Studying abroad can be one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences of your education. It will very likely change your perspective on how you live, what you want to do, and who you want to help.
There are many different reasons why a student with an interest in environmental issues would want to study abroad. One of those reasons might be to see environmental issues first-hand. Losing acres of rainforest everyday seems intangible to us -- but seeing deforestation up close gives one a whole different perspective. Another reason to go abroad may be to help people in environmentally-sensitive regions to enact solutions in their own communities. For example, you might go to a village in an arid region and help install an irrigation system that reduces water loss from runoff and evaporation. Sometimes, students go abroad just to see the beautiful areas we are fighting to protect. Many travelers develop an attachment to a particular place, and their passion inspires them to help preserve it so that others can enjoy it, too.
There are programs out there for whatever your environmental interests and goals are - or you can create your own! Study abroad can be for almost any length of time (semester-long and year-long programs seem to be the most popular, but there are others). But the very first thing you need to know is - studying abroad does require a lot of planning ahead. And we're here to help you get underway!
The Academic Requirements
Start with the study abroad office of your school - even if you choose to find a program on your own, the counselors there will be an invaluable resource.
Academic requirements will vary a lot from program to program. One thing you must make sure of is that credits you earn at the foreign institution will be honored by your school and program. Also, be sure that the time frame in which you will be gone matches up with your home intuitions' program, or you may end up graduating late or missing classes.
Generally, you will be in one of two kinds of programs. One is a traditional classroom setting in a foreign institution. You will go to class, study, complete projects, and take tests, just like you are used to. You will get to learn about a different culture, see things from new perspectives, and perhaps become quite fluent in a foreign language, too. The other type of program you might have is a field study one, where you are working outdoors with environmental professionals and other students. Either way, you will learn many skills and gain new perspectives that will help you in whatever career you choose.
Your study abroad program will probably be just as challenging as the degree program you're in now -- or more so, when you factor in the cultural and language differences you will probably face. It is important to form a strong network of support among your teachers, advisors, and new friends.
Many programs require fluency in a foreign language as a pre-requisite to applying. Unless you're going there specifically to learn the language, you will need to already know it quite well if you are going to be able to keep up with classes (and your new neighbors!). There are some exceptions, of course. You could study abroad in an English-speaking country, or you could go to an institution that offers some of its classes in English. Field studies and volunteer abroad programs may be a little different; they might give you a crash course in language and culture when you arrive.
Studying abroad as an environmental student is unique in some ways. You might be learning about environmental issues in a remote location, without some of the amenities you're used to. You might have to hike everywhere (or at the very least, get around on a bicycle). Of course, "roughing it" will give you an excellent perspective on how other people live -- which brings me to my next point. Environmental issues are somewhat unique in that every single one of them is tied into how people live. Environmental degradation affects people (especially in poorer areas of the world) every day. These issues are interwoven with social issues -- poverty drives up unsustainable resource use, for example. Real-world solutions to environmental problems must address both sides of the coin; and studying abroad may help you to understand these issues more deeply.
Here are some courses that we've seen:
- Natural and Cultural Ecology
- Comparative Ecology and Conservation
- Conservation and Resource Management
- Urban Studies
- Ecosystem Management
- Environmental Studies
- Community Wildlife Management
- Preserving Coastal Diversity
- Marine Protected Areas: Management Techniques and Policies
Studying abroad can open up a whole new world of job prospects for you. For one thing, developing a fluency in a foreign language as well as an understanding and appreciation of a foreign culture will make you especially attractive to employers dealing with international affairs. If you do well in your program, it will show that you are flexible, determined and a hard worker. Or, you might like your program so much that you decide to work in your host country after graduation!
Two of the big career options for those with foreign studies experience are teaching and international business, but you can find a job abroad in any field that you can do at home.
Here are some of the jobs we've seen in which study abroad experience could be helpful:
- Chief of Party for Watershed Management and Rural Development - Jamaica (International Resources Group)
- Director of International Programs - Latin America and Caribbean (American Bird Conservancy)
- Conservation Field Director - Belize (EarthWatch Institute)
- Senior Attorney and Africa Program Co-Director - Washington, D.C. and Africa (Environmental Law Institute)
- Deputy Program Manager for Central African Regional Program for the Environment (US Dept. of Agriculture/Foreign Agricultural Service)
- Marine Biologist - Antarctica (British Antarctic Survey)
- Project Advisor - Tanzania (Ugalla Community Conservation Project)
- Principal Administrator for the Pollution Prevention and Control Division - France (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)
- Environmental Affairs Officer - Kenya (United Nations Environmental Program)
- Campus Career Center, Foreign Exchange page
- Council on International Education Exchange
- EcoJobs, International Careers page
- Hadad, Roxana, "Study Abroad Basics," Fastweb.com
- Institute of International Education
- International Jobs Center, "Jobs with International Environmental Programs"
- The School for Field Studies
- School for International Training, Environmental Study Abroad programs
- University of Wisconsin, Madison, Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, International Programs
- U.S. Dept. of State, Travel and Living Abroad - an indispensable resource; be sure to check Travel Warnings, Country Background Notes, and info on passports and visas