Holly Urquhart - 2011 Program Participant
Our trusty dive boat looking majestic
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I always thought I wanted to be a marine biologist, but growing up in a big city (Hong Kong) I never knew if I just loved the idea of it or the actual reality of it. Doing an international program not only broadened my horizons, but allowed me to gain experience in the field that I have now taken to a post-graduate level.
Why did you choose GVI?
GVI allowed me to travel to a place I never would have had to opportunity to go to otherwise, and it allowed me to learn about the local culture as more than just a tourist. The marine conservation internship in Seychelles seemed like it was designed specifically for me, and the fieldwork and certificates I got while there have since allowed me to go on long-term all-expenses-paid research trips as an undergraduate, not something that is easy to come by!
What was your favorite part about Seychelles?
Just type Seychelles (particularly Baie Ternay) in Google Images and you'll be sold on the location. Private beach, private marine park, beautiful sunsets, why wouldn't you want to go there?
What aspects of your program made it unique?
Being surrounded by staff that were so passionate about their jobs, and being surrounded by other like-minded people was absolutely spectacular. I was 18 when I went there, but now I have friends all over the world, in all different age groups, and all walks of life that I never would have had otherwise; that's something I'm immensely grateful for.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Having a high turnover of volunteers takes its toll, investing time training them, getting to know them, being their friends and caring about them, only to have them leave in a few weeks; it's enough to demoralize anyone from making an effort, NOT. The staff were absolutely wonderful, so passionate and so caring. If you had a problem, they'd be there to help. You knew they would have your back in any situation and would help you through the good times and bad.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I stayed there for 10 weeks, but so much of me wishes I stayed there for the six month option!
Describe a day in the life of your program.
It was usually an early start, around 6 a.m. (earlier if you were on the kitchen chore team and had to make breakfast for everyone!). The best dives were before 7 a.m., when the water was fresh and the fish were all waking up. There were usually three teams of divers throughout the day, the morning crew, the midday crew, and the afternoon crew, and if you were really lucky you would be able to go twice! The divers would head out to their designated site and do surveys for commercial fish count/size or reef fish/invertebrate counts, then enjoy a fun dive after their work was done. Once a week we would do a turtle dive, when we would go and find a turtle and follow them around and monitor their behaviour.
While the divers were out, the remaining people would be designated into the cooking team, the cleaning team, and the tank refilling team to keep life going. On Friday nights we would have a BBQ to celebrate the end of the week/start of the weekend when we were free to explore the area as much as we liked.
What did you enjoy doing on your free time?
Apart from exploring, my newly discovered favourite activity was cooking. I LOVED being part of the cooking team, and even when I wasn't I would try to help out. I was lucky enough to have two chefs in my group of volunteers and would always love it when they showed me how to make things. I never knew how much I loved cooking before!
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
The 24 volunteers were split into three dorms of eight people. While privacy may be an issue for some people, I really liked the communal living style because it was like a giant slumber party each night, except everyone respected each other and there were never issues with noise keeping people awake.
Now that you're home, how would you say your time in Seychelles has impacted your life?
The experience has allowed me to fully realise that I want to be a marine biologist and has given me the edge over other candidates when it comes to real-world field work. I have since completed a degree in marine biology in a top 50 university, done a research project in a lab studying nudibranchs for a semester, and been on two all-expenses-paid research trips to do benthic sampling on a government funded project. I'm now studying nudibranchs at a post-graduate level in the same lab I was able to do a research project in previously.