Alumni Spotlight: Rebecca Smith

Rebecca is an administrator in the City of London who always had a passion for animals & wildlife. It was in her late 20s when she realised she wanted to finally follow her dreams to work in conservation.

Rebecca's first step was to complete a 2-week volunteer trip with GVI to South Africa; this was a turning point in her and she began to see the steps she could take to turn her dreams into a reality. Two years later, Rebecca found her some back on the GVI base completing a wildlife conservation internship.

Why did you choose this program?

Africa was always a place I fantasied about visiting and immersing myself in the culture and wildlife. The GVI Wildlife Conservation Internship seemed like the perfect progression in my career development after completing the brief volunteer stint. I craved more knowledge on the intricate workings of the Southern African ecosystem and the work which was being done to protect it and help it flourish again!

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

GVI offered a lot of insight pre and post my sign up on the program. My point of contact was always on hand to answer my questions and to reassure me of any concerns. This continued while living on base too. My appointed contact assisted with such things as insurance, briefing, visas, and flights. GVI also put me in contact with others who would start on the same project before we left, I found this super helpful and reassuring, especially for those traveling alone.

The main thing for me to arrange was my travel to and from the country I was pointed in the direction to a flight operator, as well as details of pick up times and location this made it a million times easier to organize. I also had to plan my own free time, but again, suggestions and recommendations were provided along with assistance with logistics on the days too.

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

Take time to read through the handbook for the base your going to and take time to look through the packing list and purchase all that is a suggestion, it will be on the list for a reason!

Read reviews and talk to an ambassador for your particular program as they can give you a full and accurate idea of what to expect. It is also helpful to read up about the local beliefs, culture, and values purely out of respect for the natives and local community.

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

Six-day working week (Sundays off) and 4 days off every 4 weeks. Two game drives a day AM (5 am -9/10 am) and PM (3.30-7.30pm); on each drive, there is a sign up for specific roles i.e. vehicle checks, navigation, and spotlight.

During drives, you will track the focus animals such as the male lion, female cheetah, and 3 male cheetah coalition. Data is also taken for such things as birds of prey, rare games, kills, etc. There are also intern specific drives that are based around camera trap placement/data, bird surveys, and reserve work.

The middle of the day is spent on base time to recoup as well as sit in lectures, studying or work on base projects too. Sometimes there are intern trips out of base for Kruger trips or talks around the area on local topics, such as antipoaching.

On Sunday free time and weekends off, there is time to explore the local sites, stay on other lodges or travel to neighboring townships (self-funded). Everyone will be allocated a base day either once a week or 2 depending on the number of people staying, on these days you are in pairs or 3s doing the base duties such as cleaning and cooking for the group.

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 worry as a solo traveler was safety, especially to that particular part of the world. The support from GVI both pre and post-departure settled any nerves I had.

I also did my research before leaving on what to expect and ways to stay safe and savvy. It is recommended that you do not travel alone when in your free time. I did stay in a lodge on a 4 day week off by myself, which was actually blissful, but I was picked up and collected by the base staff, so logistics were smooth enough and there was nothing to worry about at all!

How did your experience on this program change you?

My time on the Karongwe GVI base opened my eyes to the pathways I never thought would be open to me.

Being out of my comfort zone really built my confidence in many different ways and I found my self excelling in my career after returning from my first trip. As part of my leadership course included in the program, I learnt how to manage a team successfully and how to combat issues that arise in that environment. I was filled with so much knowledge of the animals and how to act best in their protection.

This positive ethical change in my day to day behaviour and thought process followed me home and allowed me to encourage others to do the same. This experience has fuelled my passion for all things wild and I am uprooting all I know to create a new and improved future for not only myself but the world I inhabit. GVI is an international company, so I have made lots of new friends around the world who share the same ambitions and drive in all things conservation, which I feel is a truly magical thing to come away with!