Adventure Therapy Lab Partners with International Student and Scholars Office in Welcoming Students

International students try to surreptitiously grab a rubber chicken from the ground during a game of Sneak Attack.
Photos by Heidi Wells

International students try to surreptitiously grab a rubber chicken from the ground during a game of Sneak Attack.

David Christian started the group off with some warmup exercises after giving them three rules to follow: Be safe, care for yourself and others, and have fun. Then, he explained the rules of a game called Jump, Clap, Spin and Run. Soon, participants were jumping, clapping, spinning and running all over an open field at a state park.

During a break in the action was heard the familiar question when people are getting to know each other: Where are you from? And, getting to know each other was ultimately a big part of the goal of the day's activities.

Through another game, Christian found out the University of Arkansas international students were from such countries as Austria, Australia, Algeria, Bahamas, Bolivia, China, France, Germany, India, Jamaica, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Panama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand.

Christian is an assistant professor of counselor education. Last year, he started the Adventure Therapy Lab in the College of Education and Health Professions. On the recent trip to Devil's Den State Park in western Washington County, Christian led a group of the lab's students and graduates in putting on a day's activities for the International Students and Scholars program, which is part of the Graduate School and International Education.

Adventure therapy is an approach to group counseling that uses action and experiences to facilitate client growth. Activities range from hiking in the wilderness to games traditionally played in physical education classes.

Mallory Nash, a higher education master's program student, was doing an internship with the International Students and Scholars program this past summer and was familiar with the Adventure Therapy Lab because she had previously been enrolled in the counselor education program.

More than 50 international students took part in the orientation event, Nash said, along with 13 members of the cross cultural mentor program, students who volunteer to assist new international students in adjusting academically, culturally and socially to the United States and the University of Arkansas. The students on the trip represented all four undergraduate classes and the Graduate School.

"Cross cultural mentors play a crucial role in international student orientation, as they facilitate activities and help integrate incoming students into campus life," Nash said. "Our activities at Devil's Den were also intended to help the international students feel connected to the group and to have fun in the Natural State. I think we achieved our goal of making them feel that the University of Arkansas is a welcoming place and a community for them."

James Flammer, assistant director of retention programs, said Devil's Den has been an integral part of international student orientation in the past, allowing students to experience the beauty of Northwest Arkansas while enhancing relationships.

"I want them to feel a sense of belonging, and Dr. Christian and the Adventure Therapy Lab helped us to achieve this goal," Flammer said.

Christian and Nash explained that adventure therapy always includes a debriefing after the game or hike or other physical activity so that participants can think about what they learned and how to apply it to their lives.

"We say that adventure therapy helps people answer three questions: what, so what and now what?" Nash said.

When Sarah Finley, a member of the Adventure Therapy Lab, asked students what they learned after playing the Spider Web game, they at first made jokes — they learned the lyrics to "Itsy Bitsy Spider," which they had to sing each time they let the rope touch the ground, and that they should change their majors to engineering.

"We wanted you to spend time together having fun but also make connections," Finley said. The activities brought the students together to meet the mentors, to build rapport and improve their communication, she said.

Finley asked the students about their goals for the fall semester — "to survive," one joked — and about personal goals. "I want to make choices instead of trying to do everything at the same time," a student said.

After playing the Pipeline game, another student said he learned, "Life is a small ball and it goes fast."

The students were serious in saying, though, that international students can feel very nervous before they adjust to their new surroundings.

"I learned to try to be connected to other people and that there are people around to help you," one said.

In addition to the service component such as the Devil's Den trip, the Adventure Therapy Lab brings faculty and students together to conduct research and provide workshops. It prepares mental health professionals to work with at-risk populations at various developmental levels.


Heidi S. Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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