The Turks and Caicos islands are located south of the Bahamas in the North Atlantic Ocean. On these islands, Heidi Hertler is a Resident Director with the School for Field Studies (SFS). After spending nearly 20 years in the Caribbean, her passion for the ocean, science and students has flourished. In this entry, we get a sneak peak into studying abroad and living in paradise.

What brought you to be a Center Director?

I am a School for Field Studies (SFS) alumna. As an undergraduate, this program changed my life and has since greatly influenced all my career choices. I have made the Caribbean my home for nearly 20 years. In this time, I have lived by the SFS philosophy – teach environmental problem solving by working on real problems defined by the communities where you are located. Four years ago, I accepted the position of Center Director at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands. As Center Director, I strive to provide students with a clear understanding of the value and management of environmental resources in a local context. I am extremely excited to live and work in the TCI and in an environment where I can have such an effect on the local community and future scientists.

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
There are over 40 islands and cays that make up the Turks and Caicos Islands and each has many unique aspects – small fishing communities (South Caicos), large cruise ship terminal (Grant Turk), high end development (Providenciales). The SFS Center for Marine Resources is located on South Caicos. South Caicos is a beautiful island rich in natural resources (fishing capital of TCI) and local history (salt industry) with relatively little development (one small hotel). The climate is dry and almost desert like. At the Center’s door step are shallow and deep reefs, extensive seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and white sand beaches. The local community is a confluence of many different cultures – TCI Islanders, Haitians, Dominicans, and West Indians – this diversity is a great opportunity to learn about Caribbean life.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
We all live and work together – research, site clean-up, kitchen crew, card games, outreach, sunset viewing. By the end of the semester, there is not much they don’t know about me or any of our staff.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Center Director?
Working side by side with students and community members to collect data that will directly impact local decisions and environmental policies.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Every day there is a new challenge, where do I start…Managing logistics of a large center on a small, remote island would be the “challenge of the week”.

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
South Caicos is a physically demanding environment. The amenities (fresh water, shopping, food varietySFS-Heidi-Hertler-diving, etc.) are limited relative to a student’s home environment. On top of that, our program is 6 days a week. Most adapt and leave with a great sense of connection to the island. Many of our students apply to return as Interns at our Center or another SFS program.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Embrace the experience. Take every opportunity to explore the country and meet with the people. Disconnect from the internet – learn to play dominoes. Stop and watch the sunset. Take a swim in the ocean every day. Always remember we are all guests in the country.

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
1. Mask, fins and snorkel – you will use them more often than anything else. 2. Sunscreen and bug spray– second in use to mask, fins and snorkel. 3. A desire to be in the field learning.

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
You are living in a community that is different then you are accustomed to – things are better and worse. Study abroad challenges any preconceived ideas that you might have.

To find out more about attending Heidi’s program, follow this link!

Rosa Keller was drawn to Thailand because of her love for Thai food. In fall of 2014, she studied in Khon Kaen, Thailand, through CIEE. At Oregon State University, Rosa is majoring in both Nutrition and Anthropology. During her time abroad, she was able to integrate her knowledge of people and food by conducting a nutrition intervention in rural northeast Thailand.

Rosa and Children l Rosa Keller
Before traveling to Thailand, I had no idea how much I would learn about intervention planning, public health, and group work. Having so much freedom and knowing that the work we were doing was really helping people live healthier lives gave me so much motivation to do my best. The last couple of months of my time in Thailand were dedicated to conducting research, planning community visits, and finally, implementing a public health intervention based on community need.

Our group conducted a nutrition education and a diabetes screening intervention in a rural villageCuisine l Rosa Keller in northeast Thailand. We decided to focus on these topics due to an increasing rate of Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) in Thailand, specifically in the northeast region. Our initial research concluded that Nonsang Village had a high prevalence of T2DM but a low rate of diabetes screening. Additionally, we observed a lack of awareness of healthy portion sizes and dietary practices. Our research in the community led us to develop our intervention.

First, we held a community dinner where we educated villagers on healthy portion sizes, mindful eating, and the biological and behavioral factors that lead to development of T2DM. All of the Rosa1food that was prepared for the dinner was either grown or purchased from the village to ensure that the meal was sustainable. The menu included things like steamed veggies, chili sauces for dipping, omelets, and spicy green papaya salad, with fruit for dessert. The following day, we worked with the Health Promoting Hospital and village health volunteers to hold a T2DM screening session. For both events, there were around 30 participants in a village with a population of around 500 people, which was our expected outcome.

Overall, the intervention was a success; but, most importantly, through our experience we were able to build a strong relationship with the community. I truly hope that our intervention empowered the villagers to eat healthy and be more mindful of their dietary intake. Through this intervention, I was able to learn how community participation is an important asset to a successful intervention.

Jaynie Whinnery is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at Oregon State University. During 2013, she spent nine months in Siem Reap, Cambodia as a Boren Fellow researching biosand water filter sustainability. She also holds degrees from OSU in Environmental Engineering (M.S.) and Mechanical Engineering (B.S.).

The Boren Fellowship provided me with funding to pursue a student-designed program combining research, internship, and intensive language study of a less commonly taught language while abroad. Boren Fellows muJaynie Whinnery l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiast also tie their study abroad plans to U.S. national security and agree to work for the U.S. Government for at least one year following graduation. I have always regretted that I did not take the chance to study abroad during my undergraduate years, and with my research interests focused on global water and sanitation issues, gaining more extensive international experience was the next obvious step. During my time as a Boren Fellow, I chose to live and work in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from January through September of 2013. Siem Reap is a really fun place to live in because, due to the presence of the Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has a stimulating mix of local culture and world-class, tourism-driven amenities.

During my Boren Fellowship I volunteered with two organizations that work to increase access to safe water – Water for Cambodia and The Trailblazer Foundation. Rural areas in Cambodia have particularly high rates of poverty; families are often lacking sufficient nutrition, running water, adequate sanitation, electricity, educational and employment opportunities, and Biosand Water Filter l Boren Fellowship l Cambodia Biosand Water Filter l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiahealth care facilities. According to the United Nations, approximately 38 percent of Cambodia’s rural population does not have access to an improved water source. Both of the organizations I volunteered with are implementing household-scale biosand water filters as one of their primary programs. These water filters are a simple, easy-to-use technology that is proven to be effective at removing disease-causing organisms and other common contaminants in water. My research focuses on the sustainability of these water filter programs by evaluating what factors contribute to continued long-term use.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Boren Fellowship is that it requires, and provides funding for, intensive language study. I began studying the Cambodian language, Khmer, in 2012 through the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon, but nothing can compare to the daily immersion I experienced in Cambodia. Khmer is a pretty challenging language to learn as a native English speaker because there are so many differences in pronunciation. The alphabet has 33 consonants, 23 regular vowels, 11 independent vowels, and several punctuation-based modifiers. During my Boren Fellowship I had formal language lessons four to five times per week, through classes and with private tutors. After a few months, once I was able to hold a conversation, my understanding of the local language helped me form friendships and working relationships that would not have been possible otherwise. Not to mention all of the laughter, as I became a source of never-ending amusement for rural Cambodians who had never heard a foreigner speak their language before. I think they have the best sense of humor in the world. Trying my best to have everyday conversations in Khmer with Cambodians was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience.

Now that my Boren Fellowship is over, I am back on campus and on track to complete my Master of Public Policy degree by the end of the academic year. I am currently writing my final public policy essay on the sustainability of biosaKhmer Intensive Language Study l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiand water filter programs based on my data and observations from my time in Cambodia. My experience as a Boren Fellow further solidified my desire to pursue a career in public service. For that reason, the service requirement for the fellowship is a bonus because it provides additional resources for the job search. I am also hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in public policy or international development, in which case I can defer my service requirement until I finish that degree. Overall the Boren Fellowship was an ideal opportunity to have a unique study abroad experience as a graduate student because I was able to design a personalized program based on my own learning objectives and research interests. I highly recommend applying if your interests align well with the Boren program’s preferences. The initiative offers scholarships for undergraduate students and fellowships for graduate students.

Photo courtesy of Tor Benson
Photo courtesy of Tor Benson

Tor Benson has 21 things to love about inimitable Iceland.  OSU students can find their own this summer by attending the Iceland: Civilization and Sustainability program.

1)    Every McDonalds in Iceland closed

2)    Highest number of books published and sold per capita — with one in ten Icelanders writing a book in their lifetime.

3)    21 HOURS of daylight in Reykjavik and 23 in northern Iceland on the

longest day of the year.

4)    Northern Lights (aurora borealis )-in the winter

5)    Blue Lagoon

6)    Three Miss World titleholders call Iceland home

7)    Two multi-time winners of “World’s Strongest Man”

8)    All Icelanders speak Icelandic, Danish, and English fluently

9)    According The Human Development Index Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world

10)   No standing army- “Our only army is the Salvation Army”

11)   Northern-most capital in the world

12)   Life expectancy of 81, which is three years longer than the US.

13)   70% of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable resources-80% of

Icelandic homes are geothermal heated

14)   Three Hydrogen-powered buses in Reykjavik and public hydrogen filling stations

Photo courtesy of David Noakes
Photo courtesy of David Noakes

15)   Telephone book lists by first name

16)   Iceland has a list of 1500 names that people must choose from to

name their children-or petition the government to approve a name.

17)   A variety of dairy products including Skyr- sorta like thick

yogurt only much better, and flavored yogurt that they put on cereal.

18)   Nightclubs are open until 6 A.M.

19)   Europe’s largest glacier covers 8% of Iceland, and glaciers cover

a total of 11%

20)   You can’t pass fifth grade until you can swim

21)   Licorice-Iceland’s unofficial candy

Reykjavik Skyline, photo courtesy of Tor Benson
Reykjavik Skyline, photo courtesy of Tor Benson

Tor Benson went to Iceland for the alternative energy and fish biology and stayed for the sheep’s head. Our correspondent in Reykjavik takes the gastronomic plunge.

Tor Benson gives an enthusastic review of Iceland's cuisine.
Tor Benson gives an enthusastic review of Iceland's cuisine.

I arrived in Iceland’s international airport of Keflavik on the last Friday morning in August after a seven-hour flight, a difference of seven hours from the west coast of the United States.  I was picked up from the airport by my Icelandic friend, Arnar, who had been a student at my high school in Washington State for a year. We had kept in touch so when I told him I was coming to Iceland he insisted I stay at his house with his parents whenever I wanted.

My first impression of Iceland was about their excellent hospitality and simple but very comfortable, clean homes, a sharp contrast to the smell when you take a shower for the first time. Stepping into my first hot Icelandic shower, I was struck by the distinct smell of rotten eggs. Around 90% of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable forms of energy, used to heat water and homes, and for cooking. The rotten egg smell is due to the sulfur that is present in the volcanic landscape of Iceland, although Iceland has some of the purest water in the world.  My experience with boiling water for cooking was a similar one – I started out using hot water to speed the boiling, until I realized that cold water did not contain the sulfur. Even after a lifetime of living in Iceland, Icelanders still cook with cool water because the taste of sulfur is very distinct, even to them.

When Arnar’s parents came to the U.S. they brought a dish known as Hákarl, shark that has been buried and allowed to ferment for several months. Although it is a traditional Icelandic dish, most Icelanders do not care for it, and I agree with them. Even my Icelandic friend, Arnar, had tried it once before and was not going to try it with us. It has a similar consistency to pickled herring, although it is cut in into half- inch white cubes that resemble tofu in both appearance and texture.

My first weekend in Iceland included a number of customary dishes although all of them were much more enjoyable than the shark. I was asked if I had ever had lamb and I replied with a “ Ja,” but was informed that I had never tried barbequed Icelandic lamb. Icelandic lamb has a distinct gamey flavor due to its free range summertime lifestyle.  Arnar’s family then went to a monthly get-together with friends where I was offered marinated and barbequed reindeer, the most expensive and tender meat that can be purchased in Iceland. There are reindeer in the eastern part of Iceland but the population is tightly managed. Reindeer looks very much like beef, but it is much more tender than most other wild animal meat, such as deer or elk.

I think the dish that will surprise people the most is the cutest bird of the north. Although I was unable to see the birds before they flew south, I was able to taste Puffin at a family meal. The Puffin’s diet consists of needlefish and it tastes much like the fish-eating duck of the United States, although smaller.  Puffin is usually served with a sauce that was a little too sweet for me, in comparison to the rich flavor of the meat.

During my second weekend in Europe, I received an invitation to go Arnar’s family summerhouse for the weekend, about an hour out of Reykjavik. It is very common for an Icelandic family to have a “summer” house where they go to relax after a busy workweek. This is well deserved as Icelanders work an average of 46 hours a week, one of the longest in Europe. We left around 3 p.m. and hit what they considered to be traffic, which consisted of bumper-to-bumper cars for one mile, with only a delay of about ten minutes. As soon as we arrived, the preparation of dinner began, which is what Icelandic society seems to operate around- the next meal.

Icelanders eat very well, with a typical dinner consisting of chicken, baked potatoes, and a salad or homemade pizza. Breakfast is usually bagels or some form of bread with flavored cream cheese such as bell pepper cream cheese, and sometimes cereal.  On weekends, Arnar’s family commonly gets together on Sunday to share a European style breakfast of bread, meat, and cheese.

I have spent between one and three days each week with Arnar’s family since I have been in Iceland. This has allowed me to get a diverse feel for both workdays and weekends, and the food that accompanies. I do, however, feel like I should try to give back to them for everything they have provided me, so I made what Icelanders are always thinking about, the next meal. I had a good recipe for sloppy joes, but it has onions in it, which Arnar’s brother and sister do not care for, and his mother does not like the idea of ground beef. Arnar’s siblings were more willing to try it.  I mixed the beef, bell pepper, tomato paste, onion, and beans, and let it simmer a while, and they ended up enjoying it. Even his mother had a taste. Almost every food item is labeled entirely in Icelandic, even the Cheerios and bagels, which is amazing for a population of only 300,000 people, although this does limit their food choices.

Photo Courtesy of Tor Benson
Photo Courtesy of Tor Benson

I have also tried to experience things on my own, and was able to do just that in a sushi restaurant on Laugavegar, the main street of Reykjavik. One of the many ways that Iceland distinguishes itself is its continuation of whaling of about 150 of both Fin and Minke whales from the Icelandic coastline each year. Iceland contends that the number it is harvesting is sustainable and that it has a right to continue because of its heritage, although this all could change with Iceland’s application and possible inclusion in the European Union. Far from the controversy in a kaffi hus ( coffee house) and sushi bar, were three American who had  randomly run into each other while on a walk in the most northern capital of the world. We all ordered a new dish, mine consisting of two rolls of Minke Whale sushi. Its appearance was not distinguishable from a beefsteak, although it was slightly more tender than any steak I have ever had. It did not have any fat on it like you would typically think when eating whale. It was reasonably priced, running around 700 kroner, about six American dollars.

My Icelandic family is also planning on cooking Icelandic lobster, which are smaller than  Maine Lobster but has a higher fat content due to its northerly location making it “much more succulent” according to Arnar’s uncle. There is, of course, the very Icelandic dish of sheep’s head, which I have yet to taste. This includes eating the facial muscles of the sheep, which Arnar’s grandma particularly enjoys. Many of these dishes are not commonly eaten in Iceland, although they have a very strong desire to hold onto traditions, including the old ways of preparing food, but this is mostly a once a year event during Thorrablot, a feast in January. Icelandic winters are long and dark with only about four hours of daylight in the winter which continues to make socializing and food a major part of Iceland’s culture.


OSU students can study in Iceland on the Civilization and Sustainability program in summer, 2010.