Community-Led Learning in an Incredible Place Past Review

By (University of Michigan - Ann Arbor) - abroad from 08/29/2015 to 11/01/2015 with

Swan Valley Connections: Landscape and Livelihood

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I loved this program, I learned an enormous amount, and retained so much more of my learning than in other college classes. I wish each of my semesters could have been a program in the field like this one. It certainly changed the course of my life, as something like this might, and I'm immensely grateful for the privilege of meeting so many community members I could not otherwise have made worthwhile connections with. I'm a more empathetic, whole-picture-thinking human, and better understand the complexity of so many issues I was willing to simplify before. A way of thinking that's applicable to much more than natural resources.

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

It's an intense experience all around, and the academic assignments work well with the environment and resources available to you. You'll study issues completely and wholly - looking not disparately at policy or animal ecology or a forester's livelihood, for example, but how all three are related, complicated, and inform one another. It's an incredible way to learn, and academic assignments bolster this for the most part.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Managing a group of students in a very rural area both in the front country and backcountry is a crazy thing. Staff work really hard to cover all the bases.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I really loved the sharing of chores (cooking, cleaning, some facility upkeep, garden) among students. The barn was a really wonderful place to live.

* Food:

There's a ton of freedom here, with significant student input into the grocery list. We ate really well and its a great way to learn about cooking in general/cooking for groups.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Given the general constraints of this (2 months is a short time to involve yourself in the local culture), I think this is part of what makes this program special - you're working with and learning from community members most days, and trying to understand the policies and issues that affect people who live in the area from every angle. There are several events/days/projects that will challenge you to get to know community members even further, and time spent with them is some of the most cherished of the program.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Missoula and Kalispell are an hour and a half away, but I certainly felt accommodated in this respect. Staff are well trained, and will get you where you need to be if there's a health issue that requires more attention.

* Safety:

Staff are Wilderness First Responder certified for the most part, and are great at managing risk. Being in the backcountry (on your trip) and out in the field all day can be risky experiences, but they are absolutely worth it, and I felt safe with staff members always.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Pretty much everything is covered.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? No

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Time with teachers and community members
  • Backpacking trip, and learning in the field every day
  • Close knit communal living on the Homestead
* What could be improved?
  • Nothin' really - staff are great at receiving and implementing student feedback for changes after every program.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? This isn't very major, but you'll save on some stress if you don't hold on to conceptions of what college should be like, what grading should be like, and instead listen to your teachers' guidelines and embrace each experience for learning as much as possible. You'll sacrifice some of your experience if you're worried too much about grades.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

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The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.