The Universal Language of the Outdoors

By Emma Nord

Verbal communication accounts for only seven percent of total communication. This being said, why do people value words so incredibly highly? As a student abroad and a self-diagnosed introverted extrovert, I find it extremely difficult to break through barriers of communication. I love to talk to people and listen to their stories but I have the most difficult time creating conversation out of thin air. My lack of speech speaks louder than any of the words that dance out of my mouth.

I began my first year of university in a new city, surrounded by one million of my closest friends. The campus itself was nearly as big as my whole hometown. Overwhelmed and speechless, I decided to explore the nature surrounding my new home of San Diego. I came across a sport called rock climbing.

Rock climbing has an intense following and involves plenty of unique vocabulary—after three years I’m still not quite sure what it means to smear the tufa. This can be intimidating for many people beginning to make their way into the climbing abyss. But as Nike said best, “Just Do It.” Sometimes it’s better to begin than to think too much and talk yourself out of it.

When I just did it and began climbing, I quickly realized people who spend the majority of their time outdoors don’t care how good you are; they’re happy to share the fresh air!

I remember my first night in the Mars-like desert tundra of Joshua Tree National Park, sitting around the campfire with ten other climbers. I only knew one other name and was too nervous to ask for the others. The following day we would climb, but for now we would sit and (try to) get to know one another.

Once the sun came up and our climbing shoes came on, the conversation flowed as naturally as the waves back in San Diego. Our distorted bodies on the crystallized quartzite boulders, the warmth of the sun on our backs, and the rush of the desert winds breathing through our bones connected us more closely than any words had and ever could.

Three years later in Brno, Czech Republic, I not only have to begin once again to make friends, but now I have the added barrier of language. “How will I ever survive,” I asked myself after arrival. Well, looking back to my past experiences I know spending time outside may be a great way to find lasting friendships and get over the obstacles in front of me.

To accomplish this, I began by volunteering for a forest school on Tuesday mornings. These Czech children and teachers speak only a little English, if any at all. However, they all have one main thing in common: they love outdoors activities. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, wind or heat, these little humans live their lives in harmony with our Earth and all other living beings around them.

I get to learn Czech and they learn English, but mostly we communicate through snowballs and the glances we share after seeing the sun radiating through the forest trees. I’m inspired not only by their insight and creativity inspired by this environment, but also by how quickly they pick up English words in a more natural setting than the traditional classroom.

In addition, I began hiking with English Outdoor Club and Call of the Woods Brno. The best part of these hikes is not the intense workout (although you will get some great steps in). In fact, the exercise doesn’t feel too intense because you’re having awesome conversations. Moreover, when you reach the top of the hill, you get to enjoy the views and the comfortable silences with like-minded people from across the globe.

Trying to figure out where the heck you are, sharing food, pain and the beauty of the breath-taking views unite us. Even though speaking the same language helps when you are navigating a way through the forest, giving beta for a climb, and complaining about how sore your feet are, the time spent with others in nature communicates volumes. No matter your life experience, the colour of your skin, your gender, religion, or any other commonly dividing characteristic, you are home in nature.