Alumni Spotlight: Dale Speer

Dale Speer is a 26-year-old biology student at Stony Brook University. He has a passion for wildlife conservation and enjoys spending his summers volunteering with nonprofits in Peru.

Why did you choose this program?

This program was chosen because, after having met the owner (Sam), I knew that our ideologies aligned for conservation and outreach.

There are many forms of conservation with EVERYONE having a different opinion on how it should be done. My personal philosophy is to try to make the locals understand the work that is being overtaken and encourage them to help. Hoja Nueva has a similar structure by incorporating the local community to help perform conservation.

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

Hoja Nueva provided all of the basic necessities for an enjoyable trip. I was told what hotel to stay at, how much (roughly) taxis should cost, and which places in town were the best to eat at. Once I was settled into town, Hoja provided a car to pick me up and bring me to the site. Food, shelter, and snacks were all provided as well as basic toiletries. There were spare boots when mine became waterlogged.

The only thing I had to provide myself was the plane ride and in-town activities such as visiting the butterfly farm or going to the local animal shelter.

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

Bring comfort stuff from home to make it feel more comfortable. The living conditions are nice but basic. It helps to have a fluffy pillow or snacks or music to help remind you of home life.

Most important is to enter these programs with an open mind. It is a different country with MANY different customs. One thing I learned is to just go with the flow and try to make the best out of every situation. That being said, these are just minor things I learned to make myself as comfortable as could be.

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

This program's average day is spent waking up at 6 or 7 am (that's when the howler monkeys start and its quite hard to sleep in when they're close). Breakfast is made, usually a simple combination of fruits and cereal with a little yogurt.

After breakfast, I usually would take a morning walk around one of the many trails. If there was work to be done, I would get to the farm and help to plant/tend to the vegetation before it becomes too hot (until noonish).

Around 12, is nearly lunchtime, so we would return to the house and begin preparing lunch. Usually, 2 or 3 people help out to speed up the process. Lunch is typically rice and chicken but, they always have tofu for vegetarians.

After lunch, it is time for a nap and then I have an hour or so to myself to take a walk or just relax. If there is more work to get done before dinner, I'll take care of it. Dinner is quite similar to lunch and then we prepare for either night walks or a potential movie/documentary night.

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 alone in a new country with people who don't speak the same language as me. This wasn't an issue as most people spoke English and even the locals could communicate on a basic level. Everyone was so welcoming and it was easy to make friends. The company provided everything I needed to be happy and comfortable.

What to do if you're on a specific (vegan) diet?

At Hoja, they tried to meet everyone's dietary needs. There was plenty of fruit to be bought from the local market and they always made sure to have nuts/beans and rice/pasta in the supply closet.

While it is challenging to maintain a vegan diet in the jungle, it was definitely doable.

Hoja went out of their way to ensure everyone's dietary needs were met.