I wanted to study abroad so that I could experience the world from a different angle. I knew that I loved traveling, so having the opportunity to actually live in a country and be immersed in another culture more fully sounded like a great idea!
Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies?
I was looking for a program that was small and that I could be sure was making a positive impact. There were other field based study abroad programs that I looked at, but I wanted to know that the conservation work I would be doing was going to make a difference, not just provide me with a cool experience.
What was your favorite part about Botswana?
My favorite part about Botswana was how open and easy to talk to everyone was. I also loved seeing elephants every day. It's hard to pick between the two!
What made your experience abroad unique?
Round River Conservation Studies (RRCS) is a seriously unique program. It was small and the experience that my seven other classmates and I had could never be replicated. Also, the project that students work on each semester changes, so everyone is going to have a different experience. I don't know of any other programs where you are actually living in the field in a tent and moving around like you would be if you were working as a field tech.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The four instructors that we had were there for us the whole time. They taught us how to do research, how to track lions, how to identify plants, how to bake bread over a campfire, along with a million other things. I am really grateful for the amount of energy that they put into teaching and taking care of us for those three months.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish that I had come into my study abroad experience with a little bit more of an open mind. I had some friends that did the same program so I was expecting the same experience as them, but like I said above, RRCS is truly a different kind of program and I could have been a little more open to that at the beginning.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Most mornings we woke up early to go out on transects for two or three hours. We would drive the transects in the safari vehicles to spot animals, count them, and take some other information. The whole time we would be learning about the animals and watching their interactions.
Once we got back from transects we usually had some down time where I would try to work on homework, play games, watch animals from camp, or read in my hammock. After that was lunch, so whoever was on lunch duty would set up, and then we would eat and start classes for the afternoon. All of the classes were based on readings from scientific journals.
After classes we had some more down time that was more group activity or project time so it varied daily. Dinner every night was cooked by the campfire by whoever was on duty, and then we would sit around the fire and chat before bed.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
My favorite thing to do during free time was nature walks around camp. We could never go very far because of the animal danger, but there are so many plants and animals in Botswana that you never have to go far to find new things. The birding in Botswana is especially good, so I had the bird book on me as much as possible.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We all stayed in rubberized canvas safari tents and it was wonderful. You can hear everything that is going on in the bush around you when there is only a layer of canvas between you and the outside. Our living room and kitchen was the campfire with some camp chairs spread around, and everywhere was a good spot to take a nap. Living outside is always amazing, but living in the Okavango Delta is really almost indescribable.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
I would say be prepared for an intense three months. Living in the field can be kind of hard, especially if you have never done it before, but as long as you keep a positive attitude you will be fine.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
I am a lot more aware of the impact that I can make once I graduate in a year. I have a better idea of where I want my career to go and I know that I have had a really solid introduction to conservation biology-- the social and biological aspects of it.
My perspective has also broadened, and I hope that I have used that to become a more empathetic and aware person.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
Yes I would! I think RRCS offers an experience that is authentic above all else. I certainly had my ups and downs while I was in Botswana, but it was all part of the learning experience. When I came back home I felt extremely prepared to start doing field work and I also felt more motivated because I was at the forefront of conservation and it cemented the importance of my studies and my life goals.
Louise is a junior at University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she is studying biology and philosophy. She was born and raised in Fairbanks, and her favorite things to do include cuddling with dogs and playing outside. Louise travels as much as she can, and is always up for trying something new.