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Experiences south of the border

Hands-on learning in Mexico.

Learning abroad isn’t just about travel, it’s about developing skills that will serve you beyond graduation. These skills are often transferable to different areas in your life and consist of skills like communication, teamwork, problem solving and adaptability.

The Culture, Ecology, and Sustainability Field School in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is about developing these types of skills. In this program, you gain hands-on experience in cultural anthropology and human ecology methods. Students apply ethnographic methods to conduct research on population growth, social relationships in the community and sustainable development. The program is led by Shane Macfarlan in the Department of Anthropology.

In the summer of 2019, anthropology student Jonah Brown joined the program and engaged with the local community through cultural education. “One of the most impactful experiences was our time on the ranch. We were able to see how they do things; I learned so much from our time with them. Specifically, we learned how to grow large, prosperous gardens in an arid desert.” Activities like this one illustrate the importance of learning from other cultures, especially when you are currently living near or in similar environments.

Another part of many learning abroad programs is hands-on experience. Classroom settings are often the go-to for learning, but there is something to be said when you can be physically immersed in an environment related to a classroom topic. One of the assignments for this program is synthesizing primary data and writing-up your research findings in an academic format. This is a skill that you can use in any career as it teaches you how to collect information and present it in a professional manner.

“Studying abroad has changed the way I look at education and has allowed me to apply what I learn in the classroom to real-world problems. It has supplemented my classroom education with real-world experience that I will remember forever.”
—Jonah Brown

Brown reported on the program’s project with the community, “One of the projects that we did was an analysis of the community’s trash and disposal practices. We were studying how the amount of trash was affecting the community and tourism and what could be done about it. We also met with the local recycling plant in order to understand the problems and challenges they are facing as a community.” According to Brown, going abroad allowed him to learn how to apply classroom knowledge to real-world situations and that it supplemented his education.

Learning abroad enables you to gain credit while engaging in activities that contribute to furthering your learning about an area you’re interested in. They take place in classrooms, museums, theatres, the mountains, the oceans, and in this case, a vibrant desert. They allow you to immerse yourself in topics in the now. Whether you want to learn a language, engage with the community, conduct research or do an internship, there is a program out there waiting to add to your bank of knowledge and skills.

Read more about Brown’s experience here.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Culture, Ecology, and Sustainability Field School program.