The Duke of Edinburgh International Award (DofE) program currently enrolls 1.3 million fourteen to twenty-four-year-old participants all over the world, setting future generations up for a lifetime of inspiration and success. According to local DofE – Romania chapter, the Award prepares young people for adulthood by getting them out of their comfort zone and participating in activities they have most likely never experienced before. 

After a four-year absence Award Coordinators Quentin Young and Chuck Adams collaborated to pitch the program’s worth to AISB’s new Director, Rachel Caldwell, and Secondary Principal, Melanie Kempe. The program was reinstated at AISB in August 2023, quickly enrolling over 50 students from grades 9-12 in the Award program.

Earning a DofE Award

To earn an Award, participants have to complete a certain number of hours of voluntary service, physical recreation and skill development, as well as collaborating on a challenging adventurous journey. Participants may only earn credit for one hour per week for each section, as the emphasis is on persistence over time rather than short bursts of activity.

In each level—Bronze, Silver, and Gold—there are different requirements that you have to fulfill. 

For the Bronze level, it will take at least 6 months to complete, requiring 13 hours for two of the sections, then 26 hours for the major section. The expedition is two days and one night. 

For the Silver level, it takes 12 months for completion if you haven’t done Bronze and six months if you have; 26 hours for two sections; and 52 hours for your major section. The expedition is three days and two nights. 

Finally, for the Gold level, it takes 18 months to complete if you haven’t done Silver, and 12 months if you have; 52 hours for two sections and 78 hours for your major. The expedition is four days and three nights. Gold participants have an additional element of the residential stay, staying away from their home for five days and four nights.

Table of requirements for each level of the Award. (Source: DofE Award Leaders Handbook)

How did DofE Start?

The Duke of Edinburgh program was created by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, in 1956. Prince Philip’s inspiration for this program was the Moray Badge program which he completed as a pupil. 

The DofE program was an instant success from the time it was launched. Throughout the years, the program has continued to improve while also maintaining its core principle; to encourage young people to develop independence and help them learn essential skills that will be beneficial for them in the future. One of the ways the program has expanded was through the creation of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation in 1988. This foundation made the program available to more than 140 countries all over the world.

How was DofE brought to AISB?

The Award was brought to our school in 2016 by CAS Coordinator and French Teacher Quentin Young. Young brought the program to AISB because it shares some of the same values that he promotes both personally and through the CAS program.

Bringing learning outside of the classroom, pushing boundaries and taking initiative.

Quentin Young

On September 23, 2023, DofE Romania staff member Adriana Zaharia collaborated with Young to lead a workshop, hosted on AISB’s campus, for 16 faculty members of Bucharest schools. Five AISB faculty earned their Award Leader certificate: Ana-Maria Boiangiu, Ben Miller, Matt Pray, Shonali Sarkar and Yvonne Vasper. In the workshop, they learned how to best support and encourage students through their Award journey. The growing teacher participation will benefit the program at our school, considering that there is a growing number of Award participants who need guidance.

Staff and volunteers from international schools across Bucharest completed their Award Leader training at AISB on September 23, 2023. (Photo credit: Facebook)

Currently, there has never been a Gold Award participant at the school but Young hopes that next year there will be Gold participants and more students doing the Award in general.

One of my goals for this program is to have students start in grade 9 or 10 and complete their gold awards before they graduate. Then they get to be a part of the ceremony at the palace. That would be awesome.

Quentin Young

This time around AISB is providing opportunities for people who have started DofE previously and want to continue. Award Coordinator Chuck Adams states: “Relaunching the Award program at AISB will add value to this school by providing a seamless transition for students who transfer here and wish to continue working towards their Award. We have two transfer students currently in the program who are finishing up their Bronze Award started at a previous school. One student transferred from another international school in Bucharest and the other from a school in New Zealand.”

Students training for their Adventurous Journey in spring 2017. (Submitted by AISB’s DofE Program)

Why should you do the award?

The Vice President of the Duke of Edinburgh Romania program, Mihaela Maris, states: “Before everything, you should take part in the Award for yourself as an individual.” It is a program in which you experience personal growth, she says, because you have to step up and be on your own unique journey to complete the Award. Throughout the process, it is important to remember that the results you achieve are directly proportional to the effort you invest in it. It has a lasting effect on your life and sets a strong base of soft skills that prepare them for not only your ambitions but also your whole journey.

It’s not like a job, an award or a passion; it has become part of me.

Mihaela Maris

One of the many success stories of the program tells about a participant suffering from a chronic disease. His personal growth throughout his participation in the program was so remarkable that his physiologist stated that only a few months of activity achieved the same results as five years of therapy would. His results were so fascinating that he was invited to Buckingham Palace to speak about his experience.

Each participant’s journey is different, however, and everyone enjoys benefits even if they don’t feel them at the moment. Young shares how the Award program “gets international accreditation and so you can use [the Award certificate] no matter where you go; for example applying to university or in a future job interview. So [having the Award] looks amazing no matter where you are and who you are.” 

Elsa Sam, one of the coordinators for the Stand by Me initiative, says the Award shows belief and trust in young people. It is not just an initiative about personal growth and adventure, it is also about helping young adults gain confidence. It helps individuals to make a positive impact on the world while understanding their potential.

What I see [in this program] is how they believe in young people and how they trust young people.

Elsa Sam

DofE staff report that when participants start the program they immediately join a driven and supportive community of people from different backgrounds. The organization also claims participants will be a member of this community for their lifetime and they will always motivate them to be your best self. It is not a competition against others but rather a competition for self-improvement and growth. Each mistake you make is a lesson which you can gain valuable insights from. The community consists of some well-known and globally influential people, such as Vivienne Westwood, Benedict Cumberbatch and Deborah Meaden.

How is DofE giving back to the community?

One of the core principles of the DofE is for participants to give back to the community in every way they can. For example, the program challenges participants to complete between 26 to 52 hours of volunteering and service learning. 

Maris says this service requirement “benefits communities because every young person and adult comes in the Award and does service and volunteering for their program. This means that their help goes to the community and this depends on what young people are doing.”

Stand By Me promotional image. (Photo credit: Facebook)

Your volunteer hours are required to fit into specific categories of your choice, such as leadership, direct service and fundraising. It is important to ensure your chosen category is a cause that you care about so you are doing volunteer work because of the benefits for the community and not simply because you have to.

The DofE program is based on service and the award leaders are volunteers.

Mihaela Maris

Not only does the program inspire millions of people to give back to their community, the program itself gives back. 

The Bite staff was able to talk to Elsa Sam, one of the coordinators for the Stand by Me initiative, which was launched by DofE Romania. Sam says, “I wanted to do something that I would feel useful and my job would be meaningful and bring something good and that is how I found the Duke.”

The Stand By Me initiative was started in collaboration with UNICEF and is offered in Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia to help Ukrainian refugees. The Stand by Me initiative, according to the Duke of Edinburgh website, is “a two-year project to provide vital support to young people who have been displaced or impacted by the war in Ukraine.” One of the main benefits of this program is providing the refugees with a sense of community and helping them with integration. The program continues to support the Ukrainian community. 

Integration and community are the biggest benefits for [participants] and they can find both in the Award.

Elsa Sam

Mihaela Maris’s Experience on an Adventurous Journey

Several stories in the Award community highlights the program’s power to transform people. The Vice President of the Duke of Edinburgh Romania program, Mihaela Maris—who, based on her experiences, represents a strong, empowering woman—embodies everything the Award stands for. She went through the process of completing the Gold Award ten years ago and had a challenging experience for her adventurous journey. 

Maris and her team chose to climb one of the highest mountains in Bulgaria and encountered some difficulties along the way. When they reached the peak of the mountain they realized that they had very little daylight left—a dangerous situation in mountaineering. The group then lost about an hour negotiating if they should stay or go and when they decided to go, realized that their map was not correct and they were going the wrong way.

The sky was very cloudy; in one moment we were very depressed then the [full] moon appeared and it [lit] everywhere. It was like God to us because we started to see very well in the dark.
Mihaela Maris

When it began to get dark Maris called emergency services to ask for help. The operator asked her if they had food and water and if everyone was OK. Since the answer to all of those questions was yes, the operator told them that there was nothing they could do and that they needed to continue by themselves. 

They started walking again but didn’t know if they were on the right track until they saw the hut which was thankfully their final destination. The administrator was waiting for them with hot tea at two o’clock in the morning and they had amazing conversations after that. 

“It was incredible,” Maris says, “even though it didn’t seem like it at the moment. Now we have an amazing experience and a crazy story I can tell people.” This story is proof that DofE is not just about achieving a set of goals, but about the transformative process and the valuable life skills you acquire along the way.

AISB students camping in the Bucegi Mountains for their Adventurous Journey in fall 2018. (Submitted by AISB’s DofE Program)

Tips for success in the program

These are tips collected from coordinators and participants about how to be successful in the program.

  • Adams, AISB’s Award Coordinator, suggests thinking of completing the program “not in terms of hours but in terms of weeks. Think of how you can set aside one hour per week for each of the three main sections. And also consider the extracurricular activities you are already participating in—such as swimming, track, theater productions, STUCO, or a service learning group—to get credit for that.”
  • Young’s recommends keeping in frequent communication with your Award Leaders because they are available whenever you have an issue and will keep you on track with your Award.
  • Maris’ tip is to start your Award journey with the Bronze level and complete that in six months. Then when you finish Bronze, it will only take six months to complete Silver (instead of 12) and 12 months to complete Gold (instead of 18). By doing this, you will participate in a larger variety of activities and adventurous journeys. 
  • A tip from the Award Leaders is to make sure your choice in skill, physical recreation, and volunteering pushes you out of your comfort zone but is also achievable and will work with your everyday life. 
  • Make sure your goals for each section of the Award are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely). 

The Duke of Edinburgh International Award is an inspirational program that we recommend you don’t miss out on! In fact, both authors of this article are currently enrolled ourselves.

For more information and to learn more about the Award, visit the official website here. Be sure to watch this space for progress updates as this year’s participants earn their first Awards!