GoAbroad Interview

Lauren Locke - Sales & Marketing Assistant

Lauren was introduced to Africa during a study abroad program in Stellenbosch. Since she began her first program, she has become devoted to international education in more ways than one, and now serves as the African Conservation Experience Sales and Marketing Assistant. Lauren is endlessly passionate about cultivating sustainable, transformative international experiences that help us all better understand this beautiful world.

African Conservation Experience

What program do you lead and where?

ACE offers experience oriented placements on wildlife conservation projects in Southern Africa for two to12 weeks. We currently have partners in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mauritius. Our programs offer opportunities for students from all backgrounds to work in a variety of areas including research, wildlife rehabilitation, marine conservation, game capture, and field veterinary work.

How did you become a part of the organization?

My background is in higher education and fair trade tourism. I was working in South Africa for fair trade at a partnering shark cage diving and marine conservation organization. While in country I found out about ACE through local partners. I am now here in California helping to set up our US base! It’s all very exciting and I couldn’t be happier working for an organization that I truly believe in. It’s not only a student/volunteer experience but you are actually contributing to real conservation efforts, its genuinely cool!

How do you screen your applicants?

We have a relatively simple screening process. All volunteers must complete our online application specifying which program they are most interested in, experience, and general motivation. Some programs are more competitive than others so we then follow up via phone chat to further discuss the project and students application.

What does your orientation package include?

Our orientation process is a bit different than a typical study abroad program. We have a ground manager who meets you at the airport in Johannesburg who gives a general orientation and discusses the details of the project. From this point forward all in-country transfers are organized by ACE and you have 24/7 support of our ground staff and volunteer coordinators.

What characteristics do you look for in participants?

First, we look at motivation for participation. Generally, we look for students and volunteers who want to contribute to a real conservation effort. We look for students who want to work hard, give back, and gain real life experience in the field of conservation. We also assess overall global competency and previous wildlife/ volunteer experience.

Do you have family, retiree, and couple volunteers? How do you accommodate their needs compared to that of individual participants?

Yes, we have volunteers participate from a wide variety of backgrounds. We work with each individual/group to assess their needs and program fit. We know the projects intimately and help each volunteer understand expectations and daily life on-site! As the longest running volunteer conservation organization in Africa we have worked with a wide range of volunteers and we have worked with each project to accommodate these volunteers.

What optional programs can your participants take to further enjoy their stay in your location?

Depending on the time of year, number of volunteers, and the project, volunteers may have optional excursions available. This could be visiting Kruger Park or taking an excursion to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. However, this would be determined upon arrival at an additional cost to the volunteer.

What makes your programs and locations most interesting?

Our programs provide the opportunity to gain real world experience in wildlife conservation. All of our staff have joined ACE because we once fell head over heals in love with the African continent. I can personally say after spending significant time on each continent I can’t seem to stay away from the Africa. It truly touches your spirit in an unforgettable way. The people, the wildlife, the beauty, and the struggle all become so personal after a visit. Our projects offer volunteers the chance to experience this, learn, and give back all at the same time.

What is a typical day like for ACE program participants?

Well, this wildly varies depending on project choice. You could be helping to rehabilitate a baby rhino whose parents were recently poached (this could even include sleeping in its enclosure), or you could be out in the field with a African wildlife vet observing a lion darting. You might go on a game capture and help to relocate an entire herd of antelope or you could join a research project and learn telemetry techniques. You might even find yourself assisting with surveying and recording the tourism impact on dolphin specifies in the island nation of Mauritius. If accepted, volunteers also have the option of “splitting” a placement. This means you can take advantage of more than one project!

Where do you see ACE programs in the next few years?

ACE has big plans for the future. We have just opened a U.S. base in Berkeley, CA so that projects can be presented to students from the Americas. In the future, ACE hopes to build connections in South America and extend project placements to the Amazon and the Galapagos.