Katin Liphart - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I always knew that I wanted to go abroad in college, and I was looking for a program that would get me waaaayyyy out there! 

Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies?

I was a biology major, and I knew that I wanted my study abroad experience to provide me with field skills. Additionally, I was looking for an adventure, and I figured that you couldn't get more adventurous than backpacking in Patagonia!

Hikers near the Chile-Argentina border
Checking for Ñandu on the Argentinean border

What was your favorite part about Chile?

Obviously, Patagonia is a gorgeous place with unprecedented scenery (I got to see mountains, glaciers, and sweeping river vistas on the daily). I would have to say, however, that my favorite part about the program was the people that we got to work with. We worked closely with guardaparques, or Chilean park guards. Their knowledge about the land stretched back for generations, and it was an immense privilege to be able to learn from them.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I think that the nature of Round River programs make them unique from most other study abroad experiences. You get to spend every day actively contributing to ongoing conservation fieldwork, and you get to live out of a tent (and really close to nature) for four months.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Our instructors were amazing, inspirational human beings that profoundly impacted my life path. Not only were they incredibly knowledgeable, but they deeply inspired me and helped me make sense of the direction that I wanted my post-college life to go. We had a lot of fun, too.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Looking back, I wish that I would have kept up with a journal throughout the program. There were so many amazing experiences that I have since struggled to remember, and I wish I had a record to look back on.

Hiking in the Patagonian Fjords in Chile
Overlooking the Patagonian Fjords!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Most of the program takes place in the field. On a typical day, we would wake up at around 6 a.m. or so and do a bird survey in order to track species. After the survey, we would do whatever chores necessary (i.e. pack up camp, make breakfast, do the dishes, etc.). Then we would spend the next five to eight hours hiking and doing fieldwork; this could mean everything from recording information about plant species along 100m transects to keeping a watch out for signs of the endangered huemul deer. 

Most of the hiking that we did was off-trail, which meant that there was a lot of bushwhacking and forging of rivers, but also that we got the experience of being the only ones in an immense landscape. Because of the fieldwork (and the exercise necessary in hiking!), we would take frequent breaks. There is nothing better than eating a hearty lunch of cheese and aji with an amazing panoramic view of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field! 

Having made suitable progress in our distance or scientific research, we would find a suitable spot and make camp for the night, and maybe take a quick dip in a glacier-fed river before feasting on lentils and mashed potatoes. After dinner, we generally held class--discussing the readings that we had done that week and working on assignments. Then, an early bedtime, falling asleep to the sound of the strong winds whistling through the lenga trees. 

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I am an avid photographer and enjoyed taking pictures of the beautiful landscapes when we were in the field. When we had basecamp days, I enjoyed coming up with creative methods to recreate my favorite baked goods.

Tent in Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve, Chile
A brisk morning in the Jeinimeni Reserve

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

The entirety of the program is spent living in tents. When we weren't in the field (where we shared our tents for space-saving reasons), we each had our own tent that we brought and set up in the sheep pasture of a small farm. I loved my tent immensely, and it truly felt like home after four months!

Our basecamp was equipped with a small building with electricity, running water, and a kitchen. We spent a lot of our basecamp time in this building, working on data input and classes as well as showering and hand-washing our laundry. The Rio Cochrane runs right through basecamp, and we also spent a great deal of time doing yoga on the shore or jumping off the small dock on sunny days. From basecamp, it is a short (~one mile) walk into Cochrane, where we could get (somewhat spotty) free internet access and purchase supplies (mainly wine and chocolate) from a general store. 

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

It is a difficult program, both physically and mentally. You will spend long days doing hard work, and you have to be willing to get really close with your fellow students. That being said, it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. You will never get the chance to have an experience like this ever again!

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

My time with Round River has really helped to solidify my ideas about what I want to do with my future--our work with community conservation has inspired me to go into policy. Additionally, I am immensely proud of my accomplishments from the program, and have found that I am more confident in myself since. 

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

I would highly, highly recommend this program! I do not suggest applying if you want a study abroad experience that is very relaxing and easy--you will work incredibly hard. You should apply, however, if you want an experience like no other that will change your life!