The School for Field Studies is not your average study abroad program. Any student who has ever participated in an SFS program will tell you the exact same thing. SFS is different because not only are you learning new things about the environment, people, and culture of the area you are in, you are deeply immersed in it and get to experience it up close and personal. It is rare that another study abroad program will provide students with this kind of experience.
Why is this important? Why should someone take part in an SFS program as opposed to a typical study abroad program? The answer is simple: To truly care about and understand the environmental issues that are happening all around the world, and to see what is at stake, you must experience it firsthand. There is no shortage of pictures and stories on the internet of beaches coated in plastic, rainforests cut down, animals who have nowhere to go because their habitat has been destroyed, or people who must change their way of life to adapt to a changing climate. While these pictures and stories might make you feel sad or helpless for a couple of hours, it is nothing compared to experiencing it firsthand. When you experience these issues in person, you feel something much different than sympathy. You see how these issues are affecting the environment, the people, the flora and fauna, and how they are much more than a couple pictures on the internet or an article in a magazine.
As an example, I have seen lots of pictures and read many articles throughout my life about animals who are losing their habitat due to deforestation and changes in land use for agriculture and grazing. One day, when we were on the bus driving to a field site, we passed miles and miles of pasture filled with cows and sheep. One of our professors let us know that all the pasture and empty fields we had been driving past for miles used to be rainforest. After I heard that, it was hard to imagine what the landscape used to look like. After seeing that, it was not hard to understand why many of the native bird species that live in the rainforest have low population numbers or are now endangered. Where are all those animals supposed to go when thousands of acres of their home are destroyed? How can they possibly thrive? Because of the impact that this made on me, planting trees on different properties to provide more habitat for native birds made me feel like I was making a much greater impact. Not only could I see the issue and the implications of it, I could use my hands to physically make a difference. There is nothing that can make you feel more fulfilled than knowing that the work you did will change the environment in a positive way and help to restore the native flora and fauna that once thrived there.
So, why study abroad with SFS? Students should take the leap to see environmental problems beyond their screens and magazines, and learn how they can personally make a difference, and how they can encourage others to do the same.
Photo courtesy of Siggy Heise-Pavlov