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Cultural Sensitivity and Environmental Responsibility

Along with the issues of health and safety highlighted in the 1990s, expeditions in the new millennium have brought new areas of concern. Critics have identified several potentially problematic aspects of some current practices on youth expeditions, including cultural sensitivity, the use of drugs, and the environmental costs associated with young people travelling outside of their home country (Allison & Higgins 2002).

First, they were particularly critical of expedition groups that did not show appropriate cultural sensitivity when travelling in developing nations (Allison & Higgins 2002). Participants who do not cover themselves suitably and wear short and sleeveless tops in Muslim countries are an obvious example.

Second, the outcomes of an expedition being so great that they warrant flying a group of 50 young people across the world was highlighted as being questionable (Allison & Higgins 2002).

In a time when air travel is widely accepted as a contributor to global climate change, it seems surprising that so many operators and participants are convinced that they must visit lands far away, despite sometimes knowing little of their homeland. This point is contentious and has been responded to by the Young Explorers Trust who have convincingly argued that the benefits outweigh the costs. It seems likely that this debate will only gain more energy as issues of climate change continue to receive attention. In response to some critiques of “universal” outdoor education (i.e., ignoring “place”), there is a movement toward expeditions that take place in the neighbourhoods in which young people live and go to school.

We want to caution against overseas expeditions and local journeys being dichotomized and set against each other. Rather, we see them as being complementary elements of a rich education that all young people are entitled to and as mechanisms that enable people to engage in explorations of places near and far. Indeed, undertaking self-sufficient journeys early in life may encourage and support young people to seek more adventurous travel further afield as they get older and a spirit of inquiry and enthusiasm to learn about the world in which we live.

Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
Allison, P. & Higgins, P. (2002). Ethical adventures: Can we justify overseas youth expeditions in the name of education? Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 6(2), 22-26.