Why You Should Study at a Field Station

While I did not study abroad in college, I did spend a summer at a field station, which definitely felt like a different country. My academic career has focused on animals and ecology, so field biology classes in the Appalachian Mountains seemed like the perfect fit for me. Ultimately, it was an awesome experience that changed me tremendously. The first couple days I had quite an awakening; for starters, I had never hiked before my first day of ornithology class. The days were long! The class would meet around 7 AM to begin bird watching, take lunch around noon, and then meet back up for about four hours of lecture and lab. It was all birds, all the time. I was totally out of my element with binoculars and my classmates attempting to identify bird calls. I was lucky to make quick friends with another girl in the class who convinced me to stay. It was time to just embrace the early morning fog, and enjoy nightly campfires with new friends. My two week course was so great, I decided to return a few weeks later to take another course on small mountain mammals. The first day of that class, I was the one convincing someone to stay!

My praises:

  • Immersion is a really cool thing! The same way study abroad students boast about learning new languages and cultures, living in and studying nature is wild. I intimately got to know the trail overlooks, the bugs on the trees, and the personalities of different landscapes.
  • Course credit was the initial factor drawing me to studying at a field station. At a big research university, I did not have a lot of opportunity to study pure environmental biology on campus. The field station was a great way to take courses that actually pertained to my interests. Summer semesters in general are a quick way to earn hours. Just make sure your credits will transfer!
  • Staying within my country to take classes was of course less expensive than studying abroad. However, it provided me with a similar experience of leaving my comfort zone. For someone who is not quite ready to leave the comforts of their own language, it is worthwhile to just try a new locale!
  • People who study at field stations are all experts in something! I learned so much about things that had never crossed my mind from both classmates and station residents. Everyone had interests different from my own, like cooking edible fungi, coffee roasting, and studying species-specific tree diseases. You are surrounded by cool, educated people who know what they are talking about.

I studied at Highlands Biological Station because my credits transferred to my home campus without any major effort on my part. However, other stations I’ve heard rave reviews about include the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Flathead Lake Biological Station in Montana (my original choice!).

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