I attended the Summer I session to AU and NZ this year and I could not be happier. The program is very travel intensive, with frequent day trips in both countries. There were always planned activities, things to do, places to see, and people to meet. One of the most valuable aspects of this experience, for me, was having a chance to meet indigenous people in both countries and hear their stories related to environmental stewardship, colonization, history, culture, and modern politics. Not only do you witness and learn about the impacts of colonization on the environment, but you gain a deeper understanding of how colonization affects the people who originally lived in these countries. In this way humans and the environment are considered as a single issue, rather than being separate. Plus you're experiencing people's culture and hearing their stories first hand. Another key topic of this program was ecological restoration. You have the chance to see restoration projects in the works and are able to help with the realization of these projects. Overall this program gave me a greater appreciation for the relationship humans have with the environment and how we have negative and positive impacts on the world around us.
The accommodations for the program are very nice. The cabins in AU are much better than the usual cabins at campgrounds (at least from my experience) and the food is amazing! You are able to be fully immersed in the environments in both AU and NZ. In NZ the Prime family is beyond amazing and they make you feel like part of the family. Plus staying in their Marae is a wonderful time to really get to know fellow students. Our group bonded a lot during our time in NZ! In the end, our group became incredibly close and we all have left AU as friends.
The academics of this program are not quite as scientific as I had hoped, but I'm still very pleased with it overall. You do have to think critically and be a bit self directed in terms of learning from the excursions and activities. There are some lectures as well to supplement field activities. If you go into everything as just a vacation, you might not get as much out of it, other than a fun trip. But if you keep an open mind and are willing to learn from everything and everyone, you'll come away with a lot of knowledge! It's also important to take lots of notes, even in the field. The academic work was somewhat disorganized, but the academic staff all responded well to feedback. The main issues were a lack of grading rubrics and not having a whole lot of time to prepare for the final exam. But it's still a great program!
I also enjoyed having some free time in both NZ and AU. My group got together to plan activities during our time away from the program and we all had a great time. We were able to experience some night life, go on day trips to beautiful locations, and even snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef! Definitely worth the money to take some day trips, like the GBR in AU and the islands off the coast of Aukland in NZ. Rangitoto Island is beautiful!
Finally, the staff at SFS are so wonderful! I had the unfortunate experience of getting very sick during the last week of my stay in AU. I ended up being sick for 2 weeks and having to stay at the centre for an extra week. The staff allowed me to stay at the centre and made sure I was very comfortable. They also helped me open cases with my insurance companies, took care of scheduling doctor appointments and transported me to said appointments, and helped me with rescheduling my flights. If anything happens during your stay, rest assured that you will be well taken care of! I was glad to have so much help and to have received so much generosity from the staff (both at the centre and at SFS headquarters). I can't thank SFS enough for the help they gave me during my illness!
I was on the fence about going to this program at the beginning, but I am so glad I went. It's worth every penny! There's no way you can get an experience like this on your own. Financial aid, scholarships, and fund raisers really help to lighten the bill. I was able to cut my total costs almost in half this way. And for what I paid, I couldn't have done everything that we got to do if I traveled on my own! I met so many amazing people and had an absolutely wonderful time. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.