Alumni Spotlight: Rhiannon Nicholson

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I thought it was time to try something new and experience a new part of the world with a different culture.

It was completely different to anything I'd ever done before and, to be honest, it was a pretty big risk jumping into marine conservation for 10 weeks when I'd never been diving before. I was intrigued by the idea of helping the Bahamas National Trust with the data I was going to find.

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

My trip coordinator was good at first, she gave me a full kit list and answered all the questions I had about the program. However, when I got there, it was pretty clear that I didn't need half of the stuff on my kit list and I'd wasted a bunch of weight allowance that I could have used for more important things.

They provided me with a visa and answered all my questions, but I had to sort out flights and everything else on my own.

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

Don't put too much trust in the home office of the program. I asked my trip coordinator so many questions, but when I got to camp I didn't need half of the stuff on the kit list and a lot of the things she told me weren't true. Apparently, a lot of the volunteers got told different things and we were all a little confused!

It was clear that the home office didn't really understand exactly what the camp was like and what goes on there. My advice would be to get into contact with past volunteers if you can; they'll know a lot more than the home office and can give you a real insight into the program.

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

An early breakfast at 7am with porridge to kickstart the day. The sunrises are beautiful there! Then it's usually camp chores and preparing for whatever else you're doing that day. There will probably be about three or four dive groups that will go out on a regular day, so you just have to work the rest of your day around your allotted dive slots.

There's a lot to do when you aren't diving: beach cleanups, camp projects like painting or making something, studying for fish and coral surveys, or practicing EFR skills. Once a week you visit the school to play with the kids and try to teach them a little about marine life. If the weather sucks and you can't go diving, the camp leaders will try to arrange other stuff to do, like a day trip to a blue hole, a big beach cleanup, a master chef cook-off, or a pool or volleyball tournament.

At the end of each day, you eat dinner and the camp leaders will run through tomorrow's schedule. There will usually be something assigned to each night of the week to do after dinner, like quiz night, movie night, documentary night, or having a party in the bar with some locals or the other marine conservation groups nearby. Sunday is for relaxing and using the wifi to call home and make people jealous with your Instagram posts.

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

I was really worried that I was wasting my money on an experience that was going to be awful and that I wasn't going to enjoy, or that there would be people there that I wouldn't get along with.

I think that it's important to do a lot of research before choosing a trip like this, but even then I was nervous about spending money on it. However, I can safely say that it was the best experience of my life. Granted, it was mainly due to the people I met and the incredible friends I've made, but it was definitely worth every penny I spent.

There were a few people that I didn't click with properly, but that happens everywhere you go and my experience was amazing nonetheless.

Do you have a favorite story you'd like to share?

My favorite story from my trip to the Bahamas is my first sighting of a Hammerhead shark. Our marine scientist/diving instructor had been diving for over a decade and it was his lifelong dream to see a Hammerhead shark, but never had, and they are pretty rare to see around that part of the Bahamas.

One day he took us out for a dive and just as we were descending, we looked down and saw this huge Hammerhead, which must have been at least 6 meters long! It was incredible. Our instructor used up all his air by screaming with joy into his regulator and swimming after it as fast as he could. He had to ascend early because he ran out of air so quickly.

On the boat ride back to camp we were all buzzing, playing music and planning the best way to tell everyone back at camp. That dive completely made my trip!