The Visions of California program is a wonderful adventure that is unique even within Off-Campus Studies.  Getting to travel and explore so much of the state gave me a holistic understanding of California’s people, cultures and history.  Alongside this human element, we also had plenty of time to explore California’s natural wonders.  My favorite parks were Yosemite and Joshua Tree.  The people that I met and the places that I saw in California all became quite special to me because of this program.  Mike, Cathy and Eric were wonderful teachers and guides as we road-tripped together and saw a huge variety of what the state has to offer.  If you think that you know what to expect from a Carleton class, you should go on the Visions of California program and have those ideas completely upended.

— Salvador Vega ’22, CAMS 

The Visions of California program was by far my favorite term at Carleton.  I looked forward to every day on the program, because I knew that new, and often unexpected, experiences would give us a different perspective on California, and our many books and speakers nearly always grabbed our attention.  Because we were simultaneously talking with guests, exploring the landscape, and reading about the people and culture, we were able to grasp much deeper understandings about the complexity of the state while feeling invested in that learning.  It was this immersion that nurtured my interest in place-based learning and taught me how powerful a tool it could be.  That, in turn, informed the rest of my work at Carleton, and pushed me toward my current work in place-based outdoor education.  It was also just a blast.  It is, after all, not every Carleton class that lets students:  climb a mountain, chat with a renowned author, swim in the Pacific, explore LA architecture, dig sedge roots with an Ohlone scholar, and watch a ’60s beach movie, all while calling it all just another day in the classroom!

— McClain Sidmore ’21, History

It is easy to see how that winter term in California a couple years ago had a profound impact on my life – I live out there now!  The program offers students the chance to form a broadened perspective on California as a whole.  It really amazed me how much we packed into 10 short weeks.  I left the program feeling that I had not only learned a whole bunch and met many new friends with vastly different interests, but that I had also began to understand what it meant to live and thrive in an environment like Southern California.  There is no doubt that those 10 weeks, specifically the two in Santa Monica, played a vital role in my eventual journey to the sunshine state after graduation.  I will always have fond memories of the program itself and the relationships I made along the way.  I would absolutely recommend this program to anyone and everyone looking for a good adventure – the program is everything you make it to be!  Besides, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince students to spend their winter term in California as opposed to Northfield, Minnesota!

— Ian Francis ’21, Psychology (Now living in Venice Beach)

Go west!  The Visions of California progam is an adventure that you will struggle to explain to people for as long as you live.  Imagine, instead of spending a winter in Northfield, you spend it across the state of California with a group of people who you will become closer to than you could have imagined.  You’ll read books, watch movies, and admire art.  You’ll see the culture, landscapes, and people that inspired the creativity and history of the state.  In developing a deeper understanding of California, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for what it takes to create, build, and maintain an idea.  Through this program your understanding of what school is and what it can be will be upended as you spend ten weeks outside the classroom, where real life is taking place.

— Jonathan Grinde ’20, English

I felt a deep connection to the people and places I came to know on the Visions of California trip.  Architecture, history, literature, agriculture, visual art, ecology, cultural studies; we studied all of these from Oregon to Mexico.  I had a blast.  It was the term that I did my best writing, and I credit that with the environs I was in, along with the inspiration given to me through Mike’s teaching and the literature we were reading!  I can’t recommend this program enough to those who enjoy life on the road and seeing sometimes familiar places in a new light.  I also had the opportunity to further my learning about the ecology of the Carmel Valley through an internship with one of the organizations we visited, the Santa Lucia Conservancy.

— Jeremy Alsaker ’20, ENTS

The choice to participate in the Visions of California program was among the best I made during my time at Carleton.  While it is true that this program does not take you abroad in the traditional sense, I have rarely felt so immersed in a culture so different from what I experienced growing up. California is an entirely different world – one that this program allows you to explore and uncover slowly, and unexpectedly, from the thunderous roar of Yosemite Falls, to the glow of the golden spike that joined the first transcontinental railroad, to the feel of another’s palm through the U.S./Mexico border wall at Friendship Park. 

But what I really loved about this program was that it not only took us to these places, it also encouraged us to confront their underlying histories:  the years-long environmental struggle for the “second Yosemite,” the pivotal role of Chinese immigrants in our nation’s railroad infrastructure, and the steady diffusion of culture between Tijuana and San Diego despite the meters-high wall between them.  There are stories of struggle and beauty interwoven into every inch of the Golden State, and the opportunity to learn of and remember them is among the greatest I have received. 

Alcatraz. Joshua Tree. Hollywood. The Salton Sea. Visions of California takes you on an unparalleled odyssey of literature, art, and culture. Every day brought something new, something exciting for the diverse array of majors in our group.  I would choose to be a part of this program again in a heartbeat.

— Will Loner ’19, Biology

The California OCS program is an experience of a lifetime.  Regardless of your major or familiarity with California, you will come out of it a changed person.  It’s broad strokes and deep dives simultaneously to render interdisciplinarity on steroids.  It’s an unparalleled opportunity to look Americanness dead in the eye – climate action, liminality, art and science and spirituality and more at the vanguard of industry, innovation, and culture.  It will leave you with a resonance, a feeling of reverence I have come home to again and again years after the program. In the totality of my Carleton experience, these 10 weeks might be the thing I’ll remember in my 70s . . . I have a few souvenirs to eternalize this era:  the razor-sharp teeth from a squid sucker (one of the suctions on a tentacle), new favorite authors, a passion for the California burrito, an authentic writing style and practice, the confidence to trust my own embodied knowledge. Lifelong friendship.  Thanks to Mike’s dedication and content expertise, the curation of this program is as intentional and broadening as it a work of true art.

— Kha Huynh ’19, Computer Science

It turns out that one of the richest and most fulfilling ‘study abroad’ experiences you can have as a Carleton student is not ‘abroad’ at all.   It’s 10 weeks that you can spend being awed by how strange and distinctive California is, led by the eminently wise and capable Mike and Cathy Kowalewski.  The program takes you to places so different from each other that they almost feel like they are in different countries.  And after leaving each place (San Francisco, Monterey, Los Angeles, Yosemite), you come away with a deep understanding of history, ecology, and art and how they are all related.  We met with a wide variety of artists, historians, naturalists, and authors, and I learned so much from each of them.  It was like a fun vacation, but better:  on most vacations, you don’t meet with a new, interesting person almost every day nor do you get to spend time learning and thinking about the places you visit.  In addition to the diverse set of guest speakers and locations, Mike also assembles a crew of Carleton students from many different backgrounds and majors.  As a result, I made a number of lifelong friendships I never would have otherwise!

— Callen Inman ’19, Biology

The Visions of California program was a core part of my time at Carleton and five years later I can honestly and sincerely say that it was a life-changing experience.  I was first drawn to the program during my second winter at Carleton.  I was struggling with my mental health, partly due to the Minnesota winter, so I applied to the University of Texas and planned on transferring back to my home state.  But then I saw a flyer for Visions of California.  I was interested in seeing California because of a class I’d taken in American Studies but my immediate next thoughts were that this could be a warm haven for me during the next Winter Term if I stayed at Carleton.  I applied and was accepted to the program just in time to let the UT know that I would not be transferring.  Looking back now, I am certain that if it were not for the Visions of California program, I would have left Carleton and missed out on so much that Carleton had left to offer me.  

The next winter, I arrived in Sacramento and the rest was a whirlwind.  The experience of traveling through California with my Carleton peers and Professor Kowalewski, who is so passionate and knowledgeable about California, was unique and enlightening.  California is often portrayed in the media.  But traveling by van, stopping by the smaller towns like 29 Palms and Pismo Beach in addition to the larger cities like San Francisco, and talking to local experts in niche California topics allowed us to see the most intimate and intricate parts of the state.  During this program, I developed a deep appreciation and understanding of the cultural and physical landscape of the state of California that most people may never reach. 

  In addition to the content of the program, traveling with my Carleton peers in the two large vans created bonds that are still strong long after the program.  The time in the van, in the hotel rooms and in the many places we stayed sparked conversations with my Carleton peers about life and culture that might not have occurred on the same level while at Carleton or in other settings.  After those ten weeks, the bonds within the group and the connection between the group and California created an invaluable memory and provided a rare insight into California that I am deeply grateful for.  I would encourage anyone with the opportunity to join this program to hop on the van!

— Susy Briones ’18, Psychology

The Visions of California OCS program is a fantastic deep dive into one of the most prominent states in the nation.  There’s nothing quite like seeing the rich history and experiences from the course materials come to life as you hear from fascinating individuals about what California means to them.  This, coupled with the unique experience of road tripping with a group of fellow Carls, makes the journey very memorable.  The exposure to people from all walks of life as well as taking in the beautiful landscapes in person has stuck with me long after the trip.

— Saul Melo ’18 English

My experience at Carleton would not have been the same without the Visions of California program.  When I first heard that we would be traveling in vans for the entirety of the program, I was worried to say the least.  I could not have been more wrong.  There is no better way to experience California than on four wheels.  As you travel up and down the California coast, you will see vistas that leave you speechless, meet people who enrich your perspective on what it means to be a Californian and an American, and learn about the vastly different ways that California has been and continues to be envisioned by novelists, historians, artists, directors and many more.

If I had to pick one word to describe the California OCS program it would have to be ‘immersive.”  I learned more about the state of California in three months than I ever thought possible.  The jam-packed days of field trips, guest speaker presentations, film screenings, museum visits and beach promenades created an immersive learning and living experience that honestly felt like magic.  This trip made me rethink how I understood the concept of ‘place,’ and this perspective has stayed with me, 4 years later.

If I had to pick a second word to describe the California OCS program it would have to be ‘full.’   This program left me completely full to the brim.  From the calming Cabins at Westerbeke Ranch to the basketball courts on Venice Beach to the breathtaking views of Yosemite, our California voyage left me feeling full of knowledge, perspective, beauty, friendship, and food!!  The living and dining experiences you get to enjoy on this program are more than just ‘perks;’ the hotels, cabins, tents, pools, yoga studios, peach orchards, and libraries that make up your immediate surroundings truly help immerse you in whatever part of the Golden State you happen to be in.

California is an extremely complicated place that you really don’t get a full picture of when you just visit L.A. or San Francisco.  If you’ve ever wanted to peel back the curtains on what truly lies behind this mysterious gem of a state, then I encourage you to be a California Dreamer and join this OCS trip.

— Chris Anisowicz ’18, American Studies

This trip was a once in a lifetime experience that I still talk to my friends about!  Especially if you like to learn about a bunch of different things, this is a program for you!  We got to hear stories from a marine biologist doing squid research, a food critique of fancy Bay Area restaurants, an author of the famous book called China Men . . . and many more. Highly recommend.

— Saki Amagai ’18, Chemistry

The Visions of California Program was one of the best trips of my life, and I was so lucky I could fit it into my schedule Senior year in 2017.  Professor Kowalewski does an amazing job organizing the trip and leading the lectures.  We met with dozens of speakers (from novelists like Maxine Hong Kingston to muralists like Paul Botello and Native American activists like Sage LePena).  Not a day was wasted, and I still treasure the sights, experiences, and friendships I was able to make during those 10 weeks.” 

  — Gabriella Chen ’17, Chemistry

I can’t say enough great things about how exciting this program was.  I was a chemistry major at Carleton in my senior year, and I chose this program over group comps in winter – fitting senior thesis and other coursework around this off-campus program needed some planning, but it was totally doable and absolutely worth it!  California has a rich history and art and great stories. You’ll have an amazing 10 weeks with friends who you’ll get to know well and share so much adventure with, and I couldn’t have asked for better from Mike and Cathy who are very knowledgeable, kind, and resourceful!

 — Nayon Park ’17, Chemistry

The Visions of California Program came as an unexpected adventure.  In reality, I was invited by my R.A. as a great summer opportunity; I hadn’t heard of it prior to this.   What I got out of it provided me with some fundamental shifts that were much needed as a person.  I came to Carleton very shy and in many ways unfamiliar with certain facets of American culture:  I grew up in my low-income bubble and had no understanding of what ‘college Life’ meant, academically or otherwise.   During the program, I was able to build strong relationships, which I still keep to this day.  I experienced America in a completely new way; even though it was a small corner of it, I saw so many possibilities for myself as an immigrant.  The Visions of California Program opened up metaphorical doors that have given way to confidence, imagination, dreams, and the understanding that there was so much more available for me.  The people we met, the authors, the places we saw, all founded through stories I could not have fathomed . . . I will never forget this experience and the people that were next to me in these moments.  I am so grateful I got to participate in this program and form the memories that I can still smile about today.

Adalinda (Sanchez) Estrada ‘07, American Studies

The Visions of California program was a great experience for me.  Being a California native I would often take many places for granted, but this program allowed me to view and explore them as a visitor and take in a different view of the state and see everything from its beauty in nature to its rich history.  It also allowed me the chance to explore places I may have never really thought to visit.   From hiking and exploring places such as Mount Shasta, Redding, and Yosemite to the discussions with writers, educators, activists, and artists, to name a few, this program had something for everyone to experience and enjoy.   What I enjoyed most about the program was the people we got to meet throughout the experience and hearing what inspired and drove them in their work.

— Ebony Winston ’05, American Studies/Media Studies

Taking off to California changed my life – because of the intimate way in which we lived and studied together.  I can’t claim to have figured California out, but I learned how to think about it:  to view it as a place of contradictions, of potential hopes as well as dashed hopes, a place of possibility.

— Jocelyn Christensen ’00, Math