Student panel shares field-based study abroad experiences

October 26, 2023
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Four Saint Michael’s students who participated in semester-long study abroad programs that focused on field-based research came together for a panel discussion on October 16 to share their experiences.

Saint Michael’s College offers study abroad programs in five categories: intensive language, university liberal studies, community-engaged learning, international internships, and field-based research. These students all pursued field-based research in different study abroad locations that focused on climate, social justice or the environment.

Swapnil Jhajharia ’24, Eliza Byrne ’24, Henry Ferrari ’24 and Ben Mogensen ’24 (Photo by Peggy Imai)

Eliza Byrne ’24 (courtesy)

Eliza Byrne ’24 studied climate change and the arctic in Ísafjörður, Iceland, for her spring semester last year. Byrne focused on climate change in the Arctic regions. She studied the geology and hydrology behind the global climate crisis and how people were adapting to these changes in a place that relies heavily on their environment. Byrne also conducted her own research looking at glacial stream discharge and the adverse results of climate change.

“It gave me a glimpse into what it is like to be doing research on a daily basis and gave me the resources to talk with professionals within these fields,” Byrne said.

Byrne’s days consisted of hikes to waterfalls or basalt rock canyons. On field days, she conducted soil quality research or attended guest lectures. Byrne stayed in hostels while she traveled, but one of her most memorable experiences was staying with a host family for a month while she was visiting the Westfjords region of Iceland.

“They were so welcoming right off the bat,” Byrne said. “During dinner they would tell me about their favorite pieces of their hometown and teach me Icelandic. My host brothers showed me the route up the side of the fjord to get the best view of the town.”

Seeing the Northern Lights was one of the biggest highlights for Byrne.

“It was an unreal experience and something that surpassed every expectation I had,” Byrne said.

(Photo by Peggy Imai)

Henry Ferrari ’24 studied people, environment, and climate change in Patagonia and Antarctica during a semester abroad in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Ferrari’s program, which was taught in Spanish, focused on the unique environments and biodiversity of Southern

Patagonia and Antarctica. It also examined the conservation challenges posed by the impacts of climate change and human behavior. The program’s home base was in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, and took site visits to the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego National Park, northern Tierra del Fuego, and Chile. Participants were exposed to southern Patagonia’s biodiversity, ecology, and conservation issues firsthand.

Students also took a 10-day expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula to explore one of the last pristine regions of the world.

Swapnil Jhajharia ’24 studied social and environmental change in Oceania during a semester abroad last spring in Apia, Samoa. Jhajharia also took excursions to Fiji and Hawai’i.

Jhajharia said his program focused on fostering a better understanding of the social changes that Oceania has been through with its history of migrations, colonization, and globalization. Jhajharia said he pursued the field-based study abroad program to develop his anthropological research skills.

Swapnil Jhajharia ’24 (courtesy)

During his excursion to Fiji, he was exposed to the Fiji-Indian population and learned about the history of the slave trade and forced migration.

“Being from India, that was one of my greatest highlights,” Jhajharia said. “I also enjoyed staying in fale on the island of Savai’i and watching some of the most beautiful sunsets on incredible beaches.”

Ben Mogensen ’24 studied the Himalayan environment and a society in transition during a semester abroad in Paro, Bhutan. Mogensen said that, initially, he struggled to adjust and wanted to come home, but with love and support from his family and a good friend at school he “began to acclimate to a place and culture so incredibly different” than home. He said he stuck to a daily routine that included yoga, meditation, journaling— things he struggled to incorporate into his lifestyle at home.

“Over the next 100 days, I felt more like the person I want to be: growth-oriented, patient, and kind,” Mogensen said.

One morning in particular stands out to him. It was mid-April and a few members of his 20-person group woke up at 5 a.m. from an altitude of 13,000 feet and went for a walk. 

“We huffed and puffed another 1,000 feet to a sky burial site just in time for sunrise,” Ferrari said. “My new friends, Iain and Savian, were well-prepared and wasted no time in lighting incense to appease the local deities.”

Surrounded by prayer flags and hundreds of years of religious tradition, Mogensen stood behind them as they watched the sun crest over the mountains in the east.

“Although it felt like I was on top of the world, I felt foreign and temporary,” Mogensen said. “Time seemed to stand still. For a short while, none of us said a word. As we greeted the sun silently – in a place fit for eternity – I felt content.”

The evening ended with what Mogensen described as, “some pretty memorable moments from Bhutan” and he showed a short film he created from the experience.

To learn more about studying abroad at Saint Michael’s College, visit

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