Photo of Hyun Ho Cho in mountains.

Hyun Ho Cho joined the CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers team in September 2020, fresh off a graduation from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership undergraduate program. With a background in military service, guiding, outdoor education, and environmental education, Hyun Ho has experienced first hand what it means to develop meaningful connections to place and collaborative approaches to understanding the environment, and how to foster these experiences for increased outdoor advocacy. His perspective as a first generation Canadian brought invaluable insight to the team of six, shaping meaningful discussions around inclusion and accessibility. Based just outside of Banff National Park in the hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats. Hyun Ho’s favourite ways to explore the outdoors range anywhere from caving to rock climbing to backcountry skiing. Quick-witted and with the perfect metaphor ever on the tip of his tongue, Hyun Ho has a talent to clearly articulate any given situation in a contextualized and relatable way. His work with CPCIL has centered around newcomer experiences in parks as an avenue to developing connections to nature.

We asked Hyun Ho about the path that led him to CPCIL, and how it has helped shape his journey moving forward. Here’s what he had to say.

Hyun Ho Cho family photo at Waterton Lakes National Park.
Photo by Hyun Ho Cho.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

I’ve always been out in the mountains and always been connected to the mountains.  My family didn’t have a lot of resources growing up, so in a way we were forced to recreate nature. Having a family that would bring us to the natural world really went on to form when I thought about it. Even just being outside and playing after school. Growing up in an immigrant family right next to Fish Creek park, when you don’t have a Game Cube or an Xbox, you’re going to go out and explore, play outside on your bikes, and stay out until the streetlights come on. Having those experiences and those memories that were very formative to who I was in nature. 

How has this shaped how you view the environment today?

Growing up in southern Alberta gives you access to these massive mountains, you have these rolling hills, you have these river bottoms that are just gorgeous and look like floodplains. For me my main connection in nature was always just it’s a raw unadulterated way to experience the world. There’s no social constructions. There’s no man made objects, in most cases, to hinder your access. If you want to get somewhere on your own two feet, you get to suffer along the way and it reminds you you’re alive. In some recreation settings such as when you’re ice climbing, and you’re just focused on your next two swings and your next two kicks, and that’s all that matters in the world. Everything falls away when I’m outside. That’s what I love about it. 

What made you decide to pursue a career path in the environmental field?

I was always stuck between two places as a newcomer and immigrant. When I visited my family in Korea, they thought of me as a Canadian. And when I visited my friends and other people and other relations here in Canada, they saw me as Korean. So I never really fit in anywhere and for a long time, I struggled with that. Eventually, I came to embrace my identity as a bit of both, predominantly Canadian because I grew up here. That self realisation came around ninth grade, along with this understanding that I could do better, I could actually do something to help people. 

And that’s when my mind started turning towards public service – I always kind of knew that I wanted to get involved with law enforcement, firefighting, the military, paramedicine, teaching something like that, and I still have strong desires to work in the public sector. So that’s why I started with cadets – it was a free way to get outside and it kept me out of trouble. In 11th or 12th grade for two weeks over spring break, we came out to the Rocky Mountains. Up until that point I had done a bit of backpacking and scrambling, but we got into ski touring, avalanche terrain, and ice climbing. That trip had such a big impact on me, it’s what made me decide that I want to be able to do this for the rest of my life. After that I started thinking more about career paths that would allow me work outside, like guiding and search and rescue, and I had heard of the ETOL program at Mount Royal University which I ended up applying to and being accepted to. I learned a lot about recreation, time of the epistemology behind parks, the health and physical education aspects of parks and recreation. I also learned about adventure therapy, which is something I’ve been looking at and been wanting to do at some point in my career. 

That one trip in high school really set my career path, because I was not in a good place at that point in my life. That trip definitely turned it around, and having that kind of experience made me want to be able to share that with others. 

What have been your biggest takeaways from being a Knowledge Gatherer with CPCIL?

CPCIL seems like a way to help a lot of people get into the parks and to make parks a better place for them. In the beginning, I thought it was more of just a research position looking at articles and combing through the interwebs. But when we got to writing the blogs, the stories, and actually sharing them, that helped me look within myself as to how I could best help. That’s why I shifted from public safety to more newcomer programmes or outdoor recreation introductory programmes, because it resonated so much with my own experience. Being able to provide that insight is where I think I can have the most effect.

This experience has definitely impacted where I see my career going, or what I see myself doing in five or 10 years. It’s reiterated that I have a unique skill set that is extremely useful in a certain area, and I’d like to pursue that and see where that goes a bit more. Going forward, I might not be guiding or might not be in public safety, it might not be what I originally envisioned myself doing. But the things that give me fulfilment are being able to help people to make places a better space for people. It’s reframed how I think of how I can help people best, and that I need to leverage my talents, and with CPCIL I’ve been able to do that. What I’ve loved most about this experience is the amount of introspection this project and this place of employment offered. I’ve thought about my own experiences as a newcomer before. But this project has forced me to really rethink it, and recontextualize my lived experiences.

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