Suggestions for international study

May 5, 2004
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Suggestions for international study
Question: I am seriously considering taking a semester and hitting the trails. I was looking into both Outward Bound and NOLS courses but was also interested to see if you had any suggestions. I am studying international relations at Georgetown and thought that perhaps biking across Europe or some other international experience would be beneficial. Do you know of any groups or programs offering interesting international programs for an extended time? Thanks.

Jason Morris
Washington, DC
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Funny you should ask, Jason. I spent a semester in northern Australia studying aboriginal issues and tropical ecology with the Vermont-based School for International Training. SIT runs 57 field-study programs in more than 40 countries, from Ecuador to Botswana to Vietnam, with course emphases ranging from natural history to international studies to language immersion.

Instead of being based out of a local college or university--where campus life can be surprisingly similar to what you left behind--these programs are totally self-contained, relying only on area experts who serve as instructors and a huge outdoor classroom. The rest is up to you and your leaders. My group used bustling, tourist-infested Cairns as our headquarters, staying with local families, studying regional management issues with environmentalists, and interviewing local businesses and activists. The best part was that, for once in my reading-intensive college career, there was refreshingly little emphasis on book knowledge. Everything we learned came firsthand from the Australians we talked to. Don't get me wrong; there was a lot of work involved--a lot of writing and some oral presentations. From Cairns, we took two-week (or longer) trips to the Daintree Rainforest and Orpheus Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, to study rainforest and marine ecology and management, as well as a two-week camping trip with a Cape York Aboriginal group. We finished with a monthlong independent study in which we all schlepped off to far-flung places in the company of total strangers to research and report--in what was to become a 60-page-plus written document--on a topic of our choice. Keyword here is independent: If you weren't used to lighting out for the territories on your own before the project, you certainly were by the time the group reconvened in Cairns.

But enough of me waxing nostalgic. SIT's definitely worth checking into, considering its huge range of programs and its reputation as a credit-worthy, if slightly offbeat, semester abroad program. Call them for a course catalog at 800-336-1616.

Another like-minded organization is the School for Field Studies (SFS), with six science-oriented research programs in resource-dependent communities in Kenya, Australia, Costa Rica, Vancouver Island, Baja California, and the British West Indies. You don't need much in the way of a science background, except for one college-level ecology course, since you'll also be studying the economic, social, and political ramifications of particular environmental issues. For course details call 508-927-7777.

If you're mainly interested in "hitting the trails" and fine-tuning your low-impact camping skills, you can't go wrong with NOLS or Outward Bound. Between the two, they run semester-long courses in the Pacific Northwest, Kenya, Mexico, and Patagonia. Call NOLS at 307-332-6973 and Outward Bound at 914-424-4000.

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