I chose this program after I studied abroad with OTS in summer of 2017, as a student of their Costa Rica program. With fieldwork at my lab coming to an end as we transitioned to the winter season, I decided to ditch the cold for more experience in ecology in South Africa. Additionally, I wanted to build my network with professors and other undergraduates that were just as passionate about ecology/evolution as I was, all while being able to see the wild side of the world by studying in a tropical ecosystem.
Scott Dai graduated from The George Washington University in Washington DC with a BS in Ecology and Evolution and a minor in STEM Education. He had his first study abroad experience in Costa Rica where he was flabbergasted upon seeing a sloth in the parking lot instead of the tropical rainforests he was studying in. He loves the outdoors, learning about different cultures, and seeing cool things.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The program lasted for 99 days in my 2019 program, so the headquarters in North America assisted me with obtaining a visa through the South African Embassy by providing detailed instructions and materials to successfully apply for one.
In terms of what to bring and what to expect, the official site provides a syllabus, an orientation packet, and the provider organizes a call with all students and South African professors where professors guide students through what the program will feel like, what to bring, and answer any questions students may have.
The orientation packet provides a very detailed packing list that covers recommended, essential, and optional items to bring to your study abroad, even breaking it down to the exact number that's recommended, as the list was created as suggestions from students and professors of the program.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Be adventurous by taking every opportunity you can to explore the park and South Africa. Eat mopani worms, go on game drives, and do hikes when you can, because you're going to miss them when the 3 month program flies by and you find yourself on the flight home just like that. Our professors will tell you on the first few days of the program that as a student studying abroad with OTS, you are in a very privileged situation.
You will primarily be studying at Kruger National Park, the largest national park in South Africa, where many researchers dream to study. However, through OTS, you have the permits and permissions to do research, like studying in restricted areas of the park where rhinos are present.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The program does not really have a *set* schedule, but professors give detailed breakdowns of schedules in advance.
A typical field day has students waking up bright and early at 6AM to pack a lunch, eat breakfast, and prepare equipment and yourselves for fieldwork. Fieldwork can last up to 6-8 hours, but the company and research make it worthwhile. Instructional days usually have students wake up at 8AM with lectures until about 4PM (breaks included!).
Free days are offered, with students being able to organize activities with the help of professors outside national parks.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was being abroad so far away from home.
I've been to Costa Rica, but going across the globe was a bit terrifying, as the time zone difference was much more pronounced and I was away from friends and family. Also, not being able to communicate as readily with these people, as I was operating in places without internet at times. However, connecting with professors and other students that were in the same boat as me and immersing myself in being in some of the best places for ecological research was worth it.
I still miss the breathtaking views, the star-ladled skies where galaxies could be seen, and game drives even 3 months after the end of the program.