My sister and mother traveled extensively in college. Having visited my sister in Croatia after studying there for a year, I knew I wanted to travel at some point in college. After taking a Latin American history course and improving my Spanish, I decided Latin America would make a great place to study abroad. It wasn't until I was actually there, speaking Spanish and traveling from Chile to Bolivia, that I found what my mother had been inspired by so many years ago.
Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies?
Round River was at the intersection of my passions, interests, and skills. As an environmental studies major, it would fulfill necessary coursework. As someone passionate about wild places and writing, Patagonia made for an ideal location. As a organization with connections to legendary people in the environmental scene (i.e. Terry Tempest Williams, Doug Peacock, etc.), it also made since on a personal level.
What was your favorite part about Chile?
It's difficult, nearly impossible, to distill a place into its parts and choose a favorite aspect. The combination of culture, history, people, food, and natural environment is really what made it special to me.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Of the students that study abroad, few spend as much time in such remote locations as we did. We saw things that few members of my host country have seen (endangered species with fewer than 1,500 individuals) and were able to meet the equally unique people who live near these spectacular animals.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
CONAF (Chilean Forest Service) were essential to our program’s success. Beyond being some of the first Chileans that we got to know well, they were also our guides during five-day treks through unnamed valleys. Without them, we couldn't have found the campsites, routes, or pick-up locations that were critical to making our research successful.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had encouraged my fellow students more. Many were unhappy with the leadership and academics of the program, but did little more than complain privately. I wish I had encouraged them to speak up, voice their dissatisfactions, and make a concerted effort to get what they wanted out of the program.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Before answering the question, I should mention few days are typical when trekking near the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The program was dynamic and largely variable to weather, hiking distances, and that day’s goals.
That being said, wake up for bird surveys around 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. Make breakfast and pack up camp by 9:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m., depending on how far we hoped to hike that day. Hike and collect data for three or four hours. Lunch and rest (again dependent on how far we planned to go). Continue hiking into the evening/dusk. Find camp, begin readings, and making dinner. Have dinner and then class discussion followed by bed.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I read. I read in my tent. I read by the river. And I read overlooking glaciers. Technology seemed detractive, unproductive, and a waste of time. So instead, I read just about anything I could get my hands on--in Spanish or English. It deepened my understanding of the culture and history. Other activities included fishing, hanging out in plazas, and drinking wine.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Two doors, outdoor bathroom/shower, no bed or box spring, and the ground was usually wet and uneven. But, I learned to love my tent; it was shelter and my sleeping bag stayed dry so I was fine. We also had plenty of nights at "home base," which was a beautiful stone building with a fireplace and necessary amenities.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
It's challenging, but worthwhile. There will be days when you're frustrated and wet, but it's worth the moments when you see Andean Condors overhead, ice fields in the distance, or lamb roasts by your campfire.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I'm desperately waiting to graduate and leave the country. Coming home was rough for a number of reasons; some personal others nothing more than missing the adventure and people I met along the way. I've certainly become a more humble and patient person after traveling through Bolivia for three months.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
Yes, absolutely. Although, I'd argue that my time traveling after the program was just as important as the program itself. Far too many students that have traveled abroad spent most of their time with students from their home, instead of the host country. RRCS gave me the opportunity and confidence to travel on my own afterwards, which was as valuable as anything I learned during the program.
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, James came to Utah in search of adventure. Environmental studies and his travel abroad experience have made him more globally conscious. When he graduates, James will head to Colombia to volunteer and continue adventuring.