There is no doubt that my experience in Tanzania has made a profound impact on me personally, academically and professionally. Through hands-on field explorations, the School for Field Studies’ Wildlife Management & Conservation program exposed us to concepts of ecology and sustainable wildlife conservation and management; we also explored the socio-cultural, economic and political complexities that exist due to the interaction between human and animals. From the first day of the four-week program, I was immersed in the field and acquired various techniques for gathering information, collaborated with the locals and professionals, and even learned the Swahili language.
I was not expecting that we as students would be so involved with the locals and their culture. Over the course of the program, we took several Swahili classes that helped us self-navigate through town and make a few friends. Every day, I would pass by Chobani’s home, a child who lives right around the corner, and exchange the few words that we both have in common: Mambo! Poa! Habari? Nzuri. I would say hello to everyone and anyone who passed by me, as our neighbors were so kind and welcoming. My days were much more exciting and comfortable due to the community completely taking us in.
I also did not expect that we would have duties different from our duties as regular college students. At least once a week, I was on cook crew, which meant that I needed to wake up an hour earlier at around 6:30AM to help prepare breakfast. Cook crew was definitely exhausting, yet it allowed me to connect more with our staff and participate at a higher degree in the everyday routine of the program. We grew much closer to the staff members and, over the course of the month, became good friends. We watched the world cup series together, we played volleyball and soccer tournaments, we talked about cultural differences and interests, and we exchanged opinions about art and music.
The previous examples might seem minute compared to the overall intensity of the SFS program, yet they made my everyday experience much more genuine and heartfelt. We as students were not kept in isolation, we were thrown into a beautiful culture with lovely people and encouraged to face it head-on and be part of it.
One of my most memorable experiences in my life was camping at the Serengeti. We would wake up at 5AM to the sounds of lions and hyenas closeby, to a majestic sunrise that filled the sky with shades and colors I had not seen in a natural setting. Looking out into the wide, open grasslands as we drove into the safari was dream-like, as I had never seen so much untouched space. I watched beautiful creatures – elephants, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, etc. – glide through these vast empty landscapes so majestically. It was beautiful and inspiring, and although I had always known I was passionate about conserving the environment, watching these animals exist so remotely from us pushed me to be more committed to this goal and work more seriously towards it. I believe that people from different cultural and academic backgrounds should work together to truly achieve this.
As previously mentioned, this program has deeply affected me on a personal and professional level. Most nights on campus, I would lay on the grass and gaze at the clear sky that was filled with millions of stars. Living in New York City for the past 4 years, I honestly had forgotten what a sky full of stars even looked like. I wholeheartedly believe that it was the most exciting and enlightening experience of my life, and I am now more committed to conserving and advocating for the environment in my day-to-day life.