Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Ellis

18 year old avid traveler/sports nut living in a sand pit.

Sarah is taking a gap year, working as a PE teaching assistant in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. She will be going to university in the UK to study sports therapy. She enjoys playing touch rugby, netball and has been on a few sports tours to other countries. Travel has been a major influence in her life and she can't wait for her next adventure abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

beaches in Indonesia

I chose to go on Operation Wallacea's Indonesia trip when OpWall came into my school and explained what they did and the locations of their programs. With the help of my mom we planned a trip ourselves, and found three other interested girls from another Abu Dhabi School.

I specifically chose to go Indonesia because the thought of an amazing adventure through the jungle and learning to dive in a marine rich sea seemed like paradise to me.

I found myself intrigued by the thought of trekking and living the life of a local as well as learning more about the conservation of land and marine life.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

With the help of an OpWall staff member based in Dubai, we managed to plan the trip with no hiccups. They gave us all the information we needed, despite being a group of 4. We pretty much just had to organize the basics such as our flights, travel documents, and vaccines.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Be ready for an epic adventure which isn't for the faint hearted. At times it's going to be rough, and can be physically demanding; you may not get much sleep some nights and it may rain at the worst of times.

You may get super dirty and you're going to see all types of terrifying but fascinating creatures but it's 100% worth the experience and will provide you with life long memories.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

repelling down tree in Indonesia

On the jungle week, everyday is a different activity. Day 1 starts off with the optional canopy access, which is highly recommendable. The rest of the week is spent with morning and afternoon sessions researching different aspects of the jungle, for example bird and butterfly surveys and going to herpetofauna pitfall traps. Evenings were spent listening to lectures on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Indonesian jungle.

In the middle of the week, we were sent off to the jungle site, a 6 hour trek to the camp. Here we slept in hammocks (watch for spiders or leeches which may find their way in there before bed!) and went daily treks out to data collection sites. After 2 nights and daily data collections we headed back to the village camp where we spent one final night before heading to the marine site on the Island of Hoga.

That week is filled with diving or snorkeling and interesting lectures on marine life and conservation. Some nights we listened to dissertations from university students, who had been collecting and analyzing data from this marine reserve. This is super interesting if marine biology or environmental science was something you would like to potentially study. A visit to the island of Kaledupa is included, where you can experience the fish markets and the bustle of an Indonesian town.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear is snakes and it still is. However, my view on them has changed from 'terror... and possibly squashing them' to understanding that they have a bigger role in the ecosystem and the biodiversity of the Indonesian jungle, or any other place for that matter.

Removing snakes could make the whole ecosystem collapse due to a potential proliferation of another species, thus it shows me the importance of balance in nature.