The OCS Experience: Stories from Participants
As you investigate your off-campus study options, the Whitman College Off-Campus Studies staff suggest you speak with a former participant of the program(s) you are considering. Many times, students find that program alumni prove to be invaluable resources during the program selection process. The following students have offered their own stories to inspire and educate those seeking a life changing experience through Whitman Off-Campus Studies. Enjoy...
My research involved catching amphibians and reptiles for two weeks and determining their CTmax (critical thermal maximum) , which is the temperature at which an individual loses coordination and the ability to respond. I spent many hours chasing after frogs through the jungle, catching them in butterfly nets, and testing their CTmax in our temporary field labs. To do this, we placed each frog or lizard collected into a water bath, where we slowly increased the temperature, while flipping the frog onto its back every 30 seconds. Once the frog could no longer flip itself back over, we recorded the temperature (the CTmax), and placed the frog into a recovery bath with cooler water. We then released the animals where we found them.
Every day I came back from the field with muddy rain boots, exhausted from chasing after poison dart and rocket frogs. I loved it! The thrill of catching a red-eyed tree frog and studying how these animals will respond to climate warming was only part of the enjoyment of knowing that my efforts are important for the conservation of unique and fragile island ecosystems. Living and being immersed in the environment I was studying gave me the best opportunity to truly appreciate and observe my surroundings. I will never forget trampling through the jungle in rain boots, snorkeling with sharks and spotted eagle rays, and tasting chocolate freshly made from cacao. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my junior year than to study abroad in Panama.
Studying abroad has been one of the most rewarding intellectual experiences I’ve had the chance of participating in. As this is the first time I have ever been to Europe, everything is new here; I find myself struck simply by the fact that I’m actually studying in France, something I never could have pictured myself doing even just at the beginning of my studies at Whitman.
Obviously, as a French major, studying in France provides me with a fantastic opportunity to “live” French in a way that’s simply not possible in a solely academic environment. My French language skills are much better now after almost three months of speaking almost only French, and even if I am still not perfect in my ability to speak French, this semester has given me the confidence to speak out in French even when I know what I am saying isn’t 100% correct. Now, simple little phrases like “donc” and “en fait” seem second hand, and it’s almost difficult not to using them when speaking English with my parents over Skype.
In addition to academic benefits, my semester in France has allowed me with the opportunity to better understand Europe and its role in the world. Previously, France and the rest of Europe have always seemed like a far-off concept: the birthplace of the renaissance, soccer, and almost any “ism” you can think of. Living in France has allowed me to put more of a human face on the continent, although the amount of historical significance here is still mind-boggling for me. In France, I’m always struck by the fact that the people, land and even the language all seem more connected to the past than in the United States.
As I said before, this semester is the first time I have ever been to Europe, so even after almost three months, everything still has a shiny new sparkle. For me, Europe’s “new car smell” has yet to wear off (we’ll see if it ever does). That being said, there have been many moments that stand out as highlights this semester. The first time I saw a cathedral in Vannes, for instance, was probably one of the most awe inspiring moments of my life. Between the sheer size of the building and the significance it has held for hundreds of years, actually getting to see the cathedral rather than just a picture finally allowed me to connect everything I had ever learned about Christianity and European history with what I was actually seeing.
As for interacting with locals, I have thoroughly enjoyed spending the past semester with my host parents, Pierre and Martine. Before coming to France, I can’t recall ever thinking of anyone as adorable, but seeing my host parents interact with each other and the world around them in such a quintessentially French way has been incredibly fun and interesting to watch. Still, of all the interactions I have had with the French, my most rewarding have come from getting to play soccer with a French club. The past two months, I have regularly gone every Wednesday and Friday, regardless of weather, to the small village of Saint-Luce just outside of Nantes to train with the local soccer club. Even if I am not A team caliber, and probably won’t even get to play in a competitive game with the C team before the semester ends, getting to interact and bond with the other players has been a fantastic experience and one that I’ll never forget. Even more than studying abroad in France, I honestly can say that I never would have dreamed of getting to play soccer in France.
I was lobbying for the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2014 at the House. This bill if passed through the House would reach the senate and would highly encourage access to a comprehensive sex education curriculum as well as advance maternity health in developing countries. This bill would also embolden and actualize the Millenium Development Agenda by empowering women and advancing the education of young girls which would have a direct impact on the community levels of education and the reducement of poverty. Furthermore, it would mitigate the illnesses and diseases that come with underdevelopment and inaccess to healthcare. This bill succinctly encourages development and improves the level of national security in developing states by affecting the agency and access of the most vulnerable in civil society.
I lobbied legislators and various policy makers and am now seriously considering lobbying as a profession! Youth account for nearly half the population of the entire world! It is thus our responsibility as students and youth to be the voice for those who are disenfranchised and do not have the international platform we currently have access to.
Studying abroad in the Australian rainforest gave me the wonderful opportunity to delve into an amazing, complex ecosystem! We made several transects in secondary succession rainforest of varying ages and recorded the tree species present. My research focused on the ability of the forests of different ages to provide food to frugivore (fruit-eaters) and granivore (seed-eaters) throughout the year.
Research abroad also gave me a valuable experience to put on my resume which helped me get a summer research internship. Research abroad is a great way to get hands-on experience.
I, like most students who study abroad, became more independent, confident and culturally aware. Personally, I can now envision leading a serious career and my life outside of the United States. Even though I was in Germany, I made friends from many different countries and cultures, whom I am still in contact with and whose friendship and insight I highly value. These connections are very important to me, and could help me return to Europe someday.
I think choosing to study a language in college has been one of my best decisions as a Whitman student. I learned minimal amounts of French in high school and sincerely believe I had no propensity towards language learning. When I came to Whitman as a freshman I thought I would give language another shot and enrolled in German. I ended up studying abroad in Germany, taking classes in German while abroad and finding out that I am actually very passionate about language learning. Language acquisition is a kind of hobby for me, and I am very thankful that I was able to discover that about myself at Whitman. Studying the language abroad is infinitely more rewarding because of the connections you will make with the local speakers there. Without speaking the local language, I think it is much harder to understand the nuances of the culture you are living in.
My study abroad experience in Morocco was very informative. As my time at Whitman is coming to a close, I’ve been looking at ways to go abroad again, be it back to Morocco or someplace new! I’m in the process of applying to scholarships and grants that will allow me to do this after graduating. My hope is to pick up some more Arabic and then to go to a school of public health in Paris.
My experience was very empowering. I managed to live comfortably in a completely new city and culture, and conduct social research! Whenever I’m overwhelmed by the future, I think about what I achieved in Rabat and know that I can accomplish what I want to do in life.
My research was focused on Bushmeat poaching and consumption in the Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem, Tanzania. The goal of my project was to assess the magnitude and scope of bushmeat poaching and consumption from biological, economic, and social perspectives. I interviewed almost 200 households to gauge their consumption habits, and about 20 poachers about their hunting preferences. I determined that at current levels, many local populations of commonly targeted animals will likely collapse within 25 years.
Conducting research abroad was an incredible opportunity to meaningfully contribute to academic conversations on issues that I care deeply about. Interviewing impoverished farmers and ranchers in rural Africa lends insight into environmental issues that you can't quite fully appreciate inside a classroom.
While in Spain, I received an internship offer to work for Saunders Oil & Gas, an exploration geology LLC in San Antonio, Texas. I accepted the offer and left for Texas just a few weeks after getting back home from Spain. Along with doing a plethora of things related to my geology major, I quickly learned that Saunders has exploration operations going on in Colombia.
I found that the Spanish abilities my study abroad experience fostered in me allowed me to communicate geologic concepts in Spanish to a co-worker from Colombia who was visiting Texas at the time, along with allowing me to speak Spanish with our Mexican office manager and secretary. It was a perfect combination of my interests, and I certainly would not have had the Spanish skills or level of confidence without my abroad experience in Alicante.
I completed a study in the coastal town of Puerto López, Ecuador to determine the incidence and level of knowledge the townspeople have about dengue (a mosquito-borne illness that affects around 100 million people every year in the tropics and subtropics). I interviewed 50 townspeople over the period of a month, questioning them about their history of dengue and knowledge of the disease. Results indicated a relatively low level of dengue, with no large changes in the incidence in the last five years. The knowledge of the people was found to be satisfactory only in terms of identifying the organism of transmission and how it reproduces, and lacking in regards to which mosquito transmits dengue, how it becomes infected, its appearance, and when it bites. Measures should be taken to increase the education of the people in order to better facilitate preventative measures and lower the incidence of dengue.
I absolutely loved doing an independent research project abroad - not only was I able to improve my Spanish language and interviewing skills, but the paper I wrote and the brochures I distributed in schools will help educate the people of Puerto López in regards to dengue transmission and prevention. In regards to my study abroad program as a whole, I particularly liked that a good portion of our classes and studying took place in the outdoors. We traveled to the Amazon, the Galápagos, and the cloud forest, and went on numerous other field trips during the semester. I couldn't be happier with the study abroad program that I picked!"