International Programs News

Stories from the Maiden Voyage of "Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems of Chile"

Spring Break 2017, CoF International Programs launched the maiden voyage of the first Forestry faculty-led program to Chilé, “From the Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems in Chilé”. The week-long program was led by OSU professors Chris Still, Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke, and Dave Shaw with the goal of introducing U.S. forestry students to Chilé and the comparisons between forestry practices and ecosystems in Chilé and the Pacific Northwest.

18 students from different background, majors, and campuses were a part of this new program, including several Chilean students from the Universidad Austral de Chilé (UACh). Arriving in Chilé, the group teamed up with Camilla Tejo, a Chilean researcher who has been collaborating for several years with OSU’s forestry department as part of the Chilé Initiative. Together, Chris, Carlos, Dave, and Camilla led their class on an explorative mission from the Andes to the ocean.

The first day of the program began in the mountains. The class visited the Alerce Constero National Park where they hiked to see the “Great Grandfather Alerce” tree; one of the oldest and most iconic trees in Chilé with a birthdate over 3,500 years ago.

Next, they visited the Universidad de Austral where they met with Chilean students and faculty members Oscar Thiers, Iván Díaz, and Antonio Lara. They visited the university’s research and discovered that the research being conducted in Chilé is very similar to the silvicultural research at OSU. They also got the chance to visit the university’s field station, San Pablo de Tregua.

Day three is what most students agree was the highlight of the trip. Oscar led faculty and students on a day-long hike into the Chilean forest - an environment not so different from the lush green of the Pacific Northwest. Students gained hands-on-experience as they took measurements along the way with assistance from Oscar and the other group leaders. Students also got an unexpected look into Dave Shaw’s passion for mistletoe. The end of the hike was marked by a massive, ancient beech tree (genus nothofagus). Chris Still remarked that this moment was his favorite of the program.

Returning from their journey into the woods, Antonio and Ivan split the group into teams and assisted them in a series of activities culminating in team presentations. That night, everyone gathered around to celebrate a full day with some traditional Chilean barbecue organized by Carlos and the head of the UACh research station.  

The next morning, the group began the “Sea” aspect of the “Mountains to the Sea” program and caught a boat for Chiloé Island where they settled in for lunch in Puerto Varas, a town nestled among a series of volcanoes and overlooking the biggest lake on Chiloé. One more ferry ride, and the OSU team met up with researchers at the Senda Darwin Biological Field Station. That evening, one of Darwin’s rangers took students on a nocturnal trek into the island’s forest to hunt for bioluminescent fungi.

The final day of the program began with a trip to the western cape of Chiloé where they took a boat out onto the ocean waves. While examining landscapes they had walked through only days before and sighting an active volcano guttering puffs of smoke, the group spotted a colony of Humboldt penguins perched on ocean rocks. This was an unexpected treat since the penguins were believed to have already begun their seasonal migration away from Chiloé. This was especially interesting to Carlos Gonzalez and he reflects on this moment as his favorite of the journey.

Once again on solid ground, students were given free time to explore the historically-rich city of Ancud, the second largest city on Chiloé hosting a variety of museums, shopping locales, and eateries.

On their last night in Chilé, the whole group attended a traditional curanto Chilean feast – a special type of stew originating on the Archipelago of Chiloé which combines a variety of meats and seafood. Cooking the curanto is a fascinating and collaborative process that starts with the digging of a large pit. The bottom of the pit is lined with smoldering rocks, then a giant, pit-wide, leaf is layered on top. The next layers include mussels, clams, and another leaf, then lamb, chicken, pork, another leaf, then potato, bread, pastries, another leaf, etc. until the pit is filled. Everything is weighed down with a tarp and more rocks. The OSU group’s last night in Chilé was spent with new friends, great food, and – as Chris Still notes – a small dance party.

Some students chose to remain in Chilé for a few more days to further explore the country’s cities and diverse landscapes. According to Carlos Gonzalez, a native Chilean, these landscapes include high-altitude geysers, moving glaciers, massive fields of blooming wildflowers, the virgin forests of Patagonia, and deserts where the world’s oldest mummies have been excavated, so alien that they were used to test NASA’s Mars rover. One student, Cameron Minson, chose to stay on in Chilé for a Spring Term internship.

For many students on the program, this was their first time leaving the United States. In a single week, they were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different culture, discover international forestry practices and research, and explore the incredible diversity of Chilé’s ecosystems. Chirs Still believes that travelling internationally is an invaluable asset to education that “helps students grow as people, see things in a new light, and expand their horizons”.

Over Spring Break 2018, Chris Still and Carlos Gonzalez will once again be leading OSU students on the faculty-led program, “Mountains to the Sea: Ecosystems of Chile” for a whole new adventure. Click here for more information on this educational tour of a lifetime and how you can apply to join the 2018 trip. Deadline to apply is January 9th, open to graduate and undergraduate students.  


- Written by Rebecca Leclere, CoF International Programs

13 Weeks as New Zealand Foresters

In the summer of 2017, Oregon State University students Brad Pfeifer and Zach Leslie journeyed to the South island of New Zealand to begin thirteen week internships with the Scion Research Institute and Ernslaw One Ltd. Along the way, they gained valuable skills in the business of professional forestry, formed international ties with coworkers and local people, and explored the cultural, historical, and environmental diversity of New Zealand.


Click here to hear from Brad Pfeifer, recently returned to the U.S., as he recounts his time abroad and the experiences he will never forget from this journey of a lifetime.

An Adventure Begins in Alpine Europe

Carter McGowan is an OSU senior in Renewable Materials. Carter has traveled before as an exchange student with ESB in France, but his quest for international education didn't stop there. This summer, he joined the faculty-led program "Sustainability of the Built Environment in Alpine Europe" which takes students through Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Croatia. Following this two week program, Carter decided to remain in Kuchl, Austria for the 2017-2018 academic year as a Forestry intern. Click here to share in his journey so far. 

Forest Monitor blog - an Interview with Klaus Puettmann

OSU professor, Dr. Klaus Puettmann, led a group of graduate students on a field course to Italy this past summer studying the social and ecosystem interactions connected to the centuries-old forest of Vallembrosa. Check out this Q&A interview from Forest Monitor blog between Klaus and Dr. Marco Mina of the Swiss Federal Research Institute following up on the program's maiden voyage.

My summer with the birds of Madagascar

Here at the College of Forestry our International Programs Office loves to help students realize their dreams and unleash their potential in internship, study, and research opportunities. Every student has a passion for why they study what they do, and we are happy to support you in your endeavors to the best of our ability. Whether you're an ecampus student, double or triple major, never been outide of the U.S., or are a seasoned international traveler, we will work with you to find the right experience for your needs, budget, and time.

Just this summer, one of our Natural Resource students, Nina del Rosario ventured to Madagascar to research and work with an organization called Operation WallaceaNina is an ecampus student in Natural Resources through the College of Forestry, and this a brief window into her summer in Madagascar and how she got there!



 (Meeting a Madagascar Scops-owl)


This summer I spent 6 amazing weeks working with biodiversity survey teams in Madagascar. Although I have been lucky enough to spend most of the last 10 years living and traveling around Europe, I had very little experience traveling to remote and rural locations, so camping near the edge of the Mariarano Forest in a remote corner of a developing island nation was quite an eye-opener for me. 


When I made the decision to go to Madagascar, I was a student taking all my classes online. Studying online is very convenient and I mostly love it, but when you are studying subjects like wildlife and natural resources, there is something lost when you spend a lot of time indoors in front of a computer. You can read books and watch documentaries about a place, but it’s not quite the same as physically being there. I was looking for opportunities to gain fieldwork experience and came across Operation Wallacea’s website (www.opwall.com). What I liked most about Operation Wallacea was that their work is conducted at a high academic standard, which attracted researchers and students from the world’s leading universities, but they were also very committed to the communities they worked in. 


Operation Wallacea (also known as Opwall) offers fieldwork expeditions in 10 different countries—university students can either join for 2-4 weeks as a research assistant or 6-8 weeks (depending on location) as a project student. Students pay a fee which includes camping accommodation, meals, and training. Of all the locations available, I was most intrigued by Madagascar because of its unique endemic wildlife, and it also happened to be the best site for GIS and landscape ecology projects, which were my primary interests. 


Once I signed up and paid my deposit, there were a few things I needed to do in the weeks and months before the expedition. Although Opwall provided tents and meals, there was a detailed kit list which included everything from hiking boots to anti-malarias. The one item which turned out to be quite important was a good headlamp, especially if one wanted to join any night surveys. I found a high-lumen GRDE headlamp for about $20 on Amazon which worked so well I regularly loaned it out to others with lower powered headlamps.


I also needed to arrange academic credit through Oregon State—my advisor helped me with the paperwork for NR 406 (Projects) and I found a faculty member to mentor and grade the assignments I would submit once the project was over. I also applied for funding through the College of Forestry’s Experiential Education Fund and the Dean’s Investment Fund. Even though I was a part-time distance student who never met any of Oregon State’s staff in person, I was really surprised at how enthusiastic and supportive everyone was about my participation in this expedition.


All Opwall students arranged their own flights into Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city. Once at the airport, our wonderful guide Armand helped us get situated. After spending a night at a hotel near the airport, we embarked on a 2-day road journey—the first day we traveled across the central highlands of Madagascar to the city of Mahajanga, and the second day was in 4x4s to the campsites. The campsites are themselves like little cities, with camp managers and staff to prepare our meals and keep everything running. “Showers” involved buckets of cold water and we missed many modern conveniences, but otherwise we were comfortable and well taken care of.



(The main base camp near Mariarano village)


The camp managers kept a schedule of each day’s surveys and any other events like lectures and socials. Every day there would be several surveys going on including herptiles, lemurs, inverts, and birds. All surveys were open, so each day I was free to join any survey I wanted and many students made a point of joining each survey at least once during their time there.



(Coquerel’s Sifakas regularly visited the camp)


My project involved birds, so the two most relevant surveys for me were bird point count surveys and mist netting surveys—both equally interesting but very different. Bird point count surveys involved walking down a route and stopping at pre-determined points to observe and record birds. Most birds weren’t actually visible, so we had to identify them by song which was very challenging at first, but the ornithologists were very keen to teach us. For mist netting surveys, the bird team would set up mist nets at a location (which would rotate every 2-3 days) and spend the morning catching birds, recording their measurements, banding them, then releasing them. This was a great opportunity for us to handle birds and see them up close. Most of the birds caught were common species, but every once in a while a surprise would land in the net—one morning I was lucky enough to hold a Madagascar Scops-owl. To be able to handle such a beautiful creature and contribute to its conservation was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.