Animas Student Stories: A coach’s experience of a coaching retreat

In the Animas Student Stories series, we ask people who qualified on our Diploma in Transformative Coaching what they’re doing now. These accounts provide some insight into the life of coaches, and the variety of potential coaching careers.

You can listen to the full interview using the player, read the full transcript, or read a shorter account below.

This Student Story is a little different to the others! Emma Ferris also qualified as a coach at Animas, but had the adventure of a lifetime when she participated in another graduate, Olivia Munoru’s Life Safari. In this article, she shares her experience of the group coaching program and the impact the retreat has had on her life since then.

A Life Safari in Eight Days

“Life Safari is definitely an experience,” Emma said of her eight-day trip. “It’s not a holiday. It’s massively enjoyable, but it’s not a kind of a vacation or anything.” For Emma, it was a rich, deep experience of a culture and learning about a life so different from hers.

At the beginning, Emma and the other participants spent time getting acclimated to being in a new country and meeting each other. “We did an actual safari trip going out and seeing the animals in Nairobi National Park, which was a really wonderful way to bond as a group because we had this really unique shared experience just enjoying and delighting in these new discoveries,” Emma described.

After several days of local experiences in Nairobi, the group headed off to a village where they spent time with families, met facilitators who worked in the community, and learned about how people lived. Returning to Nairobi, the group reflected on that experience and talked about how that would change things back home.

Group Coaching In an Experiential Setting

Emma believes that the group element of Life Safari was fundamental. At the end of each day, participants had the chance to meet together in an after experience reflection led by the trip’s leader, Olivia. The group answered specific discussion questions together and shared their experiences with each other.

She recalled, “That was a time for us to all share what was coming up for us, what we were thinking about and what that might mean for us when we went back home, any kind of difficulties or challenges, emotional, whatever we might be experiencing and to share that as a group.”

“What I really loved was that we were all on our own individual journey. We all had this kind of time that was just us as individuals, but then there were times when we would come back together, say, in the morning after we had slept in our hosts’ families homes and would come together and just have that coming together and sense of togetherness.”

This practice began to create a feeling of community and safety within the Life Safari’s group. Emma remembered, “There was always this, ‘How are you doing? What’s going up for you? How are you?’ And that shared joy and delight, or shared challenge or discomfort, whatever it might be. Being able to do that as a group and knowing that everybody was going through the same thing as you gave you permission to be able to talk openly and honestly about what was going on.”

Space for Reflection

Something that participants of an experiential coaching program can really benefit from is time for reflection. In Life Safari, Olivia takes care to make time for group reflection at the day’s end and when participants come together. Time for reflection can also come in unexpected places.

“What was really valuable for me was to reflect on, ‘What is this going to mean for me when I get back? What’s that transfer going to be? How am I starting to think now about what changes I’d like to make, or what effect is this going to have when I get back home?’” Emma shared.

Olivia introduced the group to the question, “What’s the weather like inside?” This concept helped the group think about how they felt emotionally. “It wasn’t just us as a Life Safari group who did that,” Emma noted, “but all of the team facilitators did that as well. It was lovely sharing what everybody was actually feeling. It gave permission to talk about highs, and to talk about lows, to talk about somewhere in the middle, to talk about how actually there is quite a lot of complexity in that. You can be feeling really happy and really sad at the same time, and be struggling with that kind of conflict in those emotions. It was nice for that to be constantly there and to have permission to talk about that.”

In a surprising way, Life Safari’s bus trips ended up opening space for reflection and deep conversation. Emma explained, “Olivia created this environment where everybody could do what they needed to do and wanted to do at the right time. That just seemed to unfold and happen in a really lovely way. The bus journeys interestingly created this long hour, two hours, three hours where you could have a really extended deep conversation we didn’t expect, and Olivia didn’t expect that to be a really important part of the trip, but I know I had a couple of really lovely conversations, where I just felt like I had that time to talk about stuff and talk about stuff that I wouldn’t normally talk about.”

Group coaching creates a different environment from one-on-one. Part of the difference is that in group coaching, when one participant shares something deep and personal, others have permission to do the same. While they might not have been confident enough to share it on their own, hearing others express themselves helps people open up.

Insights After Life Safari

“When I was there, it really shone a spotlight on my life back home on what was good, what wasn’t so good, the ways in which I often feel when you are disconnected from people, or don’t have the level of connection I would really like to have,” Emma said. “On the Life Safari I had seen people getting so much from that connection with people, from that sense of community, from that joy in just being with people and spending time with people who are really valuing and appreciating what every single person brings to a relationship, or brings to a community. I felt that that’s something that I don’t have a massive amount of in my life, and, I think, a lot of people in the West don’t have that really strong kind of sense of community and connection and valuing people.”

Emma spent a lot of time thinking about her relationships on the Life Safari. She thought about how much she gives to other people. She said, “I know I have so much more that I could give that I don’t, and, I suppose, there are lots of reasons that I sometimes hold back and I don’t give everything I have.” With that revelation, Emma returned seeing clearly what she could be doing for the important relationships in her life.

“When I was on the Life Safari, one of the girls who was in the home that I was staying in, she helped me wash my hair, just washing out of a bucket,” Emma described, “I felt really nervous about asking her to do that. It’s not something we really do, and she was so generous and so open-spirited, and just kind. It was lovely to have somebody helping me wash my hair, there was a real female connection there.”

While Emma’s habits have generally been to live a healthy and simple life, Life Safari has reminded her to choose the simpler, easier way of life. “There is a lot that has changed for me around living a much simpler life because in the village that we were in, the people, they have so much less materially. The life is so much simpler, but it’s so much more enjoyable in many ways.”

Six Months After The Experience

Months after her experience with Life Safari, Emma can still tell that the trip made an impact on her life. “I’ve recently moved out of London and that was something I was always going to do anyway. I had planned to do that for a long time, but when I came to start looking at towns I wanted to move to, I came to a bigger town close to here, and I looked around and I just thought, ‘I don’t think this is for me. I actually think I want something smaller. I want something that has got a much stronger sense of community,’ and that was really influenced by the Life Safari because one of the things I really loved on the Life Safari in the village that we visited was, it was quite a small village, there was a real kind of clear central hub.”

Life Safari helped Emma realized that what she wanted to live in a place where relationships and people were truly valued. She wanted to be able to say hello to people on the street and feel good about her community.

The Life Safari program is an interesting example of how coaching principles and experiences can be woven into travel and other activities. The trip’s group dynamic allowed Emma to explore different areas of her life and see her relationships and desires in new ways. Whether we decide to coach individuals or groups, creating a space where people feel free to be self-expressed and explore what is going on for them is key to creating impact.

Nick Bolton.

Nick is the Founder and Director of Animas Centre for Coaching.

He is dedicated to progressing the field of coaching through exploring the growing edges of its intellectual grounding and practice, and is currently researching and writing on self and identity in coaching.

Nick is keen on what he calls 'little adventures' that keep him in the real world. In the last few years he has cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, trekked Everest Basecamp, cycled to Dijon and around Belgium. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to cycle around the world!

Nick is the Founder and Director of Animas Centre for Coaching.

He is dedicated to progressing the field of coaching through exploring the growing edges of its intellectual grounding and practice, and is currently researching and writing on self and identity in coaching.

Nick is keen on what he calls 'little adventures' that keep him in the real world. In the last few years he has cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, trekked Everest Basecamp, cycled to Dijon and around Belgium. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to cycle around the world!

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