, to hilariously elaborate handshakes, to a full body version of rock-paper-scissors. Not By the end of the ice-breakers the smiles on everyone’s faces were warm and broad.

Next, the students split into groups to consider the answer to one question – “What qualities does a leader have?”. The groups settled on four key qualities: commitment, patience, communication, and passion, which students had to keep in mind as they completed their tasks throughout the rest of the day.

As noon approached, the students aimed literally higher – and set their minds to completing a 50 metre high rope course. They had to work together as they walked across a log beam and a giant Jacob’s ladder (a wobbly bridge made of thin wooden beams held together by rope) to ring a bell high above the ground. With each successful clang of the bell, the air filled with cheers of victory.

“Climbing was great. We had to learn how to trust in our teams, and that was interesting for me, as I’ve got a fear of heights,” Queenie Chan Nok-tung, a True Light Girl College student, confessed. “Even when we’re scared, we had to remember and trust that our teams were supporting us on the ground.” Queenie, 17, is nominated in the Cantonese Linguist category, and said that she wanted to “meet outstanding leaders from other schools and gauge myself against them”.

Raft-making was the name of the game for one of the team exercises that the SOTY candidates had to do.

After lunch, the SOTY candidates slapped on some sunscreen and readied themselves for a dip in the water with the raft-building exercise. Given a few plastic barrels, rope and bamboo poles, each of the three teams had to construct a sturdy raft that they could all climb on. The catch was that there were no instructions – just a mini-model, a quick lesson on how to tie knots, and their collective brains.

Each team approached the task differently, yielding very different results. Two of the teams managed to row out to the designated spot and back, but the third team found their raft coming apart beneath them.

“I’m knot ready for this!” English Linguist hopeful Catherine Wang, from Chinese International School, joked as they bobbed back to shore. Though they didn’t complete the task, none of the team felt particularly despondent.

One of the important things that the students had to learn was how to rely on one another and trust in their own abilities to lead, as well as the abilities of others.

“I’ve now got more of an understanding of my capabilities. I’m also more appreciative of teamwork. It was good to see how much of a role everyone played, even though we failed miserably,” Sarika Mahbubani said. Sarika, 18, goes to Renaissance College, and is also competing for the title of English Linguist. “My teachers nominated me,” she added, “I was too scared to say no. I’m kidding – it’s an honour.”

As evening arrived, the students gathered around for a final round-up, where there was more thigh-slapping and finger-snapping games. Each of the SOTY candidates realised that they had leadership qualities already or that, thanks to the camp, they were well on the way to having them. Allan Zhu Hong-yi, 18, from Diocesan Boys School said that he had learnt a lot.

“Today we focused on pushing ourselves physically, something Hong Kong students don’t usually do,” the Putonghua Linguist contestant added. Tired, skin crusted with salt, sand and sweat, each of the students there left the leadership camp with a renewed sense of purpose, more knowledge, and the ability to be a future leader.

Source: SOTY 2016: Candidates bound towards leadership at an Outward Bound camp