Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with African Conservation Experience in South Africa?
Anna: After my final year at school I wanted to experience something new and exciting. Animals have played an important part in my life since I was little. The opportunity to visit a wonderful country and be able to interact and work with animals, I would never otherwise be in contact with was too special to miss.
Having looked around at many associations who offer such experiences, the decision to travel with African conservation experience came down to the help I received and the nature of the different projects.
The projects were varied and all sounded exciting but most importantly they sounded honest and helpful. We were not only doing something exciting we were part of something bigger than our own personal experience, we were part of a team.
I decided to divide my time in South Africa over two projects and although both were different in many ways the hard working yet fun characteristic remained.
Working hard and seeing the results and smiling animals and team mates was satisfying (especially after selfishly powering through my exams and university application).
In all honesty, despite the number of different associations I could have chosen, the help and information and the nature of the projects made the decision to travel with African conservation experience obvious and the best thing I have done to date.
What made this experience unique and special?
Anna: No words can describe the amount of fun I had and the amount of things I learned and experienced. The stories I have brought back and the fond memories will always stay with me. It is not a holiday it really is hard work but for most volunteers this is satisfying.
Working with each other at unsociable hours, dealing with a different setting and unknowns everywhere makes the team stronger . And with that comes a whole lot of fun. There are always things you would rather do over others: taking temperatures as opposed to bottle feeding, playing over cleaning but all jobs can become fun when you are surrounded with people that are wanting to have fun and get things done.
I personally feel that the experience has made me more aware of what one is able to do when willing and surrounded by the right people and information. Before going, the project sounds amazing because of what you can do there (pet exotic game, hand rear bundles of fur, be in proximity of these magnificent and cool species).
But during and after the project, you realize that was only part of it. The people you meet, the things you learn and the knowledge that you were part something that people before you started and people after you continued cannot really be explained.
How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)
Anna: This experience had certainly taught me things I may never use again (although hopefully I will be back one day). But it will always benefit me later, as the drive, motivation and great teamwork was something I definitely want to experience again and will strive to achieve professionally.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in South Africa?
Anna: Do not fool yourself - you are not going on holiday. Yes, the showers are cold, yes you work in the very early hours and yes you are dealing with animals that do not always obey social etiquette.
But honestly it is more than worth it, do not let a cold shower or a smelly wheelbarrow put you off experiencing so much more. Choose a project that you think sounds like somewhere you would fit in and enjoy.
And remember that the people, whether it be staff or other volunteers are all willing to help. While I was there we were all different personalities and all came for various reasons, you do not have to want to be a vet or an animal anything. You just need to be willing to try and learn.
And despite the hard work, you do get to be woken up by lion roars and the beautiful South African sunrise, without mentioning seeing the milky way at night.
All you need to be sure of beforehand is that you are willing to do everything that comes your way and that you want to have an amazing time doing amazing things with awesome people. Let’s be honest, only a fool doesn’t want that.