From crunching numbers to twigs: How an Accountancy graduate became an OBS instructor

After spending three days alone in the forest, she decided to pursue a career in outdoor education.

Kirby Tan

Will redo the same personality test until I get the results I want.

Published: 10 July 2023, 4:04 PM

In celebration of Youth Month, Youthopia is highlighting stories of youths who have created spark in their life. Abigail Hoo, 26, shares how she finds fulfilment guiding the next generation of youth in her job as an Outward Bound Singapore instructor. 

A makeshift tent rustles to the wind’s will. A chorus of crickets fills the air. As night falls, darkness envelops the surrounding trees.

Isolated in the depths of a forest, 20-year-old Abigail Hoo lies on wrinkled nylon. With neither technology nor a person in sight, she ruminates over the 100 things she hopes to do before she dies.

These three days of solitude were part of the 21-Day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) Classic Challenge Course, and are what cemented her decision to be an OBS instructor six years ago.

Now 26, Abigail is a Senior Instructor at OBS. She said that even though she had always been an avid outdoorsman, she never thought she would make it her career until this OBS experience. 

“I thought all (these outdoor adventures) would end after polytechnic,” said the Singapore Polytechnic Accountancy graduate. “Then, I thought: ‘Okay, if I’m going to end all these, I’d make my last one a big one, (that) I’d end it with a bang.’”

She recalled a conversation she had with her instructor during an OBS polytechnic camp, where the mention of a 21-day camp “stuck” with her. This led her to take the plunge and attend the three-week course.

“I mean, who goes for 21-day camps right?”, she quipped, adding that most camps only last three to five days.


Abigail said she was given food, water and things to build a shelter with during the solo expedition. PHOTO CREDIT: ABIGAIL HOO


There, she also met Jonathan Leong, her instructor at the time. Dubbing him her “OBS dad”, she said she often sought his “fatherly advice”. He was older and had already dabbled in fields she considered for herself. For instance, he had worked in the army and as a teacher before becoming an OBS instructor.

“I remember telling my instructor I was a bit lost in life because immediately after this, I have nothing to do anymore,” she said. “There’s no more school, there’s no more internship, I’m just waiting for graduation.”

Abigail explained that she had not researched much about Accountancy before transferring from junior college to polytechnic, and that she mostly pursued the diploma because she had excelled in secondary school mathematics. 

“I thought accounting was going to be similar (to secondary school mathematics) but as it turned out, it wasn’t,” she said. “I ended up not liking the subject at all… I regretted the entire time.”

Her internship only reinforced these feelings. As she worked in an office for five days a week, she grew restless from the sedentary lifestyle. Consequently, she hardly knew what she was interested in.

This pushed her to confide in her “OBS dad”, Jonathan. While exploring career options, he suggested becoming an OBS instructor. Not only was it “quite relevant to OBS”, but it was also her only solace in polytechnic.


Even though the 21-day camp was six years ago, Jonathan still checks up on her. PHOTO CREDIT: ABIGAIL HOO


As she mulled over his suggestion, an opportunity arose. The OBS started a round of recruitment for potential instructors, which included a three-day, two-night camp. Even though it was in the same month her 21-day camp ended, she signed up for it. 

Despite finding it physically taxing, her main challenge was mental. During the selection camp, Jonathan had assumed a different persona and displayed more strictness than she was used to. She still recalls how he sternly asked if she was sure she wanted to be an OBS instructor.

“Maybe it was the lack of sleep and I was very tired (but) I got a bit emotional about it,” she said. “I think at that point in time, I really wanted it as a career. I think I’ve established that but it’s just that doubt – like even if I want it, can I have it?”

But even amid her unease and apprehension, she got through the camp and emerged as an OBS instructor.

Yet, this achievement wasn’t as celebrated as she’d hoped. While her friends supported her career choice, her mother wasn’t on board.

Recalling how her mother repeatedly expressed concerns about her health and safety,  she said: “I think (most) parents just perceive the job as very dangerous.”  

“I think it’s a controlled risk (and that) it’s not as dangerous as what they perceive it to be,” adding that she has never gotten injured on the job so far.


Safety precautions are taken before every obstacle, including the high-element ones. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/TRICIA KUAN


Eventually, her mother came around. After all, she had seen how lost Abigail was during her polytechnic days, and how she regained the spark in her eyes after she became an OBS instructor.

As her mother observed, Abigail began to thrive. With each camp she facilitated, she learnt more about herself and the people around her. Her most notable memory, however, is with the first Uniform Group (UG) she took on.

In comparison to the other Secondary 3 camps she runs, UG camps are more regimental. Besides that, they also use military commands – all of which she was not familiar with. 

“At that point in time, it was my third year of being an instructor and (I was still) discovering that I still have a lot to learn,” she said. 

Carrying this mindset, she facilitates camps with an open mind and empathy. She said that while she has been an instructor for six years, she still understands what it was like to struggle as a participant. 

“I don’t really mind if (my participants) hate the experience. I don’t think the outdoors is meant for everyone,” she said. “But it’s through the outdoors that you learn a little bit more about yourself, and learn how to take care of the environment, others or even yourself. I think that’s (what) is important to me.”


Abigail, herself, has a fear of water but it doesn’t stop her from carrying out her responsibilities as an instructor. GIF CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/TRICIA KUAN


While she asserts that her main priority is to help youths discover their strengths and weaknesses, she acknowledges that she doesn’t always have the capacity to do so. As she pursues her part-time Sociology degree at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, there have been some “conflicting periods”.

“Some days I wake up feeling a bit more tired than I should, knowing that I stayed up to do my school work. Then, I feel like I couldn’t give (my participants) 100 per cent of my attention,” she shared. 

Ultimately, she believes the job comes with many sacrifices. With about 120 days of camp a year, most instructors spend a significant amount of time away from home. “If you are doing it for the money, it’s never worth it,” she said, adding that passion is integral.

Regardless, Abigail does not regret becoming an instructor. Over the years, the job has helped build her confidence and foster her personal growth. 

“They always (call it) Outward Bound, but I was having an inward bound journey,” she quipped.

Interested in a career leading expeditions across land and sea? The Outward Bound Singapore is now recruiting instructors. You can find out more here.

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