SIT Study Abroad

SIT Study Abroad

About

SIT has been providing immersive, field-based study abroad programs for undergraduates for more than 50 years. SIT offers more than 70 programs in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as comparative programs in multiple locations. In addition to its rich history, SIT Study Abroad has a number of unique qualities that make it an ideal choice for an extraordinary, transformative study abroad experience.

SIT students step beyond the boundaries of a traditional classroom to analyze critical issues shaping local communities around the globe. Students become deeply engaged in a topic and undertake their own research, case studies, in-depth practica, or community projects. SIT Study Abroad is deeply embedded in local communities around the world. Program components are designed to respect the strengths of local partners to foster enduring relationships.

Founded
1932
Headquarters

1 Kipling Road
Brattleboro, VT 05301
United States

Reviews

Default avatar
Jona
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The SIT Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples study abroad program was a remarkable highlight of my time in university. Through a refreshing taste of experiential learning, we engaged with communities across Nepal in productive, meaningful ways. Learning in the field instead of the classroom inspired us all to be more invested in our work. The staff, who was caring and supportive to the utmost degree, has connections across the region and is willing to help all of their students with both the smallest and greatest of tasks. Their deep knowledge of the country (and neighboring countries) opens up a world of opportunity. Students with any possible interest, even the most esoteric, will find their place and thrive in this study abroad program.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
SIT will provide you with unforgettable experiences. Embrace them and be present for every moment!
Default avatar
Amanda
10/10
No, I don't recommend this program

I definitely think about art differently after this program. It was really empowering to see it used as a tool in so many ways. In this program, art was used as a means of exploring and analyzing a new city, as a means to process trauma, to track an intergenerational timeline of consciousness, and to empower people with creative solutions. The instructors are amazing and very compassionate. Also, this program is important for a person born and raised in the United States (like me)! I did not know almost anything about Los Desaparecidos in Argentina and many similar scenarios in other countries in South America. I would say its an essential piece of history to understand, and it's much easier to get an understanding first hand in Argentina.

(I put 9 out of 10 for housing purely because we were all housed in really wealthy neighborhoods and it would have been nice to see a bit more of the city.)

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Definitely take a weekend to travel to Iguazu. It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Default avatar
Kindra
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

City scavenger hunt, class on the beach, courses that make you re-think your perspective... check. This program is so much more than I ever could have expected. The topics had all of the student discussions rolling over into lunch time, and the French instructors worked with us once on one to ensure we were all reaching our language goals. The instructors and the curriculum truly altered my understanding of development, and made me analyze the impact my cultural values had on my views of development. Additionally, I think the program and location draw in a very unique group of people, which makes the program that much more special. The people I was with really shaped my experience in a positive way. This program is not for the faint of heart, but it is for someone looking to step outside their comfort zone.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Go on all of the excursions, and say yes more than no. The semester will fly by, so try to soak it all in.
Default avatar
RJ
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This program may not be appropriate for the faint of heart or health. However, if you're looking for a real-life adventure, I think few programs would measure up as well. The country's beauty, the richness of the culture and the thrill of studying African wildlife out in the field make the entire trip worth it already, while the challenging and difficult times did more to strengthen me as an individual than any other experience in my life ever did. The ISP is academically challenging, but the program leaves you a lot of time to focus on exploring and learning things hands-on rather than spending all your time studying. I especially recommend it for those wanting to do conservation and field biology: the techniques and research abilities you will develop will be incredibly useful in a later career. I decided that I wanted to work in wildlife conservation after doing this program; I have SIT and the people I met in Tanzania to thank for that.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Keep calm and carry on! There are going to be times when you feel stressed or uncomfortable; if you stay relaxed and keep an open mind the entire time you're there, you'll come away with a much more positive and constructive experience.
Default avatar
Ernest
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I gained a new way of looking at the world through this program; the cultural immersion experience helped me understand what daily life is like in a low-income country, while stereotypical perceptions of Africa as being only known for poverty and violence. The independent study was definitely a highlight for me because I had clear academic goals and a topic that I wanted to explore; SIT provided all the resources, connections and support to make the research possible. The homestay experiences where we lived with local families were a really great cultural immersion and the families were very accommodating and friendly. However, do have realistic expectations, don't expect luxury accommodation and be prepared to use squat toilets at some point. SIT has fantastic Swahili language tutors who teach well, and with this working knowledge of the language you can feel more confident interacting with locals. Importantly, the SIT programme staff were always friendly, approachable, and trustworthy and we felt cared for at all times.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Field-based study abroad programmes like this are not designed to be very academically intense since the focus is on experential learning. There were not many readings or assignments on the programme. However, for those who really want to learn, there are opportunities for self-directed learning and a student can make their own experience more or less rigorous by doing more background research during their Independent Study component and/or working closely with their faculty advisor, a knowledgeable faculty member from the local university. Also, as an international student, I did not expect to spend 50% of my time with American students (instead of Kenyan or other international students), so there was less diversity than I would have liked.

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

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

Jesse Shircliff

Jesse teaches English in Japan after completing a summer project in Nepal. He received an honors degree of Sociology at Gettysburg College and two minor degrees in Environmental Studies and Peace and Justice studies. He hopes to start PhD courses in fall 2020.

Why did you choose this program?

At the time, I saw of lot of students studying in Europe or Australia and stories came back about partying and the beach. I’m probably skewed, but that sounded more like vacation than anything else. Of course, I wanted an enjoyable experience, but I also wanted to go somewhere that I could study an interesting topic and really jump into another culture with two feet. Mongolia was that program: nomadism and geopolitics (the title at the time) was one of the most interesting ways for me to learn about economics, government, and the environment, and the SIT program connects students with stakeholders from mine-company owners, to former politicians, to nomadic families. Of course, the “far out” nature of the program was attractive too, and I knew that I’d forever be one of the few people in the room that studied in Mongolia.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

They provided homestays both inside the city and in the countryside, as well as a handful of excursions to key sites. I can’t really think of anything I had to organize on my own other than during the independent study project month, which is exactly when you’d want to do that. Sometimes we were given an allowance to eat dinner. That was always fun exploring.

SIT-Mongolia did a fantastic job of linking us with organizations and people, including the former Vice President of Mongolia, members of the UN (one of which I got into an argument with over free markets that precipitated to emails, another with whom I had coffee later), organizations like the WWF, the WCS, and local non-governmental programs. They also connected us to nomadic families on several occasions, assisted with finding translators, research advisors, and a number of great lecturers.

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

First, be prepared by

  1. Learning the alphabet and at least 10 phrases (e.g. hello, thank you, my name is…) before you land. I hit the ground running and could immediately use Mongolia rather than waiting to the learn the alphabet. That paid dividends.
  2. Researching Mongolia before you land. You’ll be faced with so much immediate surprise that long study sessions gets difficult after you land. If you start before you get there, it makes the field experience a lot richer and you have a context for future assignments.

Second, take advantage of the weird timing because this is important if you want travel before/after the program.

Since the winter is harsh, the program ends early (fall) and starts late (spring). I took a spring program and with that extra time, I worked my way east by stopping in Nepal, Thailand, and Japan on the way to Mongolia.

Since you’ll ultimately arrive in Mongolia and have to cover that flight, booking a destination in the area is not that much additional cost. I know another student who took the Tran Siberian railway to Moscow after the program was over. That travel boosted the overall experience, and given the odd timing of SIT-Mongolia it might be easier than time than with other programs or a normal semester at school.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

That question is really hard because the program is so dynamic.

Basically, the first week is an ice breaker where you meet and greet. Next you’re put into your urban homestay, where you have weekly course schedules (9-5 learning with lunch) for a few weeks. Until the last month, your urban homestay is home base for several excursions including visits to one of the world’s biggest copper mines and its attached city, a national park, a desert Buddhist retreat, the old Mongolian capital, and, of course, the nomad homestay, which lasts around 10 days and is one of the major attractions in this program.

For the last month, you have free range to conduct a study or take an internship. My cohort shared an apartment in Ulaanbaatar as we all worked on different projects. Five out of six did research and one person did an internship. You will have the option. During this time, you can do anything as long as you fit in the expected work.

Finally, there’s a post-program retreat, which was beautiful and relaxing and a nice cap to the trip.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My fear was not having a meaningful independent study project (ISP). That’s funny, right? But I had visited other countries already so the culture shock wasn’t really there. Instead, I spent too much time fussing over the ‘big questions’ that my project might answer. I was ambitious because I had actually started a Mongolia-related project at Gettysburg, but that inflated my academic ego and annoyed my peers at times when I wasn’t just smelling the roses. I ended up with a solid project anyways, but I feel that month is meant for training.

My advice here goes for any SIT student: yes, the ISP is an awesome opportunity, but at the same time this program might be your first field work (I am thinking social sciences, at least). Rather than trying to define ruthless concepts like authenticity or modernity by myself, I should have been cognizant of the fact that I was a researcher-in-training. It was my first time organizing participants, writing an interview guide, doing field work, etc. If I thought more about the process of research rather than some big, end goal, I might have had a better time and focused more on the exercise. At the least, ISP students can gather useful data and rework it later.

Work hard and learn a lot, but don’t think you need to solve your host nation’s economic/cultural crisis in three and a half months.

Why would studying in Mongolia be useful?

This is the ultimate question for any study/work abroad experience because it’s essentially “Why do that?” with a practical slant. Lately, I have been caught up with the idea of fundamental lessons, which can be learned in one context and applied elsewhere. Here are some lessons SIT-Mongolia provided:

1) You will navigate ambiguity: sometimes, no matter how sharply you observe the situation you simply won’t know what’s going on. This might be due to a different sense of punctuality or language barriers. It’s frustrating, but your job is to wait and experience the program. Once you accept that sometimes situations cannot be controlled, that empowers your sense of patience and tolerance for ambiguity.

2) You will have played a difficult language game: I admit that Mongolian is not common unless you meet Mongolians or do business in Mongolia. However, it is one of the most difficult languages to pronounce and if you’re an English or romantic language speaker, it follows a completely different subject-verb order. That’s mental gymnastics for you, and having studied Mongolian, I had an easier time using Nepali and Japanese, which follow similar word orders (and I have heard this is similar among some Asian languages). Also, it’s a party trick (You, “I can read and write in Mongolia.” Most people, “Ooooh.”)

3) You understand Mongolia's key issues and that is useful for discussing the following topics:

a) geopolitics – Mongolia was once the largest land empire ever. Now it is a poor yet democratic sovereign nation. You’ll study the geography, political history, and cultural/natural resources of the region, as well as their role in the modern state. Once you discover this framework it can be applied elsewhere and it is a useful framework for issues of identity, economics, and environment.

b) economic change and economic responsibility in post-socialist nations – following the last topic, Mongolia used to be controlled by the USSR. Now it’s a free market. You’ll see the good and the bad side of this transition and come to see why democracy and capitalism emerge from historical and located conditions (rather than being universal). Again, it’s a framework you can apply elsewhere, but it's the focus of the program and a fascinating topic in my opinion.

c) debates over environmental resource management – are nomads obsolete or productive? Is mining the way for Mongolia to find independence or immoral environmental destruction? You’ll see some speakers calling for nomads to throw in the towel while entire organizations work to sustain their lifestyle. One week you’ll have an anti-mining speaker then later you’ll meet someone using a mine to increase wealth and skills among small communities. SIT does a good job showing both sides of the argument, and that gives this program the liberal arts-esque lesson that one situation has many different interpretations.

d) modernity and/or traditionalism: in Mongolia ideals of efficiency and new modes of capitalist production belie narratives of national identity and long-standing traditions. For instance, government privatization seems to contrast the common use of pastoral lands. You'll find skyscrapers and gers (Mongolian yurts) just a few miles away. The city is juxtaposed, with urban and rural supposedly representing two sides of Mongolia, but there are fringes where these two overlap. The debates over capitalism, technology, cosmopolitanism, efficiency, and identity may be some of most intriguing of our time, and you’ll see that first hand in Mongolia (want to see now? compare the google images for “Mongolian culture” and “Mongolian city” and try to decide what's accurate).

4) you can now ride a horse and do other “rough” things: there are multiple opportunities to ride including a horse-riding training session the previews the 10-day nomadic visit, where I rode a horse each day to the herd. Aside from that, there exist different standards for transportation, sanitation, and comfort that you'll need to accept or suffer through during the program. It is not a semester in Norway or Italy like I've heard from my friends, it semester in Mongolia.

Last word: you might find these lessons elsewhere. Nepal offers geopolitics; Japan has tensions with modernity and tradition; soviet bloc states will teach you about transitions, and so on. However, I cannot think of a place that combines these factors like this. I haven't said much about the air pollution resulting from rural to urban migration (note the photo below) or the 8 lbs I gained from a carnivorous diet, but SIT-Mongolia is a valuable program which you should seriously consider if what I've said sounds intriguing.

If you have questions, contact me through this website.

More Interviews

Staff Interviews

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

Eric Wirth

Nothing goes better with a cup of morning/afternoon/late night coffee than getting to know Eric Wirth, the director of admissions for SIT Study Abroad, and the culture of SIT Study Abroad a little bit better.
Mountain Watching

Tell me a little about yourself. What has been your career path so far?

My passion for education abroad began after spending a year abroad in Elche, Spain during my junior year of high school. I landed my first job after college as an admissions counselor for a study abroad provider. After several years in the work force, I returned to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where I had the opportunity to serve for a year as the resident director to one of the university’s programs in Spain. After finishing my MA, I reentered the world of international education with greater knowledge and an enhanced perspective on higher education and learning abroad.

Did you study abroad after high school?

I’ve studied abroad a total of four times; once in high school, twice in college – one semester and one summer – and then for a year as a graduate student. Each time in Spain. Through each experience, I learned more and was able to take my level of cultural and linguistic understanding to a deeper level. I suspect one day I will work toward a doctorate, and I can guarantee I will study abroad again. My first instinct would be to return to Spain to delve back into the culture and languages I adore.

As for SIT, what are the core principles that you strive to achieve?

At our core, SIT Study Abroad programs foster academic rigor, intensive cultural immersion, substantial community involvement, and an emphasis on field-based research.

What does the future hold for SIT? Any new exciting programs to share?

This spring we are running two new programs in the Middle East: one in Egypt focusing on urban studies and the other in Morocco focused on journalism and new media. We have also launched a new summer program that explores traditional approaches to healthcare in India. We continually strive to provide our students with the most interesting and relevant coursework and locations.

And the future of the industry - how do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?

We’ll see the usual demographic shifts in mobility as a response to global politics, world events and markets. What will be interesting to watch is how governments and individual institutions address these shifts to meet demand and capitalize on market share. My hope is that more and more we will learn to become better citizens of the world and will travel abroad because we crave learning and connection with one another. Talking to people around the world is increasingly easier, but meaningful communication and understanding remains a challenge.

I'm continuously impressed with the depth and variety of programs offered by SIT Study Abroad. Their emphasis on field base learning is especially intriguing, as well as their commitment to cultivating relationships locally in host areas. I sincerely admire and hope to echo their attitude for turning every experience into a learning experience!

Over the last 10 years working in the field of international education, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Cuba, Czech Republic, England, Greece and Serbia. There are many fascinating countries and continents with amazing things to teach us.

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