Lauren in Taos

Lauren is a sophomore participating in the first fall term at SMU’s campus at Fort Burgwin in New Mexico. A recipient of the University Scholar and Rotunda Award scholarships, she is taking courses including geology and engaged in service-learning at Taos.

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The Taos experience

Coming to SMU-in-Taos was the best decision I have ever made in my academic life. Every day I brag to my friends and family about the amazing experiences I’ve had while living and studying here in Taos, New Mexico. We do everything out here! Just last weekend we went hiking, fly fishing and rock climbing. How many kids in Dallas can say that?!

When my parents call and ask me what I’ve been up to, I hardly know where to start.
I’ve sand-boarded the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado; I’ve gone rafting on the Rio Grande; I’ve camped out under the stars on the brim of the Grand Canyon; and the semester is only halfway through.

Classes here are incredibly small and intimate; allowing you to have a much richer learning experience than you normally would, even at a small private school like SMU in Dallas. In service-learning, a course component that provides students the opportunity to work with nonprofit and community-based groups, I get class credit for picking apples, drying herbs, and weeding asparagus crops – all the while, I’m surrounded by the breathtaking Sangre de Cristo Mountains. How amazing!

Sometimes I have to stop in the midst of everything and remind myself that I am in school, and that this is my classroom. I mean seriously, where else do you learn about Geology by hiking up a snow-capped mountain and picnicking by a glacial lake? Where else can you count 10 shooting stars on your walk to the library? And when else have you woken up before class to one day find your campus surrounded by hills of snow-covered pines, glittering in the morning sun?

During our free time, we enjoy the Taos culture and town life, wandering in and out of little stores and restaurants, listening to live music in the plaza and meeting the unique people who have lived here all their lives. When the weather permits, we build bonfires and roast marshmallows. And when it is snowing outside, we cozy up by the fireplaces that are in our adobe dormitories, called casitas.

Besides the lessons I’ve learned in class, living in Taos has helped me really understand, perhaps for the first time, what it means to be part of a community.

Back in Dallas, although I tried, it was hard to get to know your professors personally when you were one face in a hundred. Here in Taos, I have one-on-one lessons with professors whose sole reason for being in Taos is … me! The extremely small class sizes (ranging from 1 student to 10) translate to amazing flexibility. Our professors go out of their way to make sure we are getting the most out of our Taos experience. Where else are classes tailored to meet your needs so precisely?

The classroom is only one way my professors and colleagues interact. We also eat meals together in the dining hall, where the kitchen staff knows us all by name and surprises us with special treats. Almost every day I leave class, only to find myself laughing and joking with my professor over a bowl of Ginny’s soup.

I honestly feel as though the Cheers theme song was better written for us: “SMU-in-Taos- Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”

I consider it a great privilege to be participating in a program where the directors know and care about each one of us. No program is without flaws, especially not one that is brand new. And yet I can honestly say that any time I’ve had a question or a concern, I have been able to sit down with the directors and personally voice my dilemma. They really listen, and immediately, steps are taken to solve the problem.

Never before have I been surrounded by a group of faculty and professors who have taken such a personal interest in making sure I am getting the most out of my academic experience. We are truly spoiled out here.

Already, my fellow students and I are apprehensive about returning to Dallas and leaving SMU-in-Taos. We joke that we will have to start a support group, as we will surely be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal upon re-entering the reality of Dallas.

In the meantime, we are all enjoying our time here to the max! Although I have some suggestions for improving the program next year, I can honestly say that I have loved every minute and would not have changed anything about this semester.

Basically, all I can say is, you are crazy if you do not take advantage of the incredible opportunity that is SMU-in-Taos.

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