Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Hovermale

Jessica is a high school student in Corvallis, Oregon who enjoys volunteering, dance, and being outdoors.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose to volunteer with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society because I love volunteering, spending time outside, doing hands-on work, and helping animals. I wanted to volunteer abroad, and this program just felt perfect. It was a region of the world that I'd never been to before; it involved working around wild elephants, and it seemed like an amazing cultural and learning experience!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own

My program provider (Greenheart Travel) was extremely helpful before, during, and after my trip! They helped me organize transportation to and from the airport and an accommodation before going to the fieldhouse. They assisted me in getting to the fieldhouse, and they constantly kept in touch to make sure everything was going as planned.

Before the trip, they made sure everything was in order and that I was organizing everything I needed to. During the trip, they checked in to make sure all was well. Even after, they have checked up and are very open in case any of their travelers need anything. The only things I organized were the flights and our weekend excursion.

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

I would recommend that they really immerse themselves in the people around them. As a pretty introverted person, I found it difficult at first to throw myself into such a busy situation, but as soon as I did, the fieldhouse started to feel like home and I was having an amazing time.

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

Each week day at the Fieldhouse has the same layout but each day is very different. In the morning, breakfast is served at about 8 AM and everyone gets ready and leaves for morning projects around 9. We all split into groups and go do fieldwork for two to four hours.

Different projects are done each day which keeps things interesting. You could be doing things like looking for cat footprints in rivers, checking electric fences for elephant damage, helping with Project Orange Elephant, checking camera and sandtraps, looking at elephant dung, or checking bee fences.

After the morning project, lunch is served at 1. Volunteers then get the early afternoon to relax. Most volunteers rest, shower, do laundry, and just hang out at the fieldhouse during this time. In the early afternoon, you can assist staff members with data analysis; it gives you a great opportunity to learn more about the program. You can also take a tuktuk into the town and walk around.

In the later afternoon, everyone splits into groups again to go look for elephants. You'll sit by lakes, rivers, and treehuts, and wait for elephants to come. Bring something to do while you wait (book, music, etc.) When you see elephants, you take down data on them and record their behavior.

Dinner is served around 7, and everyone goes up to Snake Rock to watch the sunset. The evenings are always pretty social with card games and chatting. The weekends are different each time. At the fieldhouse, they tend to be pretty quiet so volunteers can arrange transportation to visit the beach, waterfalls, or surrounding cities.

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

One of my biggest fears about traveling abroad was the actual traveling aspect. I've never traveled completely alone before, and I was pretty scared to navigate the long flights and layovers on my own. I didn't know what I'd be doing exactly once I got to Sri Lanka which made the flights even harder. However, once I did it, I felt extremely accomplished. I realized that I am more capable of doing things on my own than I first thought, and traveling home went a lot smoother.

I was also very nervous to have to be such a social person once I got to the field house. I'm pretty introverted and quiet around people I don't know so for the first few days I was pretty nervous. Then I realized that a lot of other people were probably feeling pretty similar to me, so I started being more friendly. I started conversations and reached out to more people. It was scary at first but a lot more fun, and I got some pretty great friends out of the experience!

Any suggestions for future volunteers with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society?

It can be kind of difficult to keep clean, so just embrace the dirt! When packing, bring some clothes for getting dirty, and some specifically to keep clean (don't wear them out for field work). This can help make you feel a little more sanitary in the humid weather.

Bring two water bottles! Put one in the fridge to pour water into the one you carry around with you. Cold water tastes amazing!

Talk to the other volunteers who've been at the project longer and the staff for recommendations on what to do for the weekends! Get information on how they traveled and where they went and what they think you should do. If someone else already made a mistake, don't repeat it!

Don't forget to bring laundry soap! And don't procrastinate doing your laundry.

Know that you really won't have access to the internet when you're there. The office at the fieldhouse has wifi but it's not the best for volunteers to be using it – so buying a sim card is a great option!

Make sure you bring a journal and books! Also a favorite game is good. You have a lot of down time to relax.

Suitcases are pretty hard to use when you're volunteering and traveling around Sri Lanka. I would definitely recommend a sports duffel bag (with a shoulder strap), or a backpack.

Be present; embrace where you are and what you're doing. It can be hard to live so disconnected and off the grid at first, but living in the moment is so important because before you know it, your trip will be over!