The School for Field Studies (SFS)

Program Reviews

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Melissa
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Studying Abroad in Panama: A Catalyst to Realizing Your Future Professional Career

SFS Panama is a study abroad program unlike any other - it is so interdisciplinary, which invites students from a wide range of majors to apply and find what interests them in the program. I went into this program thinking that I would be majoring in Biology with a focus in Marine Science, but the interviews with local people, listening to guest lecturers, and reading so many articles about the social factors amidst ecosystem degradation, I understand my true passion lies in Psychology. I'm not convinced my passion for Psychology would have reemerged unless I went on this program with SFS and for that I am truly grateful.

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Ben
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Best semester I have ever had

I have wanted to go to Central America for a long time, so I jumped on this opportunity to go and learn about the leader of environmentalism. It was everything I wanted and more. I got there and spent three months in on a gorgeous campus learning hands-on about ecology and environmentalism. All the professors know about what they are talking about and are incredibly passionate about it. Every field trip they took us only much added in the learning as I was able to see what they were talking about instead of looking at pictures. We get free time to explore on our own and see places the program was not able to take us to. Loved getting to see many different parts of Costa Rica and get to know the people that live here. I can not imagine a better semester abroad for me.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
I would say be willing to do everything and go out of your comfort zone. Leave campus to explore whenever you can. There are so many places to check out that they are entirely worth it, and many are not expensive. Do not be scared to explore by yourself as sometimes you have the most fun that way.
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Marta
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The world is your oyster...SFS helps you to shuck it!

I have been back in the U.S. for 2.5 weeks now, and I am glad to say that despite the time continuing to pass, I will never have a shortage of amazing memories to look back on from my semester in Bhutan.

The School for Field Studies has opened up the world for me; it has shown me another culture and way of life, a stunning country, and it has turned typical Western education on its head: you don’t have to be in a classroom to learn; you don’t need a library to study. SFS fosters learning in real-life situations: having to cope with language barriers when trying to interview locals; collaborating with peers to complete research projects; most of all, I think it helps foster self-reliance, self-compassion, and self-knowledge. Kadrinche la, Bhutan!

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Monks on the roof of a monastery, DANCING! They were fixing something on the roof and one was tied to another with a rope...it was both the most absurd and heartwarming thing I had seen!
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Patrick
4/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Great Island, Program Has Problems

It seems like this program has changed a lot since the Hurricane in 2017. The staff has turned over, rules have gotten stricter, and overall program quality seems to have decreased (unfortunately). Academics aren't too difficult but lots of busy work and boring class time restricts your time out in the field (classes are 8am to 6pm M, T, Th, F while the semester is in full swing). Lectures could have been cut in half with the same content covered. On Wednesday and Saturday you have waterfront and community service time, but due to bad planning we lost our Wednesdays during the second half of the semester. Directed research projects, advertised as a highlight for the program, only have 10 field days and really only happen during the last two weeks of the semester. Added on to this is the way the staff treats you- like a middle schooler. Curfew, no kitchen entry, have to sign out if you want to swim, not allowed to stand or move in boats (even though many students can drive boats better than the staff), etc... Its degrading and endlessly frustrating (they even went as far as to put up barbed wire and security cameras because they didn't trust us). As someone who just wanted to explore South Caicos and participate in a field studies focused program, I felt this program did not live up to many of my expectations. I had tons of fun times on South and may be a little harsh in my review, but it was hard to look past all these shortcomings during my time abroad with SFS.

What would you improve about this program?
Cut down on classroom time, increase field exercises, lengthen DR time, reduce or fix rules.
Response from The School for Field Studies (SFS)

Patrick, thank you for taking the time to leave a review on your program experience. We are sorry to hear that it did not meet your expectations and will be taking your feedback into consideration for future terms. SFS programs are highly structured; however, our goal is to provide exciting, hands-on learning in unique environments and safety on our programs is always important.

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Hanna
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

An Amazing Semester in Siem Reap

I had an amazing time with SFS Cambodia. The classwork is incredibly interesting and the ability to go into the field and connect what you have learned in class to real life experiences is unlike any learning setting I have been in before. The center is also located in a central location and it is very easy to get into downtown Siem Reap. The first portion of the program is very busy with homework and full days, which can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and as if you have no time to actually enjoy the city you are living in. However, the directed research portion does allow for more free time because you are doing most of your work on your own. My directed research project was the highlight of the trip for me, as it allowed me to interview indigenous people in Cambodia, an experience that I will never be able to recreate in the future.

Overall, I would recommend this program to someone who is passionate about environmental science, and who is comfortable living in close quarters with a small group of people. You must be flexible, and able to adapt to situations that you may be unfamiliar with. Keeping an open mind and a positive attitude throughout the program is definitely one of the major reasons I enjoyed myself so much.

What would you improve about this program?
There were often long essays due during trips, and sometimes we had no wifi to do research and not much free time to actually do the essays and have time to explore the new places we were visiting. Some assignments for different classes also felt like they were reiterating the same ideas so it was sometimes hard to feel like you were writing anything original.
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Bronya
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

TIBS

my semester with TIBS was awesome! It was so cool to have the ocean, rainforest, and archipelago as a whole as a classroom. All of the professors and staff at SFS are amazing people who truly make the program as awesome as it is. They're all super talented and passionate about what they do and for sure people I'm coming away super lucky to have gotten to know. The classes were all super engaging and interesting. The center is right on the water and they have paddle boards and kayaks to use which was awesome. The town is super close and most of the activities there are to do on your free time are diving, surfing, snorkeling, and hanging out on the beach. There is not much free time during the first two months but there is more once directed research starts. I didn't mind at all being so busy the first two months though because classes were so cool and we got to go to so many different places with class.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
I wish I knew that there would be limited access to hiking/backpacking/camping so don't bring your backpacking gear to this program because you won't use it. Also, READ THE WELCOME LETTER AND THE WHOLE FIELD GUIDE when they send it out!!!
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Karlie
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

You will not regret a semester of SFS Cambodia

I didn't really know what to expect going into this semester. Before this semester, I had never traveled abroad, so going to the other side of the world for three months was a fairly big first step. However, now as the semester is wrapping up, I'm finding that I'm not really ready to leave.

There are several reasons why that's the case. First of all, the staff at SFS Cambodia is incredibly friendly and the community is very tight-knit, so everyone starts to feel like your family fairly quickly. Also, our living conditions at the center are incredibly accommodating and, frankly, luxurious. The food is some of the best that I've ever had in my life, and it is such a privilege to have every meal cooked for us.

As for the academics, I found all of the professors to be very qualified and all of the material to be fascinating, but I sometimes felt as if lectures could be made shorter. When we're not traveling, the structure of our class schedule feels very similar to high school, which is a difficult transition coming from a college campus. I also wish that we had more than a month to conduct our direct research project, because it is a lot of work to pack into a very short amount of time. However, having the opportunity to conduct so many field interviews is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and probably my favorite part of this program.

In general, this is a BUSY program, which can have its pros and cons. A lot of the work and field trips are front-loaded, so you don't really have time to sit around and think about how much you miss home in the beginning. Personally, during that time, I was so in awe of all of the amazing places we were going to that I couldn't feel homesick if I tried. That's not to say that I wasn't exhausted. If you hate waking up early, don't choose this study abroad program.

I can't imagine anyone regretting doing a semester of SFS Cambodia. It's such a cliche, but it is a life-changing experience in so many ways. I came here from a very high-stress university where I had a lot of responsibilities, little class time, and no one looking over my shoulder to make sure that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. SFS Cambodia is the opposite of that, and in some ways, I have grown to love it. While we're busy, we don't have to make our own schedules and the pace of life also feels slower. Compared to my home university, it has actually been so much easier for me to be present and appreciate the little, wonderful moments around us, of which there are so many in a program this unique.

What would you improve about this program?
Dealing with the many rules of this program was tough to say the least. Some of the rules were completely reasonable (i.e. conservative dress code for cultural sensitivity) , but other rules sometimes made me feel like a child. Going in, I knew that the program was strict. In fact, I thought I mentally prepared myself for that aspect of it. However, what I did not expect was to be located in the middle of a fairly bustling (and seemingly very safe) city full of young people who do not have any rules. Having a curfew as a junior in college was very tough at times. It's not a reason to not come on the program, but I just wish that I would have known that this program is not like other programs. It's very urban, which makes the rules feel a lot more suffocating at times.
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Emma
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Rainforest Research: A Wildly Good Time

SFS Australia is set right in the rainforest, up 30 minutes of windy highway. It may seem secluded, but this program is good at introducing you to Australia and it's many, many amazing features.
The Centre itself is remote but well-structured. You live in one-room, multi-person cabins a 5 minute walk from the main building, which has a kitchen, lounge, computer room, and classroom. The local wildlife is unlike anything I'd seen: wild brush turkeys with confidence to boot, long-nosed bandicoots, tiny kangaroos called pademelons, death emus called cassowaries. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner feature all the students and staff, family-style (the cook is also amazing, by the way). The three classes (Rainforest Ecology, Principles of Forest Management, Socioeconomic Values) are informative and stimulating. There will be some days full of just lecture, but other times, you'll head out in the vans for a field trip and learn so much from exposure. The Directed Research project is one of the best parts of the program, where you work in a small group to make a real journal article, poster, and oral presentation.
Would highly recommend for a wild and fun time!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
On the last night, we had an Aussie BBQ, and Kangaroo and Crocodile were served. They were pretty ok!
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Connor
3/10
No, I don't recommend this program

People end up hating this program

The SFS Turks and Caicos staff are for the most part great people, but unfortunately, you are treated like you are a little kid on the program. No, you cannot go in the kitchen unless you are supervised. No, you cannot go out past 10pm. Additionally, you have very little freedom to explore the local culture and do what you would like to do because you are in the classroom from 8am to 5pm most days and on top of that you have multiple group projects a week along with extensive readings each day (and no the class time, readings, and group projects don't slow down or stop at any point in the semester). Did I mention that there is a curfew so as soon as you finish with that a**load of work, it is already past the time when you are able to engage with the local culture? Yeah, this program made many people cry because of how difficult it was. If you're going abroad to learn about marine biology rather than to experience a local culture and enjoy yourself, go ahead. However, even if you are going solely to learn, this program lies to you about the field research you have to complete. If you think this program is great because of the large amount of field research you get to do--you're wrong. Throughout the program you're told that the last month is dedicated entirely to field research--LIE. You get a single weeks worth of field research and many people get field assignments that they hate. Just want to throw in this quote that an SFS staff member told several students halfway through the program--"Most people end up hating this program by Thanksgiving." Don't go. You'll regret it. I hear great things about the School for International Training if you'd like to not hate your program but still do field research.

What would you improve about this program?
Don't treat people like children, don't give students excessive workloads--they didn't come abroad to hate their lives, don't have so much class time, basically everything
Response from The School for Field Studies (SFS)

Connor, we are sorry to hear that you were disappointed with your experience and wish that we had heard from you during the program so that we could have addressed your concerns sooner. Given the range and depth of topics that SFS programs cover, they are indeed highly structured as well as more focused on the academic experience than cultural immersion. That said, we always aim to provide many one-of-a-kind adventures throughout the semester with opportunities to get to know and become part of our local community.

We realize that students arrive at our field centers with varying levels of academic experience as well as different expectations as to what they hope to experience during the term. To foster a better understanding of the SFS experience and expectations pre-program, SFS always provides an extensive field guide as well as an one-on-one interview with your SFS Admissions Counselor.

We take all feedback seriously and evaluate all of our programs on a regular basis in order to provide the best experience possible for our students. In that regard, we appreciate your taking the time to offer your comments and wish you the best with your academic endeavors and career.

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Vincent
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing program with wonderful staff

I attended the Summer I session to AU and NZ this year and I could not be happier. The program is very travel intensive, with frequent day trips in both countries. There were always planned activities, things to do, places to see, and people to meet. One of the most valuable aspects of this experience, for me, was having a chance to meet indigenous people in both countries and hear their stories related to environmental stewardship, colonization, history, culture, and modern politics. Not only do you witness and learn about the impacts of colonization on the environment, but you gain a deeper understanding of how colonization affects the people who originally lived in these countries. In this way humans and the environment are considered as a single issue, rather than being separate. Plus you're experiencing people's culture and hearing their stories first hand. Another key topic of this program was ecological restoration. You have the chance to see restoration projects in the works and are able to help with the realization of these projects. Overall this program gave me a greater appreciation for the relationship humans have with the environment and how we have negative and positive impacts on the world around us.

The accommodations for the program are very nice. The cabins in AU are much better than the usual cabins at campgrounds (at least from my experience) and the food is amazing! You are able to be fully immersed in the environments in both AU and NZ. In NZ the Prime family is beyond amazing and they make you feel like part of the family. Plus staying in their Marae is a wonderful time to really get to know fellow students. Our group bonded a lot during our time in NZ! In the end, our group became incredibly close and we all have left AU as friends.

The academics of this program are not quite as scientific as I had hoped, but I'm still very pleased with it overall. You do have to think critically and be a bit self directed in terms of learning from the excursions and activities. There are some lectures as well to supplement field activities. If you go into everything as just a vacation, you might not get as much out of it, other than a fun trip. But if you keep an open mind and are willing to learn from everything and everyone, you'll come away with a lot of knowledge! It's also important to take lots of notes, even in the field. The academic work was somewhat disorganized, but the academic staff all responded well to feedback. The main issues were a lack of grading rubrics and not having a whole lot of time to prepare for the final exam. But it's still a great program!

I also enjoyed having some free time in both NZ and AU. My group got together to plan activities during our time away from the program and we all had a great time. We were able to experience some night life, go on day trips to beautiful locations, and even snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef! Definitely worth the money to take some day trips, like the GBR in AU and the islands off the coast of Aukland in NZ. Rangitoto Island is beautiful!

Finally, the staff at SFS are so wonderful! I had the unfortunate experience of getting very sick during the last week of my stay in AU. I ended up being sick for 2 weeks and having to stay at the centre for an extra week. The staff allowed me to stay at the centre and made sure I was very comfortable. They also helped me open cases with my insurance companies, took care of scheduling doctor appointments and transported me to said appointments, and helped me with rescheduling my flights. If anything happens during your stay, rest assured that you will be well taken care of! I was glad to have so much help and to have received so much generosity from the staff (both at the centre and at SFS headquarters). I can't thank SFS enough for the help they gave me during my illness!

I was on the fence about going to this program at the beginning, but I am so glad I went. It's worth every penny! There's no way you can get an experience like this on your own. Financial aid, scholarships, and fund raisers really help to lighten the bill. I was able to cut my total costs almost in half this way. And for what I paid, I couldn't have done everything that we got to do if I traveled on my own! I met so many amazing people and had an absolutely wonderful time. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.

What would you improve about this program?
A little more academic organizing in terms of assignments and exams would be helpful.
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