Field Courses at White Mountain School

Field courses are a great way to learn what you can’t learn in a classroom. In this podcast, White Mountain School student Sarah Abbott discusses the different types of field courses available at WMS and how field courses can help expand learning horizons. 

John Maher: Hi, I'm John Maher. I'm here today with Sarah Abbott, a student at the White Mountain School, a private college prep day and boarding school in New Hampshire. Today we're talking about field courses. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah Abbott: Hi. Thank you.

Field Courses at White Mountain School

John: Sarah, tell me a little bit about White Mountain School's field courses. What are they?

Sarah: During the field course, we go to a place where you can better learn a topic. Usually, topics that you can't fully understand or comprehend in their entirety in the classroom. There are maybe 8, 9, 10 options, I couldn't tell you, to all different things that are of interest.

John: Depending on what your course of study is or what you're interested in, you can do a different field course that suits you.

Sarah: Yes. For the most part, I've always gotten my first choice, but there's always an option. There are outdoor ones where you can go and learn about an outdoor place, and also adventure. There are ones that are indoors-based, and you'll see there's one where they study New Hampshire politics. I know that they went down to the capital and they visited significant political places. There's one where they studied theater, and they went to New York. There's pretty much one for anything you can think of.

John: How often do students do these off-campus field courses?

Sarah: There's one in the fall and there's one in the spring.

Field Courses in Other Countries

John: Do you tend to do one that's a little closer to home, and then one that might be a trip to another country or something like that? Are the trips to other countries that people sometimes go on -- are those more rare?
Sarah: It depends on which ones you sign up for and which ones fit you better. For instance, if you sign up for the DR trip, to go down to the Dominican Republic and study poverty, as well as volunteer, you're more likely to get picked to go on that trip if you have shown interest in those topics. If there happens to be multiple away field courses where you have a lot of interest in those topics, and you’ve a lot of skill, [you might do more]. For example, you might have taken a lot of the classes in that area, or have done a lot of volunteering, and you're really a good people person, you might be more likely to end up on those trips.

Benefits of Field Courses

John: What do you think that the benefit of a field course is, for the students at White Mountain School?

Sarah: I really think that there are some things that can't be taught in the classroom. You can repeat what it says in the textbook, but you don't really understand until you do it, or you see it, or you've been there.

John: You're a senior this year at White Mountain School?

Sarah: Yes.

John: What are some of the field courses that you've done in your time here at the school?

Sarah: My first field course was the Physics of Climbing, and then I went to Iceland, followed by the Dominican Republic. This fall, I will be going to Arizona. The Physics of Climbing was where we actually went out. We did a little bit of climbing, but we talked about a lot of things like how the rope systems work, which was really nice when I went into Physics the following year. What else? We talked about fall factor, how that's calculated.

In Iceland, we talked about the peopling of a country, which was something that I didn't ever think about, because Iceland is just this far off place. Iceland is also this place that didn't really have the sort of peopling that you would expect. There's this day, and we were just driving through. We were trying to get to a location. A river had changed course a little bit, and we just couldn't get there. It made me think, "This is how peopling works, you just can't get there. These are the things that affects you.”

John: Interesting. What about the Dominican Republic? What did you study while you were there?

Sarah: We looked at poverty and volunteering, and also foreign cultures, just to understand cultures other than your own. We helped build a preschool. [We were] just talking to people and being really respectful, making sure that we were coming to ask them what they needed, not to tell them what they needed, and really just be what we could be to them. Arizona, which is the one I'm going on this fall, is a desert ecology trip. There's a really interesting set of life zones that's super unique to that area that we're going to go and look at.

Field Courses and College Prep

John: How do you think that these field courses really set you up, in terms of you going off to college next year, and maybe what you want to study in college? How do you think that the field courses set you up for your field of study, or just the process of learning?

Sarah: As much as there is a curriculum for these courses, in a lot of ways there is also the opportunity to pick what you're going to do, because I've gone on these field courses and have been like, "I'm interested in this." When we were in Iceland, they have this brand of yogurt that they're really famous for, and I was like, "There has to be something to this." We ended up talking about the breed of cows they have there, and what's going on with that.

It is about picking your own course of study, and figuring out that you really do have a choice in that. It helps you think about what you're interested in, and what questions you could ask, and where you could take those.

John: I think that in college, you're looking into studying food systems and things like that. Again, maybe that yogurt example that you found in Iceland sparked something in you that said, "Where did this yogurt come from? What were the cows that gave that milk, that made that yogurt?" Maybe it started to make you think about the whole process of how we get our food, and where we get our food from. Is that true? That that helped to push you in that direction?

Sarah: Yes. I find little bits of interesting things that I can really internalize and think about, and really put into my own course of study. To have new ideas put into my head that I really couldn't have come upon without just being in a place, being like, "That's really interesting." Being in another place and being like, "That same idea is here too.” Even though these courses of study are actually quite different.

John: You're seeing Iceland, and you're seeing that yogurt thing, but then you're going to the Dominican Republic, and you're seeing maybe the poverty there, or you're seeing food issues there, and trying to figure out how are these people getting enough to eat, and where is that coming from. You're realizing that all over the world, food is an issue, and so it feeds into that idea of yours, and that interest of yours in food and where food comes from.

Sarah: Yes. That was a really good way to phrase it.

John: It sounds like the field courses have been really good. Do you have a final statement on what you think the field courses mean for the White Mountain School in general?

Sarah: I think they mean that there isn't really one way to learn. I feel like that's a constant thread here, where if you want to learn something and it's hard for you in a traditional way it's learned, the teachers here will go the extra mile to help you understand that and make that clear. That just means a lot. I think this is just another example of that, of really making sure that every type of person can learn.

John: Well, that's really great information, Sarah. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Sarah: Thank you. It's great to be here.

John: For more information, visit the school's website at, or call (603) 444-2928.


371 West Farm Road  •  Bethlehem, New Hampshire 03574  •  603.444.2928
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day school for students grades 9-12/PG.

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