If you’ve been exploring all things Verto Education, you’ve (hopefully) gotten a sense for what Verto’s all about: immersive, experiential learning in some pretty epic places.
And while all the talk of getting college credit for adventuring around the world sounds amazing (and it is!), it might be hard to imagine how that actually translates into real day-to-day life.
You might already know that we offer two types of semesters: On-Campus Semesters in London, Milan, San José, and Madrid, and Field Semesters in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. (We’ve described the differences between the two semesters in this article).
Since our Field Semesters tend to look a lot less like a typical college classroom than our On-Campus Semesters, we want to fill in any gaps.
In the midst of travelling the globe, where and how does the learning happen?!
We’re excited to paint the picture for you, so you can better understand how students’ courses on a Field Semester are integrated with their travels and awesome local experiences.
Ranging from the big picture programming, to students’ weekly and daily routines, this article will take you through what learning with a Verto Field semester actually looks like on the ground.
The Big Picture
Students on a Verto Field semester earn credit just like students at a typical four year college would. Over the span of a program, students will have studied three distinct course subjects from different professors in addition to a Rhetoric and Composition course. Rather than taking all the courses at once though, Verto students take one course at a time which corresponds directly to what they’re encountering in a given part of the world. This structure allows our students to go in depth into topics and connect the themes to their real life experiences in the region.
Students typically focus on one subject (and stay in one region) for four weeks. On the South Pacific program for example, students will study Environmental Science while in Australia, Cultural Anthropology while in Fiji, and Identity/Sociology while in New Zealand.
The Rhetoric and Composition course, which fulfills universities’ Freshman Writing Course requirement, carries through the duration of the program. The assignments for the course are always grounded in the topics students are exploring, so that writing becomes a tool for deeper reflection, exploration and analysis of the themes they care most about.
Consider this prompt from the Latin America program which gets students thinking outside of their textbooks and into the real world:
“Choosing two readings from the Environmental Science reading list and one example from your fieldwork, craft an essay that analyzes the different opinions about who is responsible for safeguarding the environment. How is environmental protection being addressed in Costa Rica?”
Courses will culminate in one major project or essay that students work on throughout. Some subjects, like Spanish, might have occasional quizzes to check for understanding, but in general, courses tend to be project and reflection based rather than test based. In terms of homework, students will typically have 1-2 hours daily of college-level reading to connect their field experience to theoretical concepts.
Weekly programming is structured to give students opportunities to gain authentic, immersive experiences on the ground.
The first few days of every program is dedicated to team building and creating an atmosphere in which students feel supported to learn and grow. The semester kicks off to a thrilling start with local adventure activities like zip-lining in Costa Rica or kayaking in Fiji. Students get to know one another better and determine group norms together through various bonding activities.
In the following weeks, students move around to different settings where they can best learn from the environment around them.
During their Environmental Science course in Australia, students will gain different perspectives about the impacts of climate change, environmental issues and environmental management. Students will meet with stakeholders such as Wildlife Rescue Rehabilitation & Education (WRREA), Rainforest Trust and Australia Zoo to learn and participate in their research and conservation initiatives. Students will also be introduced to land management and wildlife protection programs undertaken by the local councils and will join rangers to restore and protect native ecosystems by assisting with invasive weed control and reforestation. On the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland, students will contrast the inner and outer reef systems, discuss the various challenges faced by the reef, meet with stakeholders, and learn about best practices in preserving this world heritage region.
In addition to classes, students have a biweekly ritual where they meet with “Tuning Groups,” which are peer-mentoring groups meant to help students “tune” their reflective capacities. The small group discussions are facilitated by the program leaders who travel with students from start to finish, offering emotional and logistical support to the group. Through their Tuning Groups, students can integrate what they are learning in and outside of the classroom while improving their communication and listening skills.
On weekdays, half the day is dedicated to class and the other half the day is for activities centered around the local environment and culture.
Classes are run in four hour blocks in order to allow students to have tons of time for hands-on learning. Typically, there will be 30-45 minutes of lecture followed by activities and discussion where students can apply the concepts they’re learning about.
Every seminar either begins or ends with a reflective journal prompt where students are asked to make connections between readings, experiences in the field, and personal experience in the program so far.
To see how all the parts come together, picture this awesome day in the life:
Students wake up to an unbelievable view of the Fijian highlands and the smell of fresh babaku (Fijian doughnuts) frying in the kitchen. They’re spending the week living with a family in a remote village. Mornings are spent with the host family, going about their daily activities: helping out with housework, playing with the kids, and getting to know the community.
In the afternoon, students meet for their cultural anthropology class where they learn about ethnographic research and anthropological techniques of participant observation. The highland village is completely off the grid, so there is no internet available for classwork during this period. Rather, each student has their readings pre-loaded on kindles for remote access, and their instructors create a make-shift classroom sitting together in a circle in the local community center.
The class that week is “Class, Caste, and Chiefdoms: How are the rewards and resources of society distributed?” – students are encouraged to compare and contrast social stratification in the chiefdom with their hometown. In order to gain insight into this question firsthand, the evening features a group discussion with the village chief to learn about the social structure of the village.
By immersing into the local community, students can gather data for the culminating project of their course: producing an original ethnography. Through the intimate homestay experience, students gain genuine insight into Fijian culture and are able to apply the theories and tools they learned in the classroom.
All that field work earns students some much needed downtime, so weekends tend to be for extra adventures and some R&R.
Saturdays are filled with activities that might not necessarily be course related but are an awesome way to see the country. For example, in New Zealand students go white water rafting, visit Hobbiton, and check out some glow worm caves.
Sundays are generally free time for students to use as they’d like. It often looks like relaxing, working on projects, or enjoying the local scenery.
The Bottom Line
Every day is programmed intentionally to give students a hands-on education they could never have in a typical college classroom.
Whether it’s the shift from lecture-based, professor-centric classrooms to student-led learning, or hearing from locals instead of from a textbook, our programs are designed based on the belief that learning should ignite passion and joy.
When you take learning out of the classroom and into the world with a Verto Field Semester, education becomes a treasure hunt, and a pretty unforgettable one at that.