I was interested in obtaining intensive, real-life experience in field ecology and conservation, since those are both topics I want to pursue professionally.
Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies (RRCS)?
RRCS has an excellent record of getting undergraduates involved in major conservation research projects around the globe. I first became aware of RRCS in a word-of-mouth sort of way, did some more research, and soon after applied.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Our involvement in intensive field research for conservation. We worked on projects in the wet and rugged landscape of the southern Patagonian fjords and in the breathtaking steppes and montane forests of the Chacabuco Valley. Exposure to these fascinating ecosystems, in combination with our academic programing and intelligent instructors, was truly something that could only be gained through first-hand experience.
What was your favorite part about the location of your program?
The remote location and rural environs. The small size of the community makes for an engaging cultural experience.
What surprised you most about Patagonia?
How cold the water was in Rio Cochrane.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
We had up to four instructors at any one time, and frequently worked with government and private conservation professionals working in the regions where we conducted research. Our RRCS instructors helped us design research projects and educated us on the ecology and conservation considerations of our field sites. The professional staff from CONAF and Conservacion Patagonica with whom we worked intensively were an invaluable resource for these same topics and beyond.
Was it difficult to communicate with locals?
Although I had practically no Spanish language skills when I got to Chile, many of my travel mates did and I was able to get to a roughly conversational level. Interacting with locals was extremely interesting, and I wish I had had better Spanish fluency before getting there.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We had a home base just outside of Cochrane, Chile, where we lived with a local agricultural professional. Both here and in the field we slept in tents, and dining was done by students (and was always excellent).
How did you spend your free time?
Exploring the nearby nature reserve and rural community.
What is one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Although I spent a decent amount of time interfacing with locals, my lack of Spanish skills impeded by ability to communicate extensively with most. I would like to go back with improved Spanish. You don't have to know Spanish, but it helps a lot!
Is there anything you wish you had known before studying abroad in Chile?
I wish I had known more Spanish! And, I also wish my plant ID skills were a little better. I learned a TON while I was there of course, as many of my travel mates and instructors were very keen on taxonomy and ecology, but going in with more knowledge would always be an advantage.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Patagonia?
Spanish for Dummies, really good rain gear (spare NO expense), and a solid pair of gaiters.
What was the hardest part about studying abroad?
Being away from family was difficult, but this was alleviated as time went on and the group I was in became closer. Once I was engaged in the research we were doing, had settled into a routine, and made some close friends, I really started to be present and enjoy myself.
Now that you're home, how has your program impacted your life?
There is no doubt that the only reason I was offered my first field job in biology was because of the experience and skills I picked up during my semester with Round River. RRCS jump started my biology career and also taught me a lot about interaction and communication with my peers.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?
This varies a lot between individuals, but for me the biggest benefits were the opportunity to meet like minded people, like my classmates and instructors, and also learning so much about conservation and ecology
That sort of field experience has been invaluable; it has gotten me jobs I would not have been offered otherwise and of course provided lots of perspective in my studies since I went.
Would you recommend Round River Conservation Studies to others? Why?
If you enjoy living outside and sleeping on the ground, can work well in teams, and are interested in ecology and conservation, RRCS provides some amazing opportunities that you will want to check out right away.
If you could study abroad again, where would you go?
If Round River's Mongolia program had been up and running when I went to Chile, I would definitely have been interested in applying. But I would go back to Chile too, without a doubt.
Maxfield is a biology major at Saint John’s University in central Minnesota. He spent the summers of 2015, 2016, and 2017 working on research projects for Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and the Intermountain Bird Observatory in the Great Plains and northern Rocky Mountains.