Students who turn to NOLS for their semester abroad treasure the experience. Wendy Cirko and Cory McDonald both took NOLS semesters as their semesters abroad last year. Both Spring Semester in New Zealand graduates, shared their reflections on the experience and the education with us recently, and we had to share. Learn more about upcoming semesters in New Zealand here.
Wendy Cirko, 2013 Spring Semester in New Zealand:
They say that college will be the most memorable four years of your life. Here you make new friends, have new freedoms, learn new thing about yourself, and gain knowledge to shape your future. I knew that going into college I wanted to go somewhere that would allow me time to study abroad. This is how I ended up at Salisbury University, majoring in environmental studies and minoring in outdoor education and philosophy.
My sophomore year was ending and my advisor, knowing I liked the outdoors, suggested I check out NOLS for an alternative study abroad experience. I ended up in New Zealand, backpacking, kayaking, and sailing the spring semester of 2013. Getting my time with NOLS to help me earn my degree required work between my academic advisors and department heads, but in the end I received 16 transfer credits. These credits in environmental studies, risk management, and various other fields allowed me to not fall behind in school, and more importantly my NOLS semester gave me a 77-day experience that was more beneficial than any class I could have taken.
No matter where you go, spending a semester abroad is a life-changing event. The fact that I was able to spend this semester in the backcountry with NOLS was amazing and something that I would never consider trading for a more standard study abroad experience. The things I learned: taking initiative, first aid, perseverance, leading your peers, gaining self-confidence, staying positive. The new people I met: my instructors and my nine coursemates. They are the things that I will carry into my future. NOLS has helped me to further my studies, plus the skills I learned will hopefully help me in a future of outdoor education. I know that this experience has made my college years more memorable than I could have ever imagined and I am so thankful that I had this amazing opportunity.
Cory McDonald, 2013 Spring Semester in New Zealand:
I began my NOLS adventure with the intent of gaining experience in outdoor leadership for my major, outdoor recreation. As an active learner, I learn best when I am immersed in a topic, so NOLS seemed like an appropriate path. My goals going into my NOLS semester were to master practical backcountry skills such as map interpretation, route planning, risk management, and taking on leadership roles. Along with achieving these goals, I also gained insight and clarity on what I am passionate about and what is important to me.
Communication is a big part of taking on the leadership role, but the leadership role is only a small part of communication. Throughout the semester I learned how to communicate as an effective follower, an equal team member, and an individual amongst a group. Part of communication is listening and reflecting. By learning how to listen and effectively receive and reflect on feedback, you can change or expand on your self-awareness, ultimately bringing you closer to understanding yourself.
NOLS is an excellent medium for challenging and validating your self-awareness. Being engrossed in the sublimity of the wilderness along with the pure wildness of it manifested, in me, a sense of admiration for the ecological life and the geological processes that have been at work for billions of years. Contributing to this new sense of admiration was learning and practicing Leave No Trace ethical backcountry travel and learning the names of the different wildlife that surrounded me. Learning the names of the surrounding wildlife and how geological formations came to be gave me deeper respect and toward them. Through living amid the wildlife for some time, I became empathetic for the natural world.
I came away from NOLS with a new sense of compassion toward something bigger than myself. I have now added to my degree a concentration in natural resource recreation management and with that I plan to protect and preserve the natural quality of wilderness and provide opportunities for current and future generations to explore the natural world and themselves.