Jess McGovern - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

A desire to see as much of the world as possible over my lifetime, while having a positive impact on the world we live in.

Why did you choose GVI?

A lifelong love for animals and the conservation of wildlife. I want to be involved in a career in this field, but did not pursue sciences at university. This GVI trip allowed me to further my learning through a hands-on experience in wildlife research and conservation.

Pride of lions at a reserve in South Africa
The reserves lion pride having a morning stroll.

What was your favorite part about South Africa?

The nature. The vast variety of flora and fauna, and the breathtaking scenery and clearest night skies I've ever seen, as well as the incredible sunrises and sunsets every day.

What made your experience abroad unique?

The moral and enthusiasm of the staff, and the vast amount of knowledge gained from the whole experience.

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

The staff knew every answer to every question I had, and were more than happy to help you with anything, and advise you on how to pursue a career in the field. Even pre-departure, the staff helped me every step of the way in terms of booking flights and transfers, and general advice.

Volunteers in South Africa
All ready for afternoon drive!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

Booked a much longer stay!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

In terms of day to day life on base, each day usually consists of a morning drive, evening drive, and a lecture or two during the day. Out on drive, usual tasks are reserve work, or tracking key species such as the cheetah, lions, rhinos, and hyenas. We also had prey species drives, in which we monitor the population of various birds and prey species and their density in various areas on the reserve. We’d usually return from evening drive around 7 p.m., when we would eat, have some down time, and be in bed before 10 p.m.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I spent a lot of my time reading books on the wildlife which were available at base, playing ping pong or darts, or on Sundays (our day off) I would be arranging trips to Kruger National park, beautiful landmarks, or just relaxing.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

My expectation of living conditions at base were quite low, as I knew they would be basic. However, I was really, really pleasantly surprised, and soon began to feel extremely at home at base. I was in the larger of the three dorms, which was made up of several bunk beds. Living in such close quarters with the other volunteers was actually quite pleasant as we all became close. Plus, we all made sure everyone of us got up on time for the morning drives, even if we did want to stay in bed!

The communal area was great (and large enough for you to find a space to have some alone time with a book); it was full of comfy cushions, games, books, and even a pingpong table and makeshift volleyball court outside. I think this helped the whole living experience hugely as when you weren't out in the field, this is where you would be spending the majority of your time.

Elephant herd at a reserve in South Africa
The reserves heard of elephants, up to mischief.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Don't be afraid! all the help and advice you could possibly need is available for you and the staff are more than happy to help you, no matter how silly the question may seem. I would advise reading up on flora and fauna of South Africa before you arrive, just so you can maximise your learning while out there.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Not only has this trip fuelled my desire to see the world while having a positive impact on the places I go, it has cemented my decision of pursuing a career in conservation through volunteering charities once I return from my next trip.

Watching the sunset in South Africa
Watching the sunset with a cup of tea, on evening drive.

Would you recommend your program & GVI to others? Why? 

Absolutely. To everyone. If you are worried that you need a background in wildlife research or to be studying conservation in order to partake in this trip, think again. I was studying fine art and art history at university when I went on this expedition. As long as you are enthusiastic to learn and are passionate about wildlife and conservation you'll fit in just great.

GVI guided me every step of the way, which was such a great help as I was a first time traveller. The staff out in the field, and the staff you are in contact with pre-departure, are extremely helpful and enthusiastic.