First-year programs at Rollins College provide a warm and thorough welcome to the campus thanks to the many efforts of Rollins Explorations. In 2009, Rollins launched a one-of-kind opportunity for a handful of first-year students to kick-start their freshman year before they even stepped on campus. The first known program of its kind on the national academic landscape, participants in the First Year Field Experience began their college careers in exotic and engaging locations across the globe weeks before the school year officially commenced. In 2010, two First-Year Field Experiences allowed students to spend 10 days on an Environmental Studies Costa Rica trip plus Rollins launched an intensive 23-day Shanghai language immersion trip that same year.
Summer 2009 marked the launch of the Rollins College First-Year Field Experience, which took 12 eager students on a 10-day adventure through Costa Rica’s rugged landscape. The trip, which was actually a two-credit environmental studies course, offered students the chance to study flora and fauna in Costa Rica’s world-renowned protected areas and national parks.
Forty pre-freshman students applied for the summer 2009 First-Year Field Experience to Costa Rica, pleasantly surprising faculty and administrators with its popularity. According to Associate Provost for Internationalization Barry Allen, the students who applied were overwhelmingly the most promising students in the admissions pool: dean scholars and honor students who all were previously top achievers in high school.
Allen led the trip and recalled that he left with a dozen kids from around the country and came back with Rollins students. “These aren’t just trips, they’re courses,” Allen said of First-Year Field Experiences. After completing an intensely competitive application process, accepted students tackled a hefty load of assigned reading and submitted a summary essay prior to departure.
As far as Allen has discovered, an international abroad program for incoming freshman is something that’s highly progressive in the academic community. “I’ve heard that some colleges run a semester-long abroad experience in the fall. But I don’t know of any institution that is doing this on an international scale in the summer before the freshman year.”
Beneath the obvious allure of a summer adventure combined with academic credit, the First-Year Field Experience served one other critical function: it gave new students the chance to begin their life in college with confidence and ease. Over the course of the 10 days students spent abroad together, they formed a close peer group that continued on into the new school year. “I still see the Costa Rica group hanging out together on campus,” said Allen.
“The Costa Rica trip was an absolutely amazing experience,” said Emily Sessoms (Class of 2013). “I still can’t believe I got to study abroad with a school I hadn’t even started attending yet.” Sessoms echoes Allen’s sentiments on how the experience makes the transition into college easier. “It definitely relieved a lot of the pressure of starting at a new school,” Sessoms recalled. “I’m still friends with everyone on the trip. It changed my whole freshman year.”
Since the First-Year Field Experience is anchored in academics, these new Rollins students also started to get an idea of what would be expected of them in college. “These kids made the transition from high school student to college student on that trip,” Allen said proudly. “When they got to campus in the fall, they hit the ground running.”
In summer 2010, two First-Year Field Experiences took place: the 10-day Environmental Studies Costa Rica trip plus an intensive 23-day Shanghai language immersion. The Shanghai trip, led by Rollins Lecturer Li Wei, was a beginner-level, five-credit Mandarin Chinese language course designed to catapult students beyond the 101 level and into 102 for fall 2010. In fact, Wei described this particular field experience as “transporting the entire 101 course to China.”
“Thanks to an exchange partnership with Shanghai University, students studied in classrooms weekday mornings, received free tutoring by native speakers weekday afternoons, and then engaged in a multitude of cultural activities and excursions [such as a visit to the World Expo 2010] in Shanghai and its neighboring towns,” explained Wei. “This trip was a total language immersion encompassing everything from food, culture, history and art.”
For now, only a handful of students are able to participate in the First-Year Field Experience. However, as the program expands, Allen hopes the College can offer this transformative experience to many more students. Rollins already attracts a great deal of students who specifically choose the College for its commitment to global citizenship and multitude of study and service abroad opportunities. As the First Year Field Experience expands and attracts attention, faculty and administrators expect that even more hopeful scholars will put Rollins College at the top of their list in the hopes of engaging in this exciting pre-freshman adventure.
Associate Provost for Internationalization