The DofE (Duke of Edinburgh) award is one that is highly regarded amongst universities and employers, aiming to challenge and stretch youth beyond their perceived capabilities. The award is made up of 4 sections- skill, physical, volunteer and expedition. The duration of each of these sections are dependent on whether you are doing bronze, silver or gold, ranging from 3 to 18 months. As an IB student, the skill, physical and volunteer section neatly coincided with CAS (creativity, action, service) activities, a compulsory area of the IB diploma, making completing my silver DofE much easier.
For my skills section I have been learning sign language, for my physical section I have been going to the gym and for the volunteer section I have been volunteering weekly at a hospice. All of these activities I had started prior to signing up for the award, giving me an advantage as it meant I could complete the award earlier. These activities are organised by the student carrying out the award, forcing students to be more independent.
Underestimating the planning and preparation is a fatal mistake
Unlike the other sections, the expedition is generally organised by the student’s school, which was the case for me, or the DofE centre. The DofE expedition is no mean feat and is a world away from what most of us are used to. Unquestionably, the expedition is the most challenging aspect of the award, and again does vary in duration from bronze, silver and gold. For my silver DofE, my expedition was 3 days and 2 nights long, spent in Kent in 2 different camp sites. My expedition criteria was to be in a group with 2-6 others, plan a route that matched up to the start and end camp site locations provided, lasted at least 7 hours and covered a minimum distance of 17km and plan meals for the expedition. Being in a group with people you get along with is important as communication and team work is essential to have a successful and enjoyable expedition. In addition to this, having a larger group means that tasks can be spread out more between group members so there is less pressure on each person.
Planning our walking route was quite challenging as we were only allowed to use a paper map, and not the internet. This required me to learn how to convert distances, estimate times from distances and recognise what pathways were and were not possible to use. Creating meal plans were harder than I expected as we had to calculate the calorie content of meals and ensure that the food we brought were balanced in regards to the food categories. This meant we had to take care and think about what we planned to eat; as well as this, we had to consider the weight of the food we wanted to take.
Getting the correct equipment for the expedition is crucial, otherwise one will come across real difficulties. For example, I was required to purchase a 65L rucksack; using anything smaller would not have held all of my equipment, whilst anything larger would have been heavier to carry. In my rucksack there was a 2 man tent, my change of clothes, wash bag, food for myself and my group, waterproofs, first aid kit and sleeping bag with my roll mat on the outside of the bag. As you can imagine, my rucksack was very heavy and this rucksack was my responsibility and was kept on my back throughout the expedition.
Prior to the expedition, carrying my rucksack with all of this weight was a major worry of mine. However, although initially carrying the rucksack was hard, I adjusted to it and didn’t struggle nearly as much as I thought I would. The meals I cooked whilst on the expedition also turned out much better than I expected and there was no point of the expedition where I felt hungry, which was a pleasant surprise for me.
Camping was an unfamiliar part of the expedition as I had only gone camping once before, bearing in mind everything had been set up for me during that experience. What I struggled the most with was the setting up and taking down of my tent, as this was a foreign concept to me. Fortunately I had the help of my group and by the end of the second night I had conquered this struggle. The time I spent in the campsites were very calm and peaceful and were the highlight of my expedition. Nothing can compare to sit in a field on a warm and sunny day with your friends, playing Uno after hours of walking across Kent with 15kg on your back!
Overall, my DofE expedition provided a much needed break from my normal world and many new skills. DofE can seem rather daunting and a lot of hard work but planned well it can very easily be enjoyable. I would definitely recommend anyone aged 14-24 to complete the award as it provides you with a range of skills, furthers your character and problem solving and helps one to become more rounded in the activities one does. I personally have really enjoyed my DofE experience and I look forward to completing my gold award in the future. Though the award can prove tough, it is very rewarding and something to be proud of doing!