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International School for Earth Studies

Why choose International School for Earth Studies?

The International School for Earth Studies is a family-owned, lifestyle driven outdoor education school based in Canada dedicated to teaching environmental literacy, outdoor preparedness, animal connection and self-defense. Their mission is to help individuals connect to nature while acquiring skills that serve people, animals and the environment.

The 500-acre campus is home to both our resident pack of Seppala Siberian Huskies and our herd of Canadian Horses. Earth Studies is one of the only wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Western Québec who rescues and releases wildlife.

Our gap year students work directly with the sled dogs, horses and rescued wildlife and learn to manage them. These students are passionate about environmental issues and are solutions seekers. Students deepen their understanding of previous academic studies to influence and shape their future careers.



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Yes, I recommend this program

The Big Connection

I've now spent somewhere over 4 months with the incredible Cushing family, and I've loved every minute of it. I went in the fall of 2013 as a gap year student, in January-February 2014 as an intern, and back again for last summer. I've learned so many things from my time at Earth Studies - about the environment, communication, natural horsemanship, work ethic, kennel management, primitive survival skills, trail management, animal rehab, and so much more. My time at Earth Studies has shown me the importance of a human connection to Mother Earth and given me opportunities for a deep connection with animals that's impossible to find anywhere else. It has allowed me the tools and the time for some serious introspection, and gifted me with a true second family. Earth Studies is an incredible and unique place that will teach you things you've never imagined that you'd be able to learn, it will challenge you to develop, give you wonderful memories, and inspire you to grow.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Spend Your Winter in Ladysmith with the Cushings and their Dogs

Two experiences and one distinct feeling stand out from my five amazing weeks at Earth Studies.

The first one may sound terrifying to those unexperienced: Kirk, the Cushing progeny whom I spent most days working with, and I spent the night in a snow quincy that we built but we just happened to pick a night where the temperature outside dipped to around -30 degrees Celsius. The lesson was an important one though: I slept soundly and warmly all night in the shelter and now know how to survive a night like that on my own.

A more anecdotal experience came from one of my rides with Geoffrey, the father. We accidentally led the dogs onto a new trail that Kirk and I had not finished clearing and ended up dumped in the snow with the dogs gleefully taking a lap of the trail before coming back.

The feeling I most remember is the crisp air on my face, whether on my walk from the lodge to the main house every morning, looking out at the frozen lake, or on the back of the sled, whipping around corners and up and down hills.

My time there was truly an incomparable experience. The Cushings are wonderful and welcoming, their dogs are amazing, their are animals everywhere, you won't eat better food anywhere, and you will never sleep better or feel overall healthier than at Earth Studies. Back in the grind of studying, I often think about the nights at the Hotel Ladysmith or at town hockey night (where I learned how to skate) or the mornings spent with the dogs. I can't wait to go back and visit soon and drink mass quantities of Bodum coffee with the Cushings again.

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Yes, I recommend this program


We were on our way up to the top of a 10,000 foot summit in Waterton, Alberta and we came across a glacier lake surrounded by massive snowbanks. We were walking alongside the base of a snowbank when we saw a small hole large enough for us to crawl into. Once inside it opened up to a vast snow cave with icy walls, shimmering with the small amount of light that was glowing through the snow. It had a small river fed by a waterfall from all the ice melt and was something out of a fairytale. I felt like an explorer hired by National Geographic. It's Amazing what mother nature can hide from you. All it takes to find it is a little curiosity.

What would you improve about this program?
Maybe an anonymous suggestion box for students who are too shy to take part in the program meetings. Other than that the program is perfect!
Haley Brumberger
Yes, I recommend this program

Second home, second family

On August 24, 2015, I embarked upon a journey that has not ended, and hopefully never will. After much anticipation and complaining (I hate being away from home), I boarded a plane that flew me out of Philadelphia and arrived in Ottawa approximately one hour later. Once through customs, I came across a sign with a symbol that looked familiar. I whipped out my phone and quickly looked up the International School for Earth Studies logo, and there it was: an oak leaf with the head of an eagle embedded in the grooves. I tentatively walked over, and soon exited with three other young ladies. An older, but young-looking lady (Jo Ellen) drove a massive truck to where we were standing, and we all piled in. My adventure had just begun.

After a few minutes in the truck, it was apparent that Jo Ellen was one of the coolest women I had ever met. When we arrived on site, the other student greeted us, along with the rest of the Cushing family: Goeffrey, Derek, Kirk, Corie Jo (CJ), and Janna Lee. For the next week, we hiked, or did something outdoorsy, every day. It was awesome. I learned how to make a fire, and tips to survive should I ever be stranded in the wilderness. I spent more time "in the bush" than I had in my entire life. When that first week-ish was over, the other four students left with Geoffrey and CJ for their cross-country Canadian road trip. I stayed behind with Kirk, Janna Lee, and Jo Ellen. (Derek was in university in Ottawa and came home on weekends). By the time they left, I was enjoying the budding friendships I had with both the other students and our hosts, but I was excited to see what the last two-ish weeks had in store for me. I was not to be disappointed.

Kirk and I were already best buds, but Jo Ellen became my second mom, Janna Lee my sister, and Derek my brother in less than a week. From working with the twenty huskies (plus three house dogs and three house cats), to riding the horses Parelli-style (only a back pad and a rope halter), to playing with the rescued raccoons, to feeding the fawns, to taking out the rowboat on the lake, to simply hanging out at the house and the lodge, I could not get enough. I photographed almost every moment and almost every animal. We worked with the huskies pretty much every day, and that soon became my favorite activity. It was so rewarding; it was easy to identify how much progress I was making with these twenty incredible dogs because I was able to tell all twenty of them apart, and they started responding to my cues and body language. I quickly bonded with the shyest dog in the pack, to everyone's surprise. No matter whether I was cleaning kennels or mucking the stables, I had a purpose. Everything I did was valued, and everything I did was fun. Friends of the family came for a few days at a time, and I soon became very well acquainted with them as well. From swimming in the water to swimming in the mud, these people, in addition to the Cushings, became my favorite people in the world.

After a whirlwind two weeks filled with love and sweat, the tears came when I departed. I never wanted to leave this place, this pseudo-farm that had become my second home. Prior to this experience, I had never had a place at which I felt I could stay forever. I had always not been able to wait to go home, but this was different: this time I could not wait to go back.

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you pick this program?

During the summer of 2015, I visited a gap year counselor at my university and shared a few of my interests with her: Canada, the cold, hockey, animals...and that was it. She recommended a program called the International School for Earth Studies, put me in touch with the director, and the rest is history.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Do it. The new experiences will open your eyes to a whole new way of living life. Not only will you be more mature and experienced, but you will also have once-in-a-lifetime adventures and create lasting and meaningful relationships.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Go in with an open mind. There are many types of people who do programs like this - remember that you are one of them. Though all groups are different, they all have one thing in common: each individual made a decision to go on this adventure, and you all are in it together.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

After arriving on-site, we went on a tour of the property. We were introduced to the dogs later, and one of the dogs, Lucky, was not as friendly or curious as the rest. I found out he was somewhat of a "rescue" and was not keen on new people. He rarely interacted with students and usually kept to himself. Of course, that just made me want to connect with him more!

One day, after about two weeks, I was in the kennel with one of the family members (Kirk) and Lucky came over to me, sniffed me, and licked my face. I nearly passed out on the spot. When I looked up, Kirk's jaw had dropped. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

When I returned in the winter, I was so excited to see Lucky that I forgot to think about the fact that he may not remember me. I need not have worried, as within a few minutes of being reintroduced to the kennel he came right over, tail a-wagging.

Haley's Take on Being Disconnected from the "Real World":

The location of the program was a bit concerning for me as there is little to no cell service, and there is only Wi-Fi in the main dining area. This at first seemed like a negative; how was I supposed to stay connected with the world? Once I arrived, I soon realized that I did not need to be connected with the world - my world was here.

For the short time you will be there, and it is indeed short in the grand scheme of your life, allow yourself to be fully immersed by taking full advantage of the fact that you have limited communication with the outside world. The negative becomes a positive when you connect with the people, the animals, the nature. The program is incredible, but it is still only going to be what you make of it. Everything else - home, friends, technology, etc. - will be there if you need it. Me? I didn't need it. I don't think you will either.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Kirk Cushing

Job Title
Dog Behavior Instructor
Dogs are Kirk's life. At age 11, his family decided to adopt a pack of Siberian Huskies as a new form of winter recreation, dog sledding. Kirk's specialty is dog behavior and pack dynamics. When he's not teaching in Canada, he runs The Dog Masters, LLC in Houston, Texas.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Last year, we travelled from Quebec to Alberta and the town of Waterton Lakes National Park. We usually see lots of black bear and wildlife. I was with a group of 4 students who were exploring the park with the GMC Yukon. I called the main campus in Quebec to file a complaint.

"We haven't seen any wildlife, particularly bears. Could you please ask Mama Bear (Jo Ellen) to send us a cub or two..." as we turned the corner, we got our wish. The students were totally amazed, talk about great timing.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I have developed purpose in my life and meaningful direction. My family takes great pride in helping to foster greater self-awareness and potential, so it wasn't difficult for me to follow my passion for becoming a dog behavior consultant.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

His name is Andrew from Alabama. He was one of our gap students back in 2006. A real cowboy and farrier; raised by a military household; played college football and was a real leader in my family's eyes. We called him Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings.

A story often told at the dinner table, was the time he single handedly rescued a fellow student who had slipped off her dog sled. Without hesitating, he raced through the forest in almost three feet of snow (an amazing display of athletic performance!), for a quarter of a half a mile before jumping onto the back of the team of dogs and returning them to the kennels. It was simply epic.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I'd apply for the fall and winter programs, which focus on the sled dog sports. They're honestly the greatest seasons in Canada. I love the cold. We start dry land training with the dogs when the temperature start dropping.

These programs focus heavily on our pack of 20-Siberian Huskies. You'll learn about dog behavior, pack dynamics and be introduced to the world of sled dog sports! Cross-country skiing, constructing igloos and snow quinces are other favorite winter activities in between dog sled runs.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The directors, myself included, have dedicated our lives to preserving and protecting animals.

That means, we're deeply invested in our community, culture, business, and curriculum development.

We want students to be able to take what they've learned and apply it elsewhere. Earth Studies is more than just a family-based business, it's a safe place to discover yourself and develop your life's purpose.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Respect for each other, animals, and the planet is our number one value.

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