I did this semester in Tanzania way back in 1995. In addition to opening my eyes to real-world integrated conservation and development, it helped me grow as an independent learner.
From the start, the program helped us build basic field skills- from getting around in Arusha and elsewhere to doing wildlife tracking and walking transects. The program had a good curriculum to complement the field components as well.
Just under a decade later, after graduate study at Brandeis and some environmental work, I returned to Tanzania to do my PhD field work in Dar es Salaam. I even remembered how to speak Swahili (with a little practice with strangers on buses ("dala dalas").
The practical skills and emotional resilience that the SIT semester taught me helped me get through all the roadblocks and setbacks I ran into. I knew the country, the language, and the culture by then. Adapting to difficult situations and working with people to overcome challenges was critical for the completion of my PhD fieldwork. My SIT semester was priceless.
I'm now an independent water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professional who provides research and proposal writing support to NGOs and donors (USAID, World Bank, UNICEF). I write about all things water, sanitation, and international development at my blog. Feel free to say hello.