unsatisfactory academics and chaotic disorganization in the administration Past Review

By (BIOLOGICAL AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES., Wellesley College) for

The School for Field Studies / SFS: Australia & New Zealand - Rainforest Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I'm glad that I went abroad, but I'm even happier knowing that I'll get to return to Wellesley. I feel as if I generally liked the program more than most people in my group, but even then, I had a very hard time adjusting to the social atmosphere because of lack of commonalities. I expected a different group of people, thinking that this program would self-select for those students with similar interests as mine - i.e. those who didn't mind getting dirty or going for hikes, or did not care so much about social outlets such as drinking or bars (the program is dry). As it was, many of the people had issues with the field work and complained about the environment or situation, and this reduced the quality of my experience. I often felt very uncomfortable and stressed - not from the culture, host country environment, or living circumstances, but from the people on my program. It was then hard to adjust to being very, very disconnected from friends and family back home (very poor and inaccessible internet) without some sort of friend or peer support from within the program, because I did not connect well with anyone. The general atmosphere from other students was often discontent and negativity. Aside from unsatisfactory academics and a general chaotic disorganization in the administration, I think I would have really enjoying this program a lot more if I was able to share it with people I would have become good friends with. The opportunities, unique environment, and most of the faculty and staff were amazing. However, I feel as if this could be very variable and may have just been my personal experience; a later semester might include many people I would enjoy being on this program with.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month
The term and year this program took place: Spring 2010

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I felt that the workload was mostly busywork and ineffective memorization, and was very different from the experiences I've had at Wellesley. We spent many hours in class, but I did not feel as if I learned much from it, and field lectures were much less hands-on and interactive than I expected them to be. Often, it felt as if I was just touring the area, which was nice and informative, but not as educational and applicable to my long-term academic goals.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administration was generally quite disorganized and very flexible, constantly changing plans and announcements, without informing everyone or taking the effort to ensure that everyone - students, faculty, and staff - were on the same page. Rules were sometimes enforced and sometimes overlooked, and it all seemed very unstructured and fluid, which was a pretty ineffective way to run such a close, tight sort of program with such a small amount of people who did not have many other resources.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

We lived in on-site cabins near the main center, maximum capacity 8, though my cabin had 5 people in it. Boys and girls were in separate cabins, and bathrooms were separate, a few minutes walking, though often through the mud and up rough terrain. The program provided a bed with mattress and pillow, though these were not very comfortable and had to be resistant to mildew (the pillow was not). We were also given a set of plastic storage drawers to keep our things in, and there were one or two metal closets for shelf space. The cabin also had a table with benches and a small couch, and a ceiling fan - no air conditioning, of course. Issues included cleanliness - mud and insects often got into the cabin, cooling - it was often very hot or very cold, electrical outlets - only two plug spaces for the whole cabin and we often all needed to be charging our computers and cameras, and just general mildew and environmental issues, which we just got used to as the semester went on. The location was nice, in the rainforest with plenty of wildlife and beautiful plants surrounding the cabin. We were able to observe rare processes and animal behavior from our windows, and living there helped us establish a sense of place and authenticity about where we were. <br /><br />

* Food:

The chef was very helpful to those with dietary restrictions, going out of her way to produce meals that could satisfy most people. There was generally enough food around, though we were told not to go into the food stores during non-mealtimes - this was one of the rules that wasn't enforced, and it really improved my opinion of the food, because mealtimes weren't enough to sustain me. They may have stricter kitchen rules now because of health restrictions, but we were allowed to bake and cook after-hours in the kitchen, and having open access to the kitchen was very nice, because it helped foster community and comfort some students who may have been homesick. People often used the cooking and baking for stress relief or to make dishes from home to share with others, and that was a nice aspect. This may be changed, though.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

We often felt as if we were being treated as grade-school children for our social activities. There weren't very many age-appropriate group activities and our community was pretty fractured socially. People often expressed that they felt as if they weren't being treated as adults, or that they were bored - there wasn't much to do outside of class, as we were restricted by physical location and rules keeping us on site and accounted for most of the time. It was very nice when we got out and did things off site, went on field trips, and had some activities outside of the rainforest, but even then, we were highly restricted in what we could and could not do.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Safety as a general concern was always being thought of, because of the close exposure to dangerous plants and animals of the rainforest. They did a good job of training us and informing us of threats in our environment, and though at the beginning it was scary to constantly be thinking of these scary things, by the end of the program I realized that I felt very safe, given the circumstances I was living in. The staff are knowledgeable about the threats from nature in the area.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No

Finances

* 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)

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I expected to spend much less money than I did. We went into town almost every week and I found that I'd purchase little things that I could have brought from home, but did not know I'd need. Still, I know I spent much less money than I would have if I had gone to a more traditional program at another university in a city, because the program provided food and supplies for many things. I was surprised by the amount of town time we got. The mandatory spring break from the center also used up quite a bit of money, though options for that were varied, and people would opt to spend less money, but not be able to travel and explore the area.

Language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

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  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

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  • Americans