Much like about 1,700 other fired up new Chippewa’s, I began my collegiate experience with a four day conference called Leadership Safari. Leadership Safari is a four day leadership conference put on by Central Michigan University located on their campus. Any one of the university’s incoming freshman are welcome to take part in this event and also gain the chance to move into their dorm a bit earlier than students who opt not to attend the conference. Personally Leadership Safari was an experience unlike any I have had before. It forced me to bury my introvert tendencies and participate in events I would normally shy away from, which is a pretty basic aspect of any leadership camp you attend, however Leadership Safari was comparatively different in the sense that I felt truly surrounded by people like myself, for most, if not all, of my time spent there. I really enjoyed attending the conference entirely on Central’s campus as well as getting the chance to make myself at home in my dorm room. This not only allowed me to meet and bond with my roommates, but also to get to know the campus as well. I really do feel that because of Leadership Safari I was better able to navigate Central once the fall semester began. I was also pleasantly surprised to find on move in day that Leadership Safari was comprised of so much more than simply L.A.S students, as I had originally thought. It was refreshing to see so many different leaders from all over campus and to meet people that I would otherwise have little or no opportunity to mingle with. I was lucky enough to be a part of team Unicorn for the retreat and still luckier yet to be able to call my teammates friends! I continue to see them, sometimes as I’m walking to class or in the dining hall and we always stop to chat or wave and smile, it’s so comforting to me to know that even though we don’t talk every day, they will always be there for me.
While this experience was incredibly fun and no doubt beneficial to my college career, there were still obstacles to overcome before I could leave feeling truly triumphant. Team Unicorn as a whole had many challenges to face that week, but I feel our most prominent was learning to trust each other. During the conference we were all so guarded, myself included, but what I found interesting is that the desire to move past our awkward untrusting façade seemed to be there in everyone the whole time. I believe this desire kept us going for most of the week, however I couldn’t see any progress in relationships until our safari leader hosted an exercise requiring us to actually open up and let each other see who we really are, should we choose to participate properly. We all joined in eagerly, a sure sign to me that we could’ve come to this point much earlier in our time together; we simply needed the right conductor to begin the process. From that point on I watched our friendships grow exponentially.
When Leadership Safari came to a close it was great that we were able to have overcome our trust problem and ultimately leave with new friends, but it also made me take a little closer look at what it means to be a leader. Prior to this experience I have never seen courage as a quality high on the list of leadership traits, mostly because where I’m from I’ve never been in a position where I was afraid to step up and take charge. Leadership Safari has undoubtedly made me rethink what it means to hold a position of leadership. Any one of my Safari teammates, including myself, could have come forward and initiated an opportunity for the team to get to know each other in a judgment free and open fashion. I realize this is by far easier said than done because it not only takes courage to step up and help achieve the greater good for a group, but it also takes a great deal of bravery to simply shed your insecurity and open up to others on a personal level. That is why I hope this experience will serve as a courage boost in the future and therefore in a small way help me to become a better leader.
That being said, although I did find some of the Leadership Safari activities “little kiddish”, I would recommend attendance to others. It’s my opinion that this conference is certainly beneficial to a person either through the formation of new friends, becoming more familiar with campus prior to the hub bub of classes, or just finding another little piece of yourself and the great leadership potential that lies within you.