An investigation of extraordinary experiences

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An investigation of extraordinary experiences

  1. 1. Ik und kLcrü;.iüoii Adminisli Voliunc .lO, NuAn Investigation ofExtraordinary Experiences Katharine Jefferies Andrew Lepp EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: For decades, park and recreation professionals have been creating opportunities for enjoyable experiences. However, the value of enjoyable experiences is only now being widely recognized. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Pine and Gilmore (1998) argued modem economies increasingly rely on experience as an important element ofthe value in economic exchanges. As such, it follows that providing opportunities for exceptional experiences, or extraordinary experiences, can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace for some organizations. In this paper, extraordinary experiences are defined as those that are highly memorable, very special, and emotionally charged. .Park and recreation managers are well positioned to provide opportunities for extraordinary experiences, although Üiere is a gap between theory and practice. Much of the existing research focuses on the experience of novel tourist settings, while familiar everyday settings such as municipal parks have been neglected. In light of this, Üie purpose of this research is to explore extraordinary experiences in both novel and familiar settings in hopes of identifying particular aspects that can be managed by park, recreation, and tourism professionals. In this study, 89 extraordinary experiences were analyzed. Descriptions of extraordinary experiences were collected from undergraduate students participating in study abroad programs to China and Uganda. Participants were first asked to reflect on the previous academic year and to describe in detail up to three very special, wonderful, and memorable experiences that occurred within the college setting. In a similar fashion, participants were asked to recall exti-aordinaiy experiences that occurred while ti-aveling through Uganda or China. In this way, extraordinary experiences in both familiar and novel settings were captured. Analysis involved identification of themes within the data that might explain the nature of the experience. Results suggest that extraordinary experiences, although rare, occur in familiar and novel settings. Important facilitators in familiar settings included challenging activities that lead to accomplishing meaningfiil goals, activities that reafiSrm and strengthen social
  2. 2. 38 bonds, spontaneify, and being outside. Other facilitators played a secondary role including evaluation, fdends, and reflection. Important facilitators in novel settings included outdoor adventure sports that by their nature are challenging, cross-cultural expedences that can also be challenging, and reflection. Secondary facilitators were evaluation and fabled settings such as the Nile River. Last, a wide range of emotions that appear independent of setting typified expedences. These include but are not limited to anxiefy, awe, excitement, happiness, harmony, inner peace, joy, nervousness, sadness, and shock. Managedal and professional implications are discussed. KEYWORDS: Leisure expedence, extraordinary expedence, toudsm expedence, expedence-based management, study abroad. AUTHORS: Katharine Jeffedes is with the Department of Recreation, Park, and Toudsm Management, Kent State University, 316A White Hall. PO Box 5190, Kent, Ohio 44242. Andrew Lepp is also with the Department of Recreation, Park, and Toudsm Management, Kent State Universify, Phone: 330 672 0218, Email: aleppl@kent.edu Wdting in the Harvard Business Review, Pine and Gilmore (1998) descdbe a not-so-distant fiiture in which the staging of expedences will become "the next competitivebattleground" for "leading-edge companies" (p. 98). Indeed, there is evidence to suggestthat some industdes have already shifted their attention from the production of goods tothe delivery of services and now to the staging of expedences. Pine and Gilmore illustratethis succession using the analogy of a birthday cake that has progressed through the yearsfrom being made from scratch, to being bought from a bakery, to being supplied as part ofa much larger birthday expedence staged by Chuck E. Cheeses or some oüier expedenceproviding business. Of course, sudden recognition of this "expedence economy" bdngsa bit of irony for park and recreation professionals who have been doing this all along—that is, supplying consumers with opportunities for enjoyable expedences. However, asthe marketplace for expedences becomes more and more crowded, it may not always beenough to provide enjoyable expedences. Instead, gaining a competitive advantage ismore likely to depend on providing extraordinary expedences (Pine & Gilmore, 1998).In the United States, this is certainly true as the park and recreation industry increasinglyfinds itself in competition with other leisure-related industdes for the attention of the time-starved public. In order to elucidate the nature of the extraordinary expedences that are becomingso advantageous to provide, it is necessary to begin with a working definition. Pine andGilmore (1998) descdbed economically valuable expedences as memorable. However,extraordinary expedences are potentially more than this. Wdting from an anthropologicalperspective, Abrahams (1981) conceptualized extraordinary expedences as those that holdspecial meaning, perhaps associated with personal growth and development. Amouldand Pdce (1993) echo Abrahams definition while adding that extraordinary expedencesare often tdggered by novelfy and interpersonal interaction while being charactedzed byemotional intensify. Färber and Hall (2007) use the terms "high-quahfy expedence" (p.248) and "very special exjjedence" (j3. 254) as synonyms for extraordinary expedencewhile reaffirming their emotionally charged nature. Based on these descdptions, this paperdefines extraordinary expedences as highly memorable, very special, emotionally charged,and potentially life altering in that they may contdbute to personal growth or renewal. Thequestion now becomes "How can opportunities for extraordinary expedences be createdwithin the parks and recreation industry?" In light of this, the purpose of this paper isto more closely explore the nature of extraordinary expedences in hopes of identifyingparticular aspects that can be managed by park and recreation professionals.
  3. 3. 39 Literature Review In the broad field of parks and recreation, managers recognized long ago that it isnot sufficient to simply provide activities and settings for recreation. While these areimportant, consideration must be given to the experience such activities and settings arelikely to produce when used for leisure (Moore & Driver, 2005). As a result, researchersbegan to investigate the leisure experience as early as the mid-1980s. One line of thisresearch focused on the experience of leisure in everyday life (e.g., Shaw, 1985). This lineof research often describes leisure as enjoyable, but it does not describe it as extraordinary(Shaw, 1985). This supports the idea that extraordinary experiences, by their very nature,transcend the experiences typical of everyday life and require a separate line of research. Csikszentmihalyis (1990) description of the optimal leisure experience, or flow,is perhaps the most well-known example of a type of leisure experience that ti-anscendsthat of typical daily life. Flow is a deep experience that can result from engaging skillwith an appropriately challenging activity, the experience is often characterized by thetransformation of time (time passing quickly or perhaps standing still), intrinsic reward,deep concentration, a loss of self-awareness, and a sense of control. Furthermore, the flowexperience is often accompanied by personal growth and development. Personal growthand development stem, in part, from the loss of self-awareness, which allows the participantto move beyond preconceived limits. As Csikszentmihalyi explained: It almost seems that giving up self-consciousness is necessary for building a strong self-concept. Why this should be so is fairly clear. In flow a person is challenged to do her best and must constantly improve her skills. At the time, she doesnt have the opportunity to reflect on what this means in terms of the self—if she did allow herself to become self-conscious, the experience could not have been very deep. But afterward, when the activity is over and self-consciousness has a chance to resume, the self that the person reflects upon is not the same self that existed before the flow experience: it is now eruiched by the new skills and fresh achievements, (pp. 65-66) From a practitioners standpoint, flow can be encouraged by teaching particularskills (e.g., rock climbing wall with routes ranging from beginner to expert). Challengingsettings also contribute to the flow experience. Jones, Hollenhorst, Pema, and Selin (2000)found the likelihood for experiencing flow during white-water kayaking was highest atthe most challenging points of the river and lowest at the least challenging. As settingcan influence the flow experience, its influence on the nature of extraordinary experiencesshould also be investigated. Indeed, the flow experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) has much in common with theexti-aordinary experience. As Amould and Price (1993) explain, "Certain qualities unify[the flow concept and the extraordinary experience concept], including the merging ofaction and awareness, attention or clear focus, personal integration, personal control,awareness of power, joy and valuing, and a spontaneous letting be of process" (p. 25).Yet, Amould and Price suggest differences between these concepts as well. Notably,extraordinary experiences may entail a greater sense of newness, originality, or freshness.They may be more likely triggered by the unplanned, the spontaneous, and the unusual.They may be more emotionally intense. They may not require superior effort. And last,they may be more interpersonal in that they are often triggered by reflective interactionwith others. Amould and Price investigated the nature of extraordinary experiencesamong participants of rafting trips in the American Southwest. Their findings suggest thatextraordinary experiences consist of several dimensions that work together simultaneouslyas a gestalt, or in other words, the dimensions create an experience greater than the sum ofits parts. Their study revealed three dimensions: a deeply felt connection with the novel
  4. 4. 40physical setting (harmony with nature), a deeply felt connection with the other membersof the trip, and personal growth and renewal. Thus, participants most memorable andemotionally charged experiences involved connection with nature, connection withothers, and personal growth or renewal. Similarly, Lepp (2008) found that novel socialand physical settings were highly influential in facilitating emotionally charged leisureexperiences characterized by personal growth and development. Indeed, novelty is a theme throughout the research on extraordinary experiences. Thismay be a function of limiting investigations to experiences had during leisure travel—anactivity that is often motivated by a search for novelty (Cohen, 1972; Wahlers & Etzel,1985). Färber and Hall (2007) investigated the nature of extraordinary experiences amongtravelers of Alaskas scenic Dalton Highway. Nearly all of the 448 travelers surveyedcould identify at least one extraordinary experience. Descriptions of scenery or wildlifewere prevalent in slightly more than half of the experiences reported, suggesting thatnovel settings can be influential in creating opportunities for extraordinary experiences.Recreational activities such as hiking, camping, and swimming were prevalent in 29%ofthe experiences described. Social interaction, in support of Amould and Price (1993),played a role in 18% of the experiences described. Finally, references to novelty weremade by 21% of respondents when describing extraordinary experiences. Qualitative datafrom this same study also contained evidence of more abstract subthemes that were clearlyinstrumental in the experiences reported. Examples include feelings of accomplishment,perceived freedom, spirituality, connection with nature, and solitude. Färber and Hallranked the emotional descriptors participants used in describing their experiences. Pleasure,enjoyment, awe, and excitement were Üie most common; however, emotions were diverseand included feelings of surprise, fear, being overwhelmed, and sadness. Färber and Hallsresearch suggests that a combination of physical and social settings along with particularrecreational activities contribute to extraordinary experiences. In closely related research, Kim, Ritchie, and McCormick (2010) studied memorabletourism experiences. They identified seven factors that contribute to memorableexperiences: hedonism, novelty, local culture, refreshment, meaningfuhiess, involvement,and knowledge. To clarify a few of the factors, meaningfijlness suggests leaming aboutoneself, while refreshment suggests perceived freedom, revitalization, and renewal. Thesetwo factors, together with knowledge, are certainly connected to ideas of personal growthand development, which other researchers have identified as important to extraordinaryexperiences (Abrahams, 1981; Amould & Price, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Similarly,Tung and Ritchie (2011) found that identity formation, family milestones, relationshipdevelopment, nostalgia, and perceptions of freedom influenced memorable tourismexperiences among seniors. Finally, Curtin (2010) investigated memorable experiencesamong tourists searching for wildlife encounters. Among the factors Curtin identified werespontaneity, novelty, and an intimacy with nature. In consideration of these findings, itis clear that memorable experiences and extraordinary experiences are related concepts.Both, it appears, create conditions that allow individuals to temporarily transcend theirordinary existence to a unique psychological state that can be revisited later through thepower of memory. Understanding extraordinary experiences is certainly relevant to park and recreationmanagement where the primary product is experiential. Toward this end, recent researchhas begim to identify factors tiiat contribute to extraordinary experiences. However, thisresearch focuses exclusively on the experiences of tourists in novel settings. As of yet,no research has explored extraordinary experiences in familiar everyday environments.This research seeks to fill that gap by exploring extraordinary experiences in bothfamiliar and novel settings. Specifically, this research asks four questions. First, canextraordinary experiences be identified in familiar everyday settings, and if so, what aretheir characteristics? Second, what are the characteristics of extraordinary experiences innovel settings associated with intemational travel? Third, are any ofthe characteristics ofextraordinary experiences independent of setting? Fourth, what emotions are associatedwith extraordinary experiences in both novel and familiar settings? It is hoped the dual
  5. 5. 41focus on familiar and novel settings will produce results applicable to a wide range ofrecreational settings. Metbod The unit of analysis was a single extraordinary experience. Descriptions ofextraordinary experiences were collected from a convenience sample of 21 undergraduatestudents enrolled in a large public universify located in the Midwestem United States.Each student was a participant in one of two universify-sponsored study abroad programs,which traveled to China or Uganda. Participants were from eight different majors and thusrepresented a diversify of interests from across campus. The first phase of data collection began in May 2009. At the conclusion of the springsemester, participants were asked to refiect on the previous academic year and describe inwriting up to three Very special, wonderful, and memorable experiences" that occurredwithin the college setting. The survey language used to describe the experiences of interestconforms to language used in previous studies of extraordinary experiences (Amould &Price, 1993; Färber & Hall, 2007). In addition, for each experience identified, participantswere asked to describe the events surrounding the experience as well as important feelingsassociated with the experience. Last, participants were encouraged to "elaborate as muchas necessary" in order to capture the essence of the experience. Participants were given 24hours to complete the brief survey. In this way, extraordinary experiences that occurredwithin the familiar setting of a college campus were captured. Of the 21 participants, 19responded with at least one detailed experience for a sample of 38. The second phase ofdata collection occurred in June and July of 2009 after participants retumed home fromabroad. This time, participants were asked to describe in writing up to three "very special,wonderful, and memorable experiences" that occurred while traveling through either Chinaor Uganda. Like before, participants were asked to describe the events surrounding theexperience, to describe important feelings associated with the experience, and to "elaborateas much as necessary." Again, 19 responded with at least one detailed description for asample of 51. Thus, a total of 89 experiences were collected, 43% from familiar settingsand 57% from novel settings. Experiences were analyzed using grounded theory as described by Charmaz (2002).First, two researchers independently coded each sentence of data. Codes attempted toreduce participants thoughts to single words or phrases without losing the essence of theidea. Then the researchers met and discussed the coding. Differences were resolved anduniformify was achieved. Second, the researchers independently grouped similar codesinto categories, which represented reoccurring themes in the data. Researchers then metand discussed the categories and representative themes. Differences were resolved anduniformify was achieved. Because previous research demonstrated that exti-aordinaryexperiences are shaped by the convergence of several factors (Amould & Price, 1993;Färber & Hall, 2007), researchers identified themes and subthemes that worked togethertoward the creation of a single experience. Thus, the themes that emerged from thisanalysis are presented as primary and secondary themes. Primary themes dominated thedescription of a particular experience, while secondary themes were frequent enough todeserve attention. As a final step in the analysis, the researchers worked together using theirknowledge of the literature and memos written during analysis to interpret the themes interms of existing theory. Limitations must be acknowledged. First, all data represent student reñections onearlier extraordinary experiences. This procedure could produce different results than datacollected in real time as the experience was occurring or immediately after the experienceoccurred. Also, student samples necessitate some restraint when attempting to generalizethe results to other populations. Yet it should be noted that several prominent researcherssuggest that the defining characteristics of the leisure experience and the extraordinaryleisure experience are universal (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Shaw, 1985). Furthermore,over the years student samples have proven quite informative for exploratory studies
  6. 6. 42and have made important contributions to a range of theoretical developments (Calder,Phillips, & Tybout, 1981). Finally, it is important to note that the data comprise campusand study abroad experiences. Alüiough these experiences may be relevant to public parksand recreation, it must be noted that a stronger method for this investigation would haveinvolved recall of extraordinary experiences in actual park and recreation settings. Results This research asked participants to describe up to three extraordinary experiencesthat occurred in the familiar setting of a Midwestern university campus and up to threeextraordinary experiences that occurred in novel settings associated with intemational travelto China or Uganda. Beginning with the familiar setting, 38 extraordinary experiences weredescribed and analyzed (Table 1). This relatively small number of responses suggests thatextraordinary experiences are not limited to novel environments but do occur from timeto time in familiar settings. They seem to be rare events in daily life; which explains why 19 respondents could only recall 38 experiences when reflecting back on a 9-month schoolyear. Analysis of the experiences revealed four primary themes. These primary themesare competition and accomplishment, group identity, spontaneity, and walking outside. Inaddition, three secondary themes emerged from the analysis. These were performing on astage, being with fiiends, and reflection. Secondary themes contributed to the experiencealthough were fypically mentioned in support ofthe primary themes. The mostfi-equentlymentioned primary theme was competition and accomplishment.This theme was central to 13 of the 38 (34%) experiences described in familiar settings. Thistheme characterized experiences resulting from winning athletic competitions includingintramural and club team sports, eaming a spot on the schools hip-hop dance team, andsuccessfiiUy accomplishing difficult tasks after months of preparation. For example, onestudent spent months organizing a campus-wide special event. He was also the MC ofthe event. In remembering the experience he wrote, "This experience gave me a greatsense of accomplishment. I felt chills when my work went through with flying colors. Thescript I wrote flowed perfectly and the event was a success." Another student wrote about acompetition, which was judged by successful businessmen and women in the communify.The student wrote, "When I heard our group won an award I was overjoyed for I hadworked very hard for it. It made me feel great because my work paid off and they liked it.I accomplished something that day and that made me feel great about myself" As can beseen in Table 2, this theme was closely associated with a range of emotions including pride,excitement, happiness, and even nervousness.Table 1Frequency of Themes in Familiar Setting (N = 38)Theme N Subtheme Frequency Percent Within ThemeCompetition andaccomplishment 13 Performing on stage 12 92%Group identity 12 Performing on stage 6 50%Spontaneify 9 Being with friends 6 66%Walking outside 4 Reflection 4 100%
  7. 7. 43Table 2Frequency of Emotions Associated With Experiences in Familiar Setting Theme Emotions Frequency Percent within Theme Competition and Pride 8 62% accomplishment Excitement 6 46% (n= 13) Happiness 6 46% Nervousness 5 38% Maturity 2 15% Relief 2 15% Belonging 2 15% Accomplishment 2 15% Nostalgia 1 7% Healthiness 1 7% Mindfulness 1 7% Freedom 1 7% Dedication 1 7% Group Identity (n= 12) Belonging 9 75% Happiness 4 33% Spirituality 2 17% Love 2 17% Intoxication 2 17% Rebellion 2 17% Relaxation 2 8% Fool around 1 8% Contrite 1 8% Naïve 1 8% Prestigious 8% Openness 8% Intoxication 8% Excitement 8% Anger 8% Laughter 8%Spontaneity (n = 9) Joy 4 44% Happiness 3 33% Fun 4 44% Belonging 2 22% Challenge 2 22% Shock 2 22% Awe 2 22% Playfulness 2 22% Wonder 1 11%Walking outside (n = 4) Relaxation 4 100% Joy 4 100% Irmer Peace 2 50%
  8. 8. 44 Group identity was also a frequent theme in the data and categorized experiencescharacterized by a deep connection with others. This theme was central to 12 of the 38(32%) experiences described in familiar settings. Respondents mentioned a range of groupsthat helped facilitate these experiences including fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, anda choir. For example, one participant remembered the party his fratemity staged for newmembers (including him). He wrote, "I had a feehng of belonging after I joined this group.I had met a group of like-minded people that has helped me a lot." Likewise, anotherstudent wrote about the day she joined her club athletic team: Being a part of this team was not only a great athletic experience but it also felt like I was a part of a family.... The team was practicing outside of my dormitory and I was on my way to the gym. So instead of going to the gym I walked up and joined the team. Everyone was so very friendly. We all play together as friends and party together asfi-iends.Nobody is really not accepted.Experiences within this theme had a strong emotional impact characterized by feelings ofbelonging, joy, love, spirituality, and prestige (Table 2). Spontaneity was central to nine of the 38 (24%) experiences described in familiarsettings. This theme described experiences resulting from unplanned, spontaneous, andoften surprising events. Oft:en students exhibited regressive tendencies as they recalledevents centered on spontaneous play, such as jumping in a big pile of leaves the campusgrounds crew had no doubt painstakingly raked. Another student recalled a surprise visitfrom an out-of-state boyñiend. Other spontaneous events contained an air of risk orperhaps even mild deviance. For example, one student wrote: I used to work for residence services, and overall, it wasnt too great of a job. I do remember one night though, I was training someone new on the job when he was asking a bunch of questions about the roof of the building. We were on the top floor and I said the door used to get to it was in the stairwell. For some reason he got fairly excited about it, possibly he thought we had a key. Anyway, we got to the door and found out it was kicked-in. We ended up spending over an hour enjoying the view of campus from ten stories up, which was a really cool break from the monotony of the job and a cool way to get to know a new coworker.Experiences within this theme also had a range of emotions associated with them, includingplayfulness, enjoyment, belonging, and awe (Table 2). Walking outside was central to four of the 38 (10%) experiences. While infrequentlymentioned compared to the other themes, for some participants it was the central ingredientto an extraordinary experience. Participants reported walking outside was initiallymotivated by a need for relaxation but on these rare occasions led to awe, inspiration,and introspection. Two students recalled being out unusually late at night and enjoyingthe solitude of the walk and being inspired by a starry sky, which they had never pausedto appreciate while on campus. Another student spoke of a long walk with a boyfiiendthat passed through a part of campus managed for native prairie grasses and flowers. Last,a student recalled a walk during which he witnessed a red-tailed hawk killing a squirrel.Walking and nature are central to each of these experiences, suggesting the role suchactivities and settings play may not be so easily fulfilled by a treadmill in a gymnasium.Emotions associated with these experiences included relaxation, joy, and inner peace(Table 2). Often, descriptions of experiences were detailed enough that secondary aspectsemerged from the analysis. Secondary aspects can be thought of as acting in conjunctionwith the primary themes identified above in order to create an experience. In the familiarcampus setting, three secondary themes were evident (Table 1): performing on stage (n = 18), being with friends (n = 6), and reflection (/» = 4). Performing on stage includes instancesof literally performing on a stage, but more often it captures a participants awareness of
  9. 9. 45being evaluated by others or self It played a role in nearly all descriptions categorizedas "competition and accomplishment" but was also evident in the theme labeled "groupidentity." In the instance of group identity, some form of evaluation was often mentionedas essential to strengthening the groups bonds. In this way, evaluation contributed to theexperience. Being with friends was clearly central to experiences categorized as "groupidentity." However, it also played a role in many spontaneous events, for example, when agroup of fi4ends spontaneously decided to throw a wooden table in the river and attempt toraft it together Last, reflection was evident in all experiences labeled as "walking outside."As one student wrote, "I was walking through Manchester field and I had to stop and takeit all in. I came to the realization that here I am in college and it was a beautiful place." Tuming to the data collected after travel to Uganda or China, one thing becomesimmediately apparent—participants had a slightly easier time identifying extraordinaryexperiences in these novel settings. Although travel lasted between two and three weeks, 51experiences were recalled from 19 participants. This represents a 34% increase over the 38experiences recalled by the same 19 participants after a 9-month academic year. Analysisofthe data from novel settings revealed three primary themes, which begin to explain whatmade the experiences extraordinary. Primary themes were outdoor adventure, reflection,and cross-cultural interaction (Table 3). Two secondary aspects were also identified:fabled settings and performing on a stage. As will be illustrated below, secondary themescontributed to the experience although were typically mentioned in support of the primarythemes. The most frequent theme was outdoor adventure. This characterized 20 of the 51(39%) experiences collected. Experiences centered on activities such as white-waterrafting, exploring national parks, biking through a niral-pastoral countryside, and exploringa mountainous region of tiie Great Wall of China. As an example, one student rememberedan experience in Ugandas Kibale National Park. She wrote: Finding chimps in the forest was a wonderful experience. Id heard how long it usually took to find them and about the heat. I was nervous we wouldnt find them, but we did, and since I love studying primates, this was so exciting. And the crazy hiking ended up being fun too—even the lets crawl on all fours through vines with thoms part.As this quote illustrates, such experiences often involved effort, involved challenge, andproduced intense emotions including excitement, a sense of accomplishment, nervousness,happiness, being scared, and awe (Table 4).Table 3Frequency of Themes in Novel Physical Settings (N = 51)Theme N Subtheme Frequency Percent Within ThemesOutdoor adventure 20 Fabled setting 19 95%Reflection 16Cross-cultural experiences 15 Performing on stage 6 40%
  10. 10. 46Table 4Frequency of Emotions Associated With Themes in Novel Physical Setting Theme Emotions Frequency Percent within theme Outdoor Adventure (20) Excitement 19 95% Nervousness 7 35% Awe 4 20% Accomplishment 4 20% Happiness 4 20% Thrill 2 10% Afraid 2 10% Athletic 1 5% Crazy 1 5% Reflection (16) Awe 7 44% Harmony 5 31% Sadness 5 31% Shock 2 13% Excitement 2 13% Cross Cultural Excitement 7 47% experiences (15) Joy 5 33% Unity 4 27% Intelligent 1 6% Reflection seemed to be the catalyst for many extraordinary experiences. Indeed,16 of 51 (31%) occurred when individuals reflected on important events or paused forintrosf)ection. Often these reflective moments were triggered by environmental cues suchas sunsets, beautiful scenery, and vistas. For example, one participant wrote, "Watehingthe sun set brought a sense of harmony and peacefulness with nature. There was asimultaneous realization of how small the worid is and yet how insignificant we really arein comparison to the magnificence of it all." Occasionally, participants recalled searchingfor solitude in order to process experiences, which initially were difficult to understand,such as issues of global inequalify. In this case, refiection led to a resolution of the conflictand was cathartic and memorable. Understandably, a range of emotions accompaniedthese experiences including harmony, awe, sadness, and shock (Table 4). Cross-cultural interaction was central to 15 of 51 (29%) extraordinary experiencesin novel settings. These experiences fypically occurred as individuals left the perceivedsafefy of their familiar surroundings and ventured off the beaten path to interact withlocal people. For example, one participant recalled leaving the groups "westem" hotel (asshe referred to it) with the tour guide and a few others to visit a local bar. She wrote, "Icouldnt believe it, there I was, far from any place a tourist ever goes." Other participantsrecalled playing with groups of local children, playing drums with local youth, engagingconversations, and forays into villages. To illustrate, one participant wrote: My first real big experience that touched me emotionally was when a few of us decided to go and explore the surroundings near the lodge. As we were walking a man came up to us and started talking about his day. We ended up going to this mans village, where we saw the craziest things. First he gave us fioiit because
  11. 11. 47 we were guests and then he started talking to us about life in the village. We met the town elders who were probably older than 80 but were carrying things that were way too big for them, but they just had to do it because there was no other way. I ended up taking a soccer ball to the village later and these kids were the happiest kids ever. Just a soccer ball brought so much joy for these children. This was definitely one ofthe best experiences I have ever had.Some students expressed excitement at what they learned from these experiences. Othersrecalled feelings ofjoy, feelings of harmony, and a sense of unify or common humanity. Again, descriptions of experiences were detailed enough that secondary aspects oftenemerged from the analysis. These secondary aspects were mentioned less frequently thanthe primary aspects yet, nevertheless, clearly played a role in the overall experience. Twosecondary themes were evident in novel settings (Table 3): being in a fabled setting (n =19) and performing on a stage (n = 6). The theme "fabled setting" was closely associatedwith outdoor adventure and suggests that for most participants the setting was almostas instrumental as the activify in creating the extraordinary experience. Two settings inparticular produced this effect: the Nile River and the Great Wall of China. Indeed, eachmentioning of these settings was accompanied by a description of how amazing it wassimply to be there. The theme "performing on a stage" emerged again although not withthe same frequency as in familiar settings. In this case, no one was literally on a stage.Nevertheless, participants described how being constantly gazed upon by locals createda subtle pressure to perform and heightened the cross-cultiiral experience. Although thiswas sometimes uncomfortable or awkward for the students, it ultimately added to the eventand made the experience extraordinary. For example, several students described a soccermatch against a village school, the novelty of which brought the entire village out to watch.As one student wrote: When we arrived to play, the entire town was there to wateh us. It was a bit intimidating when we arrived and everybody was staring at us. Once we got going there was both booing and cheering for our team. The feeling was immensely overwhelming, but it encouraged me to play my best and is something Ill never forget.As the quote shows, the heavy gaze felt by participants added to the challenges alreadyinherent in such cross-cultural situations. This led to peak performance and an intenseexperience. What can clearly be seen from the results presented above is that extraordinaryexperiences, although rare, can occur in a variefy of settings ranging from novel to familiar.Results of this study suggest that important facilitators of such experiences in familiarsettings include challenging activities that require prolonged effort such as competitivesports or other activities that allow for the setting and accomplishing of meaningfulgoals, activities that reaffirm and strengthen social bonds, spontaneify, and being outsidein a seminatural environment. Other facilitators that played a secondary role include thepressure of being evaluated (performing on stage), friends, and reflection. Novel settingsproduced a range of extraordinary experiences as well. In this study, facilitators innovel settings include outdoor adventure sports that by their nature are challenging andrequire prolonged effort, cross-cultural experiences that can also be quite challenging,and reflection. Secondary facilitators were once again the pressure of being evaluatedand also encountering fabled settings such as the Nile River or the Great Wall of China.Certainly there are corrunonalities as well as differences. Challenge, effort, setting andaccomplishing goals, the pressure of performance, reflection, and the power of nature unifymany ofthe experiences in both novel and familiar settings. On the other hand, spontaneifyand friends played a greater role in familiar settings, while cross-cultural interactions andfabled settings played a greater role in novel settings. Last, a wide range of emotions that
  12. 12. 48appear independent of setting fypified these expedences. These include but are not limitedto anxiefy, awe, excitement, happiness, harmony, inner peace, joy, nervousness, sadness,and shock. Discussion Before considering the implications of this study, it is important to note that thefamiliar setting in which many of these extraordinary expedences occurred was a collegecampus rather than an actual public park and recreation setting. However, the campusunder discussion does share three important attdbutes with many successful public parkand recreation settings. First, it has a vibrant recreation center, which offers a diversifyof programming. Second, there is an Office of Student Life that offers additional leisureprogramming such as music, food, and cultural events as well as extracurdcular clubactivities. Third, the Arbor Day Foundation for its dedication to campus forestry andenvironmental stewardship has consistently named the campus "Tree Campus USA." Thisdedication gives areas of campus a park-like feel. All three of these attdbutes contdbutedto the extraordinary expedences investigated in this research. Considedng this, manyof the themes emerging from this investigation do seem relevant to the management ofactual park and recreation settings. In addition, emergent themes may be relevant to themanagement of campus recreation, toudsm, and study abroad programming. Therefore,the discussion, which follows, will highlight these emergent themes and identify relatedopportunities for management. Extraordinary expedences, by their very nature, are elusive and uncommon. They arealso powerful and leave an impression on an individual that can last a lifetime. In manyways, they contrast dramatically with the ordinary, everyday expedence of leisure. In herseminal study of the expedence of leisure in everyday life, Shaw (1985) found enjoymentand intdnsic motivation to be good discdminators of the leisure expedence. These arecertainly part of extraordinary expedences. However, the similadfy may end there. Shawfound ordinary leisure expedences are typically free of evaluation by others and self Thisresearch, as typified by the theme "performing on stage," suggests an evaluator can playan important role in tdggedng extraordinary expedences. Often, awareness of evaluationproduces feelings of anxiefy, nervousness, and frustration. Yet, Lee, DatiUo, and Howard( 1994) suggest such feelings serve as motivators, focus attention, and improve performance.In this study, participants who perceived an evaluator expedenced anxiefy and nervousness,but in a greater way they expedenced accomplishment, excitement, joy, pdde, and deeppersonal satisfaction. Thus, it appears that the role of an evaluator in an extraordinaryexperience is to focus attention on the task at hand, improve performance, and heightenthe expedence. These data suggest evaluation may be perceived dudng competition. In thiscase, both the self and others (spectators, judges, panels of experts) can serve as evaluators.Participants also evaluated themselves as they made progress toward important personalgoals. Participants occasionally felt evaluated as they ventured off the beaten path dudngintemational ti-avel. In this case, it was the constant gaze of their hosts, which added tothe challenge of intemational travel, sharpened their senses, increased awareness of theirsurroundings, and in this way contributed to an extraordinary experience. Extraordinary expedences differ from the ordinary expedences of daily life in anotherkey way: They are often quite spontaneous. Shaw (1985) found very little evidence ofspontaneify during leisure in everyday life. This certainly conforms to the overprogrammednature of modem life. For this reason, the rare spontaneous moment can be a trigger forextraordinary expedences (Amould & Pdce, 1993; Curtin, 2010). This was certainlytme in the data collected in this sttidy from familiar settings. Spontaneify did not playa role in the data collected from novel settings. One possible explanation for this is thatintemational group travel is fypically highly planned and stmctured. Perhaps increasing theopportunify for spontaneify by providing pedods of unstmctured time could enhance theintemational groupti^avelexpedence. Last, Shaw found no evidence of personal growthand development as a result of leisure in everyday life. In contrast, many researchers have
  13. 13. 49 identified growth and development as a key component of the extraordinary experience(Abrahams, 1981; Amould & Price, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Participants did not speak specifically of growth and development, yet they describedmany experiences that could naturally lead to such an outcome. In particular, many of theextraordinary experiences recalled in this study stemmed from challenging activities, whichwere teamed over time and required a great deal effort and the acquisition of skill. Theseare known as "high investment activities" and are linked with growth and development(Kelly, Steinkamp, & Kelly, 1987; Kelly & Ross, 1989). Csikszentmihalyi (1990) alsofound such activities were central to the flow experience. In this study, high investmentactivities were typically described in experiences categorized by the themes "competitionand accomplishment" and "outdoor adventure." Examples of related activities from thisstudy include athletics, gospel choir, dance team, rafting, hiking, cycling, and other outdoorpursuits. Other researchers have found high investment activities central to extraordinaryexperiences as well (Amould & Price, 1993; Färber & Hall, 2007). This research suggeststhat programming such activities or promoting them throu¿i partnerships with local clubsand enthusiasts will increase opportunities for extraordinary experiences in both familiarand novel settings. Reflection was central to many extraordinary experiences captured in this study.Unfortunately, allowing time for reflection runs counter to the common modem practice ofpacking as many activities as possible into 1 day, especially when traveling. Nevertheless,the importance of reflection is supported by previous studies on extraordinary experiences(Amould & Price, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and memorable tourism experiences(Kim et al., 2010). Indeed, it is an idea that can be traced to the very foundation of leisureas understood in classical Greece (Goodale & Godbey, 1988). Simply put, reflection allowsfor complex experiences to be understood and appreciated. Lepp (2008) discovered inresearching volunteer tourists in Kenya that reflection was vital to the process of benefitingfrom the experience. In that case, reflection allowed individuals to see positive changewithin themselves, which produced great joy. In practice, reflection might be encouragedat opportune times through focused discussion or joumal writing. Of course, this dependson knowledge of the clients abilities as well as on expectations for the program. Today,reflection is most closely associated with adventure education (Priest & Gass, 1997) andoutdoor education (Taniguchi, Freeman, & Richards, 2005) yet, in keeping with classicalGreek notions of leisure, might be encouraged in a wider variety of contexts. Reflection is not always an activity that happens alone, although solittide is oftenthought of as the setting in which it occurs. Amould and Price ( 1993) found that extraordinaryexperiences are often triggered by reflective interaction with others. Reflective in this sensecan be interpreted as "thoughtful" interaction or "deep and meaningflil" interaction withothers. The results of this study support this contention. The themes "group identity" and"cross-cultural interaction" demonstrate the power of meaningful interaction with others.In familiar settings, reflective interaction with others served to sti^engthen group bonds andto reaffirm group identity. Similar results have been found in novel tourism settings (Tung& Ritehie, 2011). For the participants in this study, this was a powerful experience andhighlights the importance of team building recreational activities and managing recreationfor interpersonal benefits. In novel settings, reflective interaction with the host culturecan have a tremendous positive impact as well. It is important, therefore, for tour leadersto prepare clients for these cross-cultural experiences so they may have the skills andconfidence to venture off the beaten path. Certainly, engaging with the host culture inauthentic ways adds to the challenge of intemational travel and by so doing may increasethe likelihood of an extraordinary experience. Finally, it is worth pointing out that in familiar settings simply walking outside inseminatural environments occasionally triggered exti-aordinary experiences. As humanschoose to be increasingly confined to indoor spaces, nature may have an increasinglypowerful positive effect on us once we engage with it. Such a hypothesis has been putforth by Richard Louv (2005) in his popular book addressing nature deficit disorder. Thishighlights the importance of preserving natural environments in urban and suburban areas
  14. 14. 50and making them accessible to the public. Certainly athletic fields and playgrounds playa very important role in municipal park and recreation. Yet the value of protected naturalspace with trails for walking and cycling should not be overlooked. Research suggeststhat such resources provide lasting benefits and actually generate more use than parksmanaged strictly for athletic fields (Cordell, 2004; Fisher, Li, Michael, & Cleveland, 2004;Kaczynski, Potwarka, & Saelens, 2008). In this study, undergraduate students explored the nature of extraordinary experiencesin both novel and familiar settings. Results should be understood within the context ofthis case study. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the insights provided will stimulate furtherresearch as well as creative thinking about experience-based recreation management. AsPine and Gilmore (1998) suggested, managing for extraordinary experiences may be thekey to success in an ever more competitive marketplace. For park, recreation, and tourismprofessionals, this means creating opportunities for highly memorable, very special,emotionally charged, and potentially life-altering experiences. This will contribute tocustomer satisfaction, stakeholder support, and continued funding, or in a word, success. ReferencesAbrahams, R. D. (1981). Ordinary and extraordinary experiences. In V. Tumer (Ed.), The anthropology of experience (pp. 45-72). Chicago, IL: Utiiversity of Illinois Press.Amould, E. J., & Price, L. L. (1993). River magic: Extraordinary experience and the extended service encotinter. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(1), 24-45.Calder, B., Phillips, W, & Tybout, A. (1981). Designing research for application. Journal of Consumer Research, 8(2), 197-207.Charmaz, K. (2002). Qualitative interviewing and Grounded Theory analysis. In J. F. Gubrium & J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 675-694). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Cohen, E. (1972). Toward a sociology of intemational tourism. Sociological Research, 39, 164-182.Cordell, H. K. (2004). Outdoor recreation in 21" Century America. State College, PA: Venttire.Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.Curtin, S. (2010). What makes for memorable wildlife encounters? Revelations from seriouswildlife tourists. Jow/??o/o/£cofo«mw, P(2), 149-168.Färber, M. E., & Hall, T. E. (2007). Emotion and environment: Visitors extraordinary experiences along the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(2), 248-270.Fisher, K. J., Li, F. Z., Michael, Y, & Cleveland, M. (2004). Neighborhood level influences on physical activity among older adults: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 12(1), 45-63.Goodale, T., & Godbey, G. (1988). The evolution of leisure: Historical and philosophical perspective. State College, PA: Venture.Jones, C, Hollenhorst, S., Pema, F., & Selin, S. (2000). Validation ofthe Flow Theory in an on-site Whitewater kayaking setting. Journal of Leisure Research, 32,247-261.Kaczynski, A. T., Potwarka, L. R., & Saelens, B. E. (2008). Association of park size, distance and features with physical activity in neighborhood parks. American Journal of Public Health, 95(8), 1451-1456.Kelly, J. R., & Ross, J. E. (1989). Later life leisure: Beginning a new agenda. Leisure Sciences, 11, 47-59.Kelly, J. R., Steinkamp, M. W, & Kelly, J. R. (1987). Later life satisfaction: Does leisure contribute? Lewure Sciences, 9, 189-200.Kim, J., Ritchie, B. J. R., & McCormick, B. (2010). Development of a scale to measure memorable tourism experiences. Journal of Travel Research. Advance online publication, doi: 10.1177/0047287510385467
  15. 15. 51 Lee, Y, Datillo, J., & Howard, D. (1994). The complex and dynamic nature of leisure experiences. Journal of Leisure Research, 26(3), 195-211. Lepp, A. (2008). Discovering self and discovering others through the Taita Discovery Centre Volunteer Tourism Program, Kenya. In S. Wearing & K. Lyons (Eds.), Journeys of discovery in volunteer tourism: Intemational case study perspectives (pp. 86-100). Wallingford, United Kingdom: CAB Intemational. Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books. Moore, R. L., & Driver, B. L. (2005). Introduction to outdoor recreation: Providing and managing natural resource-based opportunities. State College, PA: Venture. Pine, J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, July/August, 97-105. Priest, S., & Gass, M. (1997). Effective leadership in adventure programming. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Shaw, S. (1985). The meaning of leisure in everyday life. Leisure Sciences, 7, 1-24. Taniguchi, S., Freeman, R, & Richards, A. (2005). Attiibutes of meaningful leaming experiences in an outdoor education program. Joumal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Leaming, 5(2), 131-144. Tung, V W. S., & Ritehie, B. J. R (2011). Investigating the memorable experiences of the"X senior travel market: An examination of the reminiscence bump. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 28(3), 331-343. Wahri?,rs, ^, & Etzel, M. (1985). Vacation preference as a manifestation of optimal stimulation and lifesfyle experience. Joumal of Leisure Research, 17, 283-295.
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