Experiential learning is key to a great education

The Story Behind Williamsburg Adventures

Experiential Learning Has Always Been In Our DNA

We believe in challenging limitations, doing hard things, expanding realities through hands-on experiences and positively impacting the world around us.

Experiential learning is a key element of a leadership education. Every year since we opened our doors we’ve led students and educators on life-changing, experiential adventures in the outdoors, to places like Yosemite, the Uintas, the Wind Rivers, Coyote Gulch, Zion, and, of course, our flagship outdoor program, Elevation. Williamsburg Learning wants to bring all key elements of a world-class education to your family, which is why we’re excited to announce Williamsburg Adventures, an experiential-education division of the Williamsburg Learning family that will provide these opportunities to students, alumni, and adults.

Our 2016/2017 plans are already packed with awesome-sauce experiences:

  • December 2016 — Couples/parents trip to Moroccoguatemala-expedition
  • Spring Break 2017 — WWII Europe Tour
  • May 2017 — Elevation
  • June 2017 — Guatemala Humanitarian Leadership
  • July 2017 — Colorado Backpacking
  • July 2017 — Alumni Elevation
  • August 2017 — Elevation
  • September 2017 — Everest Base Camp
  • December 2017 — Couples/parents trip to Patagonia


It’s said that we remember 10% of what we read, but 80% of what we experience personally. Williamsburg Adventures exists to help students and their families vividly remember the lessons they’re learning through powerful, evocative encounters that result in lasting impressions and increased perceptions.

Can’t wait to have an adventure with you! Say ‘Yes’ to Adventure.

We are thrilled to announce Mr. Greg Denning as the Director of Williamsburg Adventures! We’ve invited him to introduce himself and share our vision for this new division.

So there I was…

At the bottom of a huge hole, palms blistering, sweating profusely in the crushing heat of northern Peru. But I’m not the only one with blistered, hurting hands. Surrounding me are 10 amazing youth ages 14-18, four with me in the pit, the others at the rim waiting to take their turn.

Digging since morning with half-sized Peruvian shovels, it is now past dinner time, the sun is setting and we’re all exhausted. I’m certain they want to quit.

“What should we do, call it a day?” I ask.

“No way! We’re staying until we hit water,” is their dauntless cry.

I couldn’t have been more proud. Already during this humanitarian trip they’ve experienced extreme culture shock and more than one reality check, resulting in new paradigms and “broad, wholesome views of men and things.”

And those experiences are having a positive effect — they’re developing increased unselfishness — so rather than quit, they’re eager to finish the job.

This project will bring clean running water to a poverty stricken village in this remote part of Peru. These 10 youth are sweating and hurting, doing strenuous manual labor to dig a well — something that will not personally benefit them. They’re doing work that helps others — they’re working for complete strangers, people who don’t even speak the same language.

I smile at them as they get back to digging and think to myself, This is why I do these trips. This is why experiences like this matter.

This is why adventure, philanthropic work and experiential learning are a non-negotiable element of a world-class education!

They are transformative experiences, resulting in altered paradigms, open minds, increased empathy and deepened understanding. ”

My Past Will Not Determine My Future

As a teenager, positive life-changing experiences were nearly non-existent for me. My father left about the time I was born, my mother struggled to raise six kids on her own. We were very poor and step-dads seemed to add to the problems. As a result, I left home at the age of 16 and experienced some very difficult years interspersed with homelessness, hunger, loneliness, and depression.

My first Christmas Eve on my own I sat alone in a tiny 4×8 foot bedroom in a freezing, dingy, drug-infested house in the slums. A blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I sat and watched my breath in the frigid air. I was hungry. I was cold. But worst of all I was so, so lonely. No warm fireplace; no Christmas feast. No loving family or friends. Yet that night I had a powerful spiritual experience that became a turning point in my life.

I was there because I had no where else to go. With no way to support myself, I stayed where I could, often surrounded by drugs, alcohol, sex, prostitutes, convicts and glimpses into the depravity of humanity. Vices were offered to me on every occasion, yet I never touched them because somehow I knew they wouldn’t make my life easier or better.

Years later, I was offered to crash at the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. No blanket or pillow, just a spot on the floor. I’d had little to eat all day and just planned to go to bed hungry. I tried to ignore the gnawing in my stomach, especially as another guy who was also crashing on the floor — big and burly like me — heated his frozen burrito in the microwave.

In what I considered to be a supreme gesture of selflessness, this friend of mine offered me half of his not-very-big burrito. That night we sat together, two big guys down on their luck, sharing a measly, but appreciated bedtime snack, and I received another glimpse of the goodness of humanity.

as-a-man-thinketh-james-allenIt was glimpses like this that gave me a vision of a happier, more meaningful life, and I desperately wanted to discover if it was possible! I believed it was — I saw it in the lives of men and women I admired — but what were those elusive keys to living a truly epic life? I had to find out for myself.

Being introduced to a few books on personal development, I became a voracious reader, devouring the best books I could get my hands on — books like The Power of Positive Thinking; The Hiding Place; Man’s Search for Meaning; How to Win Friends and Influence People and As a Man Thinketh. Thus began what became a serious lifelong study of the principles of self-leadership, success, and happiness, with the hope that I could learn how to create it for myself.

The more I read, the more I became imbued with the idea that life would be exactly what I made of it… and I wanted to make it awesome.

I decided that the circumstances of my past were no longer going to be a negative factor in my life. I wasn’t going to give them that power. This choice allowed me to turn my hardships into stepping stones that gave me strength to do even greater things.

Along the way I was inspired and mentored by some incredible people — people who went out of their way and sacrificed to help a struggling youth. It’s because of them that I was able to graduate from high school and college and serve a church mission in South America. I’m forever grateful for their guiding influence, and I made a personal commitment to give back to other teens as soon as I was able. As a result I’ve been working with youth ever since graduating from college.

26 Countries, 10 Years, 5 Continents, 7 Kids

Fast forward to the present day. I’m married to the woman of my dreams. Together we’ve built a family culture around voracious reading and personal improvement — we buy books, and if there is money left over we buy food.

But reading leads to expanded realities and soon reading books isn’t enough. We want more. We want experiences, we want hands on learning. We want adventure.

So we begin dreaming, planning and envisioning adventures for our family. By the time we have four children (all under the age of four years old), we turn those dreams into reality and start living a bold life experiment.

It was 2007 when we first set out to explore other countries, cultures and languages. Since then (almost 10 years later) we’ve traveled and lived in 26 countries — from the sultry rice fields of India, to the tundras of the Yukon; the moors of England to the alps of Switzerland; the Aztec ruins of Mexico and the Muslim culture of Morocco.


Our bold life experiment taught us that experiences are the real currency of life. It’s the moments, made vivid by awareness that remain with us and mold us into who we are — affecting our paradigms, expanding our views and challenging our assumptions.

As a family we’ve:

  • climbed ancient pyramids in the Americas
  • ridden elephants in India and dromedaries in the Sahara
  • swam with wild dolphins in Costa Ricadenning-family-monte-alban-mexico
  • eaten pig brains, sheep brains, iguana soup and fried grasshoppers
  • watched the monarch migration in Mexico
  • seen grizzlies, reindeer, bison, bald eagles and moose in the Yukon
  • gone sledding in the French Alps
  • spent Christmas in Austria and New Year’s in Italy
  • released baby sea turtles in Nicaragua
  • co-founded a humanitarian organization in Guatemala
  • elephants-in-indiaworked with the leprosy affected in India
  • ridden wild ponies on the moor in England
  • seen sloths, monkeys, tapir and macaws in tropical rainforests (we were even attacked by coatimundis and kamikaze parrots in Belize!)
  • driven through Mexico and Central America
  • seen the Northern Lights in Alaska
  • bungee jumped, bungee slingshoted and zip lined
  • hiked volcanoes in Guatemala
  • climbed the highest mountain in Central America
  • heard the muslim call to prayer in Turkey and Morocco
  • climbed Hindu temples
  • to list a few…

To add to the list, I’ve personally:

  • floated in the Dead Sea
  • base jumped off a 500ft bridge
  • flown an airplane across Guatemala
  • jumped the highest bungee jump in Central America
  • crossed shark & crocodile infested waters and camped in primary forest in Costa Rica

Today we live in Germany — enjoying medieval markets, castles and lots of festivals.

I hope to share an adventure with you soon!

Greg Denning

November 4, 2016