Alumni Q&A: Gia DePalma


Alumni Q&A

Eli: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your experience with our wider community. To start, can you just tell us a little bit about your overall experience and what stands out for you from last summer?

Gia: My experience last summer backpacking with Back to Earth was absolutely incredible. To be honest, I would say it’s one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. It combined my love for introspection and growth, with physical activity, and connection to nature and others. It’s a very unique community in how skilled it is at bringing all those pieces together. There is something so fulfilling about being self-sufficient and carrying everything you need in the backcountry. I had really only gone backpacking once before so I thought I knew what it was like, but my experience with Back to Earth opened up an entirely different view of what it means to me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so in tune with nature and so a part of everything around me and so held and cared for by nature. I feel like I found myself in awe at every single turn of the trail, and all the different views and sights. 

E: I can really relate to the feeling of awe. I think that’s a big reason we go out there - because feeling awe is such an essential part of having a whole human experience, and being in the wilderness is such a great way to access it. The social aspect of these trips is also super important. Can you speak to your experience of the group, and how you all got along?

G: Having it be such a small tight-knit group of other females and non-binary folks allowed it to be a safe place for self-exploration, and especially exploring the female aspect of my identity. For the first time, I truly felt like a woman. Being in such a warm community brings you so much closer to the people you experience it with. Like during my solo, I knew I had my other group members around me, supporting me. There was a sense of support and also of solitude, that was so comforting. You can trust that the mentors are nearby and the other group members are around you, even though they are out of sight. 

E: You mention your mentors and guides. Can you say a little more about them?

G: I love the guides with all my heart. I adore them. They are the sweetest people ever. They were fun and welcoming from the second we met each other. Both of them, Lauren and Kelsie, mean so much to me now and I trust that I could go to either one of them with anything I needed and they would be there for me.

E: A lot of folks are curious (and nervous) about the 24 hour solo, which you also mentioned earlier. Can you speak to what that was like for you?

G: I was definitely nervous about the solo at first but once the time came to go off I was fully confident in myself from how well my guides had prepared me. During the solo, I feel like I got in touch with the part of me that is almost beyond just being human and reconnecting with my roots and mother nature. Getting to yell it all out as loud as I could on my solo was surprisingly freeing. It makes me smile just thinking of it. How fun it was, and also how it helped me let out all of the fear and grief I was holding. And it helped me know I was strong enough to deal with what was coming in the future.

E: What did you bring home from the experience? 

G: It helped me gain so much confidence in myself and my capabilities and how I view myself, from my personality to how I physically look. I’m more confident, connected with myself, and also in tune with my femininity, which is something I’ve been disconnected from for a long time. Going into it, I felt a lot of fear, with all the pressures of being a teenager, social and academic, and also the feeling of isolation from being Deaf. Embracing my wild side was so incredibly special to me. It was the first time in a long time that I was able to truly breathe, away from societal pressures, social pressures, and civilization as a whole. 

E: What makes you want to come back?

G: My trip last summer made nature feel like a second home. Even though, coming back, I know I will likely struggle at times, it will benefit me so much because it’s in a safe container. Given that I grew and changed so much from one trip I can only imagine how much I will as I continue to keep coming back.

In addition to coming back for a 10-day trip, I also volunteered to support the 5-day trip for younger girls because I want to support the kids who are coming into this at a younger age. I think I can use the knowledge I have from my wonderful past mentors to make their experience a little bit better, more easeful and more fun. 

E: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and share your thoughts, and for being part of this community.