Maya Agata - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I applied for an international program because I wanted a chance to learn from and experience cultures, languages, and ecosystems that I didn't have access to at my home institution.

Herd of zebra in Botswana

Wildlife in the Mababe Depression - One of the challenges of this program was getting good at counting herds. This particular one was a challenge because they wouldn't stand still!

Why did you choose Round River Conservation Studies?

I was looking for a conservation biology related program that had a focus on field research. It was also important to me that the program's approach to conservation was not one of a Western perspective trying to apply a Western framework to natural resource management, and that instead the emphasis was placed on community needs and involvement. I didn't want to do a research project just to learn research methods; I wanted to do a project that was meaningful and contributed to the management practices already in place. Round River Conservation Studies satisfied these criteria!

What was your favorite part about Botswana?

The wildlife in the Okavango Delta was incredible! We heard lions from our tents at night, had elephant visitors to our camp while holding "class," were surprised by wild dogs running past our tents, and chased baboons away from our food bins.

What parts of your program made it unique?

I think one of the most unique parts of this program was that we were completely immersed in the bush. For three months we lived in tents in the Delta, and since we lived with our instructors, we were always learning! From the moment we woke up in the morning, we recounted the animal noises we had heard and tried to identify them, until the moment we went to sleep at night, watching bats flying over our campfire, every minute was a chance to learn from our surroundings. The environment and the time we spent together allowed us to become a tight-knit group and establish incredible relationships.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The program is structured in a way that one of the instructors is from the country/area that you are studying in. Our instructor was an invaluable resource to learn about the local knowledge of wildlife, but also to learn about the people and culture and current issues of the country we were in. We also worked closely with local guides; they accompanied us on our wildlife monitoring outings, and we learned so much about their communities and the ecosystems through their stories.

Student volunteers sitting on a land cruiser in the bush of Botswana

The students on our trusty land cruiser, Francolin!

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

I wish I would have packed a little lighter!

Outline a day in the life of your program. 

  • 5:45 a.m. - Wake up and make breakfast (oatmeal and tea)
  • 6:30 a.m. - Leave camp to do a bird, herbivore, or spoor survey
  • 11 a.m. - Back to camp and do some readings before lunch
  • 12 p.m. - Lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and leftovers
  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. - Finish any readings, do some laundry, work on projects, etc.
  • 3 p.m. - Discussions on readings and lectures
  • 6 p.m. - Dinner and campfire
  • 8 p.m. - Cleanup and bedtime!

What did you enjoy doing outside the normal day-to-day schedule?

There were a few opportunities in which we got to go into towns/villages, and these were definitely my favorite activity outside day-to-day things! Usually our main objective was to replenish water or food supplies, but it was always a neat chance to meet community members, talk about the work we were doing, and hear their perspectives on conservation and natural resource management programs.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

People in the communities we visited often spoke at least some English, and we had an instructor as well as guides that helped translate whenever necessary.

Lioness laying in the grass in Botswana

Lioness in the grass

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

We brought personal tents for the first and last parts of the program, but shared larger, program-provided canvas tents for the majority of the three months. We rotated tent-mates, and this was maybe my favorite part; it was a great way to get to know the other students and was a helpful way to make sure you woke up on time!

Do you have any packing tips?

Apart from packing light, the Okavango Delta is a desert, so I would definitely recommend packing layers. It can be hot during the day, but get cool enough at night that you want something warm!

What surprised you most about Botswana?

The thing that surprised me most about Botswana, specifically about the Okavango Delta, was how abundant the wildlife was. I really didn't expect to see such large numbers of animals on a daily basis.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before traveling to Botswana?

There isn't really anything I wish I would have known before going abroad; except maybe if I had known how much I would love it, I would have planned for more time there after the program to travel a bit on my own.

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

This program affirmed my career pursuits and has given me an incredible insight into the complexities and challenges of conservation.

A pack of wild dogs in Botswana

Wild dogs right outside our camp in the early evening - they were out on a hunt!

Would you recommend Round River Conservation Studies (RRCS) to other individuals?

I would ABSOLUTELY recommend RRCS to other individuals, whether they are interested in the Botswana program or any of the other RRCS programs!

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

I would love to go back! Studying in the Okavango Delta was an incredible experience and I learned so much, but it also raised so many questions and ignited so many curiosities that I would love to go back and investigate (for example, I don't think anyone has done a biodiversity study of insects in the Delta outside of butterflies, so there is much left to be studied!)