Alumni Spotlight: Lara Schroeder

Lara is from Luxembourg, but currently studies English Literature and Italian in Wales. She loves reading, gymnastics, animals, and traveling. While volunteering in South Africa for a month, she was able to combine two of her passions.

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Why did you choose this program?

From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to go to Africa, because of the great variety of animals and because I was interested in the different cultures.

I looked through a few programs, most of them in South Africa, and finally found the perfect one -- Wildlife Sanctuary takes care of ALL kinds of animals, big and small, and the reviews previous volunteers had written gave me the impression that this would be the perfect place to go.

Another advantage is that you can go anytime during the year for as long as you want to. My parents were not too keen on me traveling by myself to Africa, but they were glad that I chose South Africa as it is clearly a more developed country.

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

GoEco was very helpful and told me exactly what to organize, when and how. They booked the program after I had filled in some basic information and send me the documents I needed to fill out for travel insurance. I booked my own flights and send the details to them so that they could organize my transport from and to the airport and everything worked out perfectly.

They were always really quick to reply to my e-mails and even called after I had signed up for the program to shortly discuss it with me.

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

Be open-minded and talk to everyone, especially the locals, who are just lovely.

Do as many excursions as you can (especially skydiving), as they enable you to see a bit more of the stunning landscape and if you can, go to another program afterward, or travel a bit by yourself as you only see a tiny part of this huge country when volunteering at Glen Afric.

Bring gloves and gumboots and be prepared to do some hard work. It is so rewarding to see the results of your effort in the end.

Finally, don't be scared and enjoy every second. You will make great friends and have the time of your life!

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

The day starts at 8 am when you clean the elephant house and horse stables. After this is done, usually at 9, you go for breakfast (the food is always great), and after that, you will be split into groups.

One group does work that often consists of preparing new enclosures, while the other group has animal interaction: you can pet the cheetah, learn about the behavior of leopards, or maybe even train some animals. The next day, it will be the other way around.

An exception is Shitmonday! Sounds horrible, but is actually quite fun. You take all the shit and bones out of the enclosures and layer it on the shit trailer (yes, that is an entire trailer full of shit).

Two times a week you assist in the animal feeding, a great occasion to get a closer look at the lions, tigers, and hyena, and to take some stunning pictures. On Thursday afternoons and on Sunday you are off and can choose to go on an excursion. You also have the possibility to go horse-riding or to do elephant walks once a week.

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 probably most worried when arriving in Johannesburg. The driver was already there waiting for me, but I had no idea what to expect and was nervous to meet the other volunteers.

As soon as I got to know them, I realized that I had no reason to worry. They were all lovely people and as we all had similar interests, we instantly connected. The flight is the only time you are actually by yourself, but as soon as you arrive, all of your worries just disappear as you become a part of the team.

Another thing I was worried about was the fact that I stayed for 4 weeks and I thought that the work might get monotonous, but now I know that 3 or 4 weeks is the perfect duration! Loads of volunteers return every year and often stay for 2 months or even longer and none of them have ever had any regrets.

If you should encounter any problems while you are there, I assure you that the staff there will do their best to help you! They are amazing people and do not just care about the animals (they absolutely love them!), but they also care about the volunteers and they will make sure that you get the most out of your time in South Africa!

What was your biggest question prior to going on this trip?

One thing that I really wanted to know when choosing a program was what animals were there!

At the moment, there are 3 elephants, about 10 lions, 3 lion cubs, a hyena, 4 tigers, a leopard, a cheetah, 4 giraffes (1 of them a baby), 1 hippo and the multiple zebras, warthogs, antelopes, horses donkeys, wildebeest and ostriches that just freely roam around the farm.

After I left, they started collaborating with another sanctuary that takes up smaller, injured animals, so there will probably be even more animals when you go!

What were the highlights of your time abroad?

We learned how to inject goats, which was an amazing and also really fun experience. Another time, we made a mud-bath for the elephants, which obviously ended in all of us volunteers having a mud-fight. And finally the animal interaction: you can get up close with tigers and lions, you can give Roxy (the super cute hyena) a scratch and we had the possibility to play with the lion cubs and train them on a little jumping parkour.

Those are just a few of the amazing things I have experienced this summer and I find myself thinking about Glen Afric every day!