I had not spent much time outside of the United States before my trip to Patagonia. I was inspired to go abroad to see a new place and culture, to immerse myself in a new place, appreciate the beauty and wilderness of somewhere new, and see the world from a perspective outside of my comfort zone.
Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies?
Round River Conservation Studies was an ideal program for me. First of all, they partner with my school, Northland College, making the logistics of studying abroad (i.e. payment, transferring credits, etc.) about as easy as it could be.
Secondly, the goals and set-up of the program were very appealing to me. My degree is natural resources and biology, so the classes that Round River offered fit right into my major. I also love being outdoors, so spending a semester in a tent sounded like a very rewarding experience. I'd also heard very good reviews from others at Northland College that had studied abroad through Round River.
What was your favorite part about Patagonia?
The wilderness! Patagonia has some absolutely beautiful places and landscapes that feel as close to untouched as anywhere I have ever been.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The amount of time spent outdoors is extremely unique. While other programs, like NOLS, offer outdoor experiences, with Round River you also are earning college credits.
I loved the pairing of being immersed in the outdoors while studying and learning about my surroundings.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff was incredible! They were extremely knowledgeable about the region, and were also very accommodating. Their perspective was very integral to the depth of the program.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had practiced my Spanish before the start of the program. I had studied it in high school, but had not used it since. The language barrier was very hard for me and I feel I missed making connections with people we met because of it.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Days when we were at basecamp compared to days we were in the field were very different. I will describe a day in the field because those were my favorite. We would wake up early in the morning to complete a bird point count survey at whatever location we had camped at. While half of us did that, the other half prepared breakfast. The next hour or so was spent eating breakfast and taking down camp.
Once we were all packed up we would begin our hike for the day. We usually had some kind of assignment along the way whether it was keeping a detailed ecological journal, documenting the abundance of designated plants for a climate change research study, or searching for huemul, an endangered deer species. We would hike until dinner time, taking breaks along the way for lunch and beautiful sights.
Then we’d choose a spot to camp (few of the places we went had designated campsites) and set up camp for the night while some people made dinner. Sometimes we would have a class discussion after dinner about an assigned reading topic such as the role of genetics in conservation or how and if scientists can utilize traditional ecological knowledge. After that we would check out the stars and go to bed (well, go to sleeping bag).
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
We did not have a ton of free time because so many great activities were packed into the semester, but with the free time we did have I would run, read for fun, write in my journal, play cards with the gang, listen to music, walk into town, or play with our homemade Cards Against Humanity deck.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We were in tents the entire semester. We did have a basecamp where we stayed in between trips that had a building with bathrooms, showers, a kitchen, a fireplace, and a hang out space. The rest of the time we were backcountry camping in some pretty remote places at times. I loved spending the semester in a tent because I felt so connected with nature and realized how little you need to be happy.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
You spend a lot of time outdoors! Also, the structure of the program is that almost every day is planned before you even get there. Therefore, if you want to explore the area on your own, you should plan for time before or after the trip.
How has your time abroad impacted your life back at home?
I knew I wanted to do some kind of environmental science as a career, but my experience in Patagonia helped me realize my dedication to conservation of wild animals and wild spaces. Being away from my normal life of luxuries and vanity also helped my focus on what truly makes me happy in life, and how few materials things you need to accomplish that feeling.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
Absolutely! It is an eye-opening program with lots of immersive experiences.
Elaine is currently attending Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, where she is pursuing a degree in natural resources and biology. When she joined Round River Conservation Studies in Chile, she was in the midst of her junior year. Elaine had experience backpacking and camping before her trip, but she had never spent a significant amount of time outside the United States.