Learning in the Jungle vs. Learning in the Classroom
June 4, 2013   //   By:   //   Articles, Destinations, Ecuador, International, Service Trips   //   Comments are off

It feels to me that as our world and society change, the concept of learning has also been changing. I’m not sure if this is something that has happened on purpose, in order to keep up with the constantly shifting ways in which we do things; or if it is a process that is just occurring naturally, like everything else that adapts and evolves. Either way, I am extremely grateful to have been given as many opportunities as I’ve had during my time in school to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting.

A few of these opportunities included several trips to the Ecuadorian rainforest with Sustainable Horizon/ Educational Travel Adventures. The lessons that I’ve learned living in a jungle for two or three weeks at a time have had a huge impact on shaping my future academic and career goals. I would argue that I received as much out of these experiences as I had sitting in lecture halls for semesters at a time, if not more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have gained so much during my time in school. Learning in a classroom of course has its advantages. For example, lecturing is a great way to teach students large, big-picture concepts. In a conservation class, teaching about the dangers of wildlife trafficking and the importance of protecting a certain frog or bird species is very valuable. However, when students are actually living in an area that is directly affected by an issue, something changes. They become close with the people whose livelihoods are suffering due to an illegal activity such as trafficking in the rainforest, as opposed to just reading some statistics off of a PowerPoint slide. At some point, the problem becomes their own. I have seen several instances where students have become impassioned by an issue they see while traveling, and are motivated to go on and do amazing things in that field. I believe that if they had not partaken in this experience firsthand, it would not have been as personal and may not have had such a strong effect.

Another amazing advantage that a student can receive due to traveling abroad is the unlimited possibility of connections that this type of trip could unlock. Our world is growing increasingly more competitive, and sometimes going to school is simply not enough. Professors and employers love to hear of students seizing opportunities such as these. It shows that they are inspired and self-motivated, and makes people want to work with them. During an interview, it is great to have a story or experience of something that you learned during a hike through a jungle to fall back on. It sets you apart, and makes people want to learn more about what you have to offer.

Likewise, any connections that were made during time spent traveling will always be there for future experiences. For example, after visiting Ecuador for two years in a row with a club from my school, I set up my own trip this past winter and traveled down by myself. I stayed with my host family and partook in research at a local ecological center, an experience that I am sure any of the previous group members who visited would have no problem setting up as well. Again, this is something that would have never been possible for me if I had decided that my education ended in the classroom.

I would also argue that one of the most important lessons gained from my international experiences is the simple realization of how big the world is. When you start to pay attention to people that you encounter abroad, the potential to learn is almost overwhelming. I was really astounded by how much I discovered every day. I would ask my host parents questions about their country, their lifestyle, their jobs and their government, how they came to live in the jungle, if they liked living in South America; really everything that could be asked. I was so curious to learn more about a culture very different from our own, and they were more than happy to answer, and respond with their own questions… it turns out that to them, I was just as curious and interesting! Finding and sharing unique differences and similarities among our cultures is what really brought me as close to my host family and community as I am. Again, this is the type of experience that simply cannot be learned in a textbook

Whether visiting an area for a few weeks, or studying abroad for a whole semester, I think it is extremely important for students to travel at least once during their high school or college career. Combining classroom learning with on-the-ground field work gives unlimited opportunities and motivation for students to pursue any area or field they are interested in. Additionally, skills such as strengthening your knowledge of a foreign language, learning how to build a greenhouse, or setting up science programs for children are all valuable tools that can aid students in figuring out where their lives will take them after the classroom learning is over.

Ryan Roberts
About the Author :

Ryan Roberts recently received his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Conservation Biology and a minor in Recreational Resources and Protected Areas Management from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. He is currently living in Whitesboro, NY and plans to move to Fort Collins, Colorado in August 2013 to pursue his Master of Science degree in Conservation Leadership at Colorado State University. He has traveled abroad six times in the past five years, seeing amazing sights such as Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. During the second year of his graduate program, he will be living in the Peruvian amazon for seven months! He has really found his passion in life through traveling, and plans on working with communities in developing countries on various natural resource issues, including community conservation and ecotourism.