Alumni Spotlight: Theresa Zett

Theresa is an international student studying Wildlife Conservation in the UK and wants to work abroad after her degree. Volunteering programmes give her the skills she will need for her future, while also creating incredible experiences along the way.

Why did you choose this program?

GVI were very approachable and friendly when I first talked to them on a placement showcase and I was impressed by the range of their offer. They were very helpful and offered a lot of advice so I would choose the programme that best fit my expectations and needs. They even called me up several times to make sure I was happy and knew I was getting into, and all of my many questions were answered patiently.

I chose the specific programme (Wildlife Research, South Africa) because it fit best with the content of my degree and future aspirations, as I am hoping to work in Africa after my studies.

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

My programme coordinator gave me a lot of advice on all parts of my trip - from booking my flights, to the visa process and preparation stage (i.e. packing). While you do have to book them yourself, they are always willing to assist and make sure everything goes smoothly. They even sent me a training manual for my programme, so I would know what I was getting into and what to expect.

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

Stay for as long as you can, because once you're there, you won't want to leave again!

Be ready to learn a lot in a short time about and environment you might not know too much for now, but keep an open mind and ask questions! The staff love to share their knowledge about the bush and it shows your interest as well.

Also, don't underestimate South African Winter, it does get cold down there!

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

You usually have two drives a day - one Morning Drive from 5 or 5:30 to around 9:30, and one Afternoon Drive from 15/15:30 to around 19:30. It is an early start for people who are not used to it, but once you are out there and start spotting the wildlife, it is ALWAYS worth it! In between drives you have time to relax and socialize or sometimes volunteers will organize a little game or event.

Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the availability of the school, are community days, where you can visit a primary school and hold two different lectures on conservation and life-skill topics for the students.

One day a week, you are designated to base duty, meaning you will take care of the base and also get the chance to do some data handling.

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

This was not my first time abroad on a volunteering programme, so I was not all too nervous about it. To be honest, I was mostly scared of not getting my visa and not being let into the country ^^

I was also a bit apprehensive about meeting so many new people, but that turned out not to be a problem at all! Everyone there was really welcoming and super nice and even though all the volunteers came from different parts of the world and completely different age and social groups, we all had our common interest in wildlife to unite us.

What was the highlight and lowlight of your trip?

My highlight is really hard to choose, as I had so many amazing experiences from wildlife encounters, to trip and meeting so many great new people. Wildlife-wise, I think it would be seeing Hyena cubs on our trip to the Kruger National Park, that was something I never expected to see and it blew my mind. But just meeting so many cool people who had such a passion for wildlife and were not only knowledgable but so willing to share that knowledge was just as wonderful!

As for low light, I can honestly say that the worst thing about my trip was leaving. I had fallen in love with that place and the people in it, and I would have stayed there for the rest of my life if possible. I think if you go into your time abroad with an open mind and heart, and are ready to work hard and put in the effort, you will make memories that truly do last a lifetime and as cheesy as it sounds, they will change you (for the better).

So go and experience some epic moments!