Studying can be one of the most incredible experiences of your life, but it does mostly consist of sitting in a room listening to other people talk. If the idea of doing this for months or years on end bores you to death, field studies could be the solution for you.
What if, instead of reading and listening to lectures, your learning was based on real, first-hand experience? What if you were on the frontline, making the observations that will further your field of study, having unforgettable encounters with the things that fascinate you the most? A subject with a field study component can offer this and more.
Those with fantasies of daily adventures may be disappointed. Most field studies rely on hours of solid, meticulous work, often in uncomfortable conditions. However, the rewards -- a sense of achievement from hands-on work, the camaraderie of your peers, the thrill of coming face-to-face with the object of your studies -- are all well worth it.
There are many academic areas that involve field study, and they all offer a refreshing blend of practical and theoretical knowledge, perfect for those who need some variety in their studies. From conserving rare wildlife to uncovering the secrets of humanity’s past, the possibilities are endless.
Unfortunately, real-life archaeology has little to do with the exploits of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. You’ll have to be willing to work long hours, often in the baking sun, doing meticulous work in the dirt. However, the rush of finding a piece of history (literally) and contributing to humanity’s understanding of the past makes it all worth it for archaeologists.
The world needs people to save the environment and its wildlife. Courses that allow you to do this include zoology, wildlife sciences, environmental conservation, and ecology. All of these have significant field components which allow you to work in some of the planet’s most beautiful and remote environments, from the Amazon jungle to the African savannah.
Anthropology is the study of people: their cultures, their customs, and their societies. This can’t be done without fully immersing yourself in the communities you aim to study. As an anthropology student overseas, you will have the chance to not only come face-to-face with cultures entirely different from your own but to actually understand them on a deeper level.
Marine biology is the dream field for all those who love the sea and its inhabitants. Fieldwork in this area could involve working in an aquarium or reserve, but it can also mean heading out to the open sea and its most remote shores. An obvious bonus, of course, is that any marine biology fieldwork comes with access to a beach for your downtime.
Where to Go
The great thing about a broad area like “field studies” is that you can essentially do it anywhere in the world. However, some destinations have the ideal combination of high-quality educational institutions and rich cultural or environmental resources.
Brazil is home to some of the best universities in South America, including the University of São Paulo and State University of Campinas. It is also home to 15-20% of the world’s animal species and several unique natural environments, such as the Amazon rainforest, Atlantic Forest, and Pantanal wetland.
The country is a paradise for those looking to do environmental and wildlife conservation fieldwork, and its unique society and diverse makeup translate to fascinating sociological and anthropological study opportunities.
As the seat of the Roman empire, Italy has enough great ruins to keep any archaeologist busy for decades. Fieldwork opportunities in this area abound, while the country’s huge coastline also presents opportunities for marine biology fieldwork. Italy's great universities mean you could base your research from one of many incredible cities like Florence, Rome, and Milan.
South Africa has the best universities in Africa, and as such many field studies courses in the continent will be based there. That’s just as well, because South Africa’s natural resources and wildlife are almost unparalleled.
You can work with humpback whales, elephants, lions, rhinos, and even penguins, basing yourself in one of the country’s many natural reserves. Meanwhile, South Africa’s rich cultural heritage makes it a fascinating subject for other types of field study.
When people think of Australia, they think scary wildlife and the vast emptiness of the Outback. However, the natural environments of Australia are widely varied, as are its inhabitants. Your work could take you to mountains, rainforests, and even the Great Barrier Reef. There is also an increasing body of research on Australian aboriginal cultures long eroded by colonialism.
Planning Your Trip
Your university will be in charge of the planning of your field studies. All you have to do is follow their advice and prepare yourself for hard, rewarding work.
How to Choose a Field Studies Study Abroad Program
You probably already know the broad area you want to focus on. Whether you’re interested in nature and wildlife, culture and heritage, or some other subject, pick your program based on location (is there a country you’re more interested in going to?) and the content of its curriculum (how much fieldwork is involved?).
Health & Safety
Field studies usually involve slightly more risk than sitting in a lecture hall. That said, your course should have all the measures in place to keep you safe, including a full first aid kit and a plan for emergency response. All you have to do is follow any instructions given to you.
Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. If you are working under direct sunlight or in a humid environment, cover as much of your skin as possible to protect it from UV rays and bugs.
Above all, make sure your insurance covers any activities you are going to be doing during your field studies.
Other Need To Know
Before starting, you should familiarize yourself with the realities of field studies. Often, you will be waking up at the crack of dawn to do long hours of tedious, meticulous work in extreme weather conditions. Fieldwork can be exceptionally satisfying, but it is also hard work.
Look up blogs or articles by people who have done the type of work you are looking into, and read the course information closely. The more you know about what to expect, the less the chance you will be disappointed or overwhelmed.