Why I volunteer as a Leader for British Exploring Society
29 May 2018 13:38
By Fernando Mateos-González - Amazon 2017 Science Leader & Canadian Yukon 2018 Chief Science Leader
How you first heard about British Exploring Society?
I am an animal behaviour scientist who loves fieldwork, but sometimes my job requires me to spend a long stretch in the lab or in front of the computer.
One day, after having spent several months working in a lab with no windows, I started daydreaming about the Amazon, and spent an afternoon procrastinating, googling stuff like “jungle biologist expedition”. Somehow, I found out that British Exploring Socety was looking for adventurous biologists to lead an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon. I dropped everything I was doing and applied right away.
Fernando and the team, Amazon 2017 expedition © Alex Mallinson
What new skills have you developed from taking part in the expedition?
Prior to the expedition, my experience working with young people was limited to coaching volunteers, masters, and PhD students, mostly in academic settings. I confess that, initially, my main motivation to join British Exploring Society was the chance to go to remote, exciting locations, but in the end, I was happily surprised to find out how much I enjoyed helping young people develop and grow. British Exploring Society has given me an excellent toolbox for that aim, and the experience I obtained from the leadership team was brilliant. It’s probably the new skill I value the most.
I have also gathered a spectacular amount of knowledge on how to plan, organise and safely run an expedition. I had prior experience on scientific fieldwork in remote locations, but leading young explorers on often their first adventure far from home, requires a very different approach. Now I feel much more confident and prepared.
I have also learnt a lot of British references and jokes!
Has your experience helped you in your career?
It has certainly helped me to reshape my career. This experience has ignited an interest in working with young people, and it has given an extra impulse to my role as a science communicator. Furthermore, it has given me confidence in pursuing an unusual professional path, mainly because British Exploring Society manages to gather a very special kind of people as expedition leaders - experts of thinking out of the box, incredibly gifted misfits who dare to be different and love sharing their enthusiasm.
Fernando speaking at our 2018 Celebration Evening
What is it about the expedition experience that makes it so impactful for young people?
The leadership team is, without doubt, one of the main reasons. They are excellent catalysts for life-changing experiences!
This is favoured by the intensity of the expedition, jointly with the lack of external distractions. Being out of the grid is, these days, a luxury difficult to achieve. Total disconnection has the power to reset you, giving you the necessary bandwidth to gain new skills and to remember what’s important and what’s not.
These expeditions also allow you to experience the strangest feeling. It’s difficult to explain: Despite being surrounded by your expedition mates virtually every second of the whole trip, you get to enjoy several weeks of being mindfully yourself, by yourself. I think it has something to do with being in a totally new, challenging situation, sharing the most extreme ups and downs with people you don’t know.
What is your favourite part of being a British Exploring Society leader?
At the beginning, it was the chance to go on adventures and look for animals in remote places. Later, it was the amazing people I got to meet. In the end, though, my favourite part was feeling that I was helping. Last year, when some of the young explorers’ parents approached me to thank me personally, I realised that no other job had ever given me that feeling of fulfilment before.
Fernando front left at our 2017 Next Steps event
Why have you continued to volunteer your time with the charity?
Because there are still lots of new friends to make, places to discover and adventures to live! I’m also enjoying the opportunity to show how Science can be the perfect tool for youth development. It fuels our curiosity, gives us a common purpose, and it serves as a platform to have meaningful adventures.
How would you describe British Exploring Society to a friend?
It’s a cool and ancient charity where fun adventurers volunteer their time to create purposeful experiences in exotic locations, so that young people get a head start in life.
What would you say to a potential leader thinking about volunteering?
Just go ahead and apply, you won’t regret it!
Click here to find out more about leading for British Exploring Society