I chose the School for Field Studies after being introduced to the program in a class on Environment and Society. They were highly recommended by my professor as well as by an SFS alumni. The Summer Session 1 in Australia and New Zealand had the most focus on plant life and also covered topics such as ecosystem restoration which are directly relevant to my career goals.
Vincent is a non-traditional student studying Horticultural Science. He has traveled abroad with his partner since 2010, but had never studied abroad until attending the School for Field Studies.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
SFS provided very detailed information on how to register for the program and fulfill necessary requirements once accepted (such as visa applications, travel health insurance, disability services, etc.) Organizing staff at SFS were readily available by phone or email to answer questions. I also received help from my university's Study Abroad office.
The one thing that SFS coordinated was having a specific travel agency to book a flight from Australia to New Zealand, as this ensured that everyone in the Summer Program was on the same flight. Otherwise, I organized all other travel, insurance, course credits, and other necessities on my own. However, this was easy to do, thanks to the help of my school's Study Abroad office and SFS's clear guidelines and assistance.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Bring a Mastercard or Visa debit card that allows you to make purchases abroad without a fee (Capital One 360 has no fees and does not require notification). Use this card at ATMs to withdraw Australian and New Zealand dollars. Try to avoid currency exchanges if possible since ATMs have much better rates than exchanges.
I found that I needed more cash in New Zealand than in Australia. Bring cash to the Yungaburra Market that you will visit one weekend in Australia. Also, bring cash to New Zealand for your free night in Aukland since it's easier to keep track of and limit your tab at bars. Most places in both AU and NZ accept credit card, however. Don't bring Amex or Discover, though! Neither are accepted in AU or NZ.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Since Summer I is only a month long, each week is very different, and things even change from day to day. A typical day at the center in Australia involves waking up around 6 to 7 AM (depending on the schedule) and having breakfast at the center's outdoor covered kitchen. After breakfast clean-up, there might be a lecture or a scheduled off-site activity. Usually, lunches are packed after breakfast for off-site activities. Days with off-site activities usually end around 4 PM since the sun sets by 6 PM. Dinner is usually around 5:30. After dinner is generally free time to study, work on journals, or just hang out.
In New Zealand, you'll stay in at least three different places. The schedule is pretty packed, so expect to be on a chartered bus frequently. The bus makes stops along the way for activities, breaks, and lunch. The longest stay in one place in NZ will be with the Prime family. There you'll have a more steady schedule with hikes and day trips.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I was concerned about the difficulty of the environment in the rainforests and living in close quarters with many new people. Neither one of these turned out to be as intimidating as I thought.
The rainforest is definitely damp and has a lot of creepy critters (like terrestrial leeches and huntsman spiders), but they're easy to deal with. I always checked the bathroom stalls and showers before going in to make sure no spiders or leeches were sharing it with me. I also checked my clothes and skin for leeches daily. Being aware of my surroundings was really all I needed to settle in to the rainforest environment.
As for living in close quarters with others, this actually makes dealing with the rainforest much easier! Someone in your cabin may not be freaked out by spiders, so they can remove any that sneak in to your personal space. Plus you end up bonding over stories of leeches, spiders, or seeing some crazy animal/insect while walking around the center. After this experience, I feel much more comfortable around spiders, and I realized I really enjoy communal living.
What did you learn from this experience?
Before this program, I had never traveled abroad alone and had never been to a tropical environment. But going to this program showed me that it is really beneficial to face your fears and try something new. However, if you're going to get the most out of an experience, it pays to keep an open mind. Try to go into a new situation without specific expectations, and avoid making snap judgments.
Even if things are challenging sometimes, try not to look at challenges as pure discomfort, but as something to learn from.
Being without internet/cell service might seem difficult, until you realize how much more you're paying attention to your surroundings and engaging with people. Living and traveling with other people can also help you to learn how to work as a team, to listen to others, or how to deal with conflict in a healthy way. So definitely try something new, and you'll probably be surprised by how much you'll gain from it!