After deciding to take a gap year between 6th form and university I started searching for companies that would allow me to work abroad and get experience in the veterinary field, which is what I eventually want to end up working in!
I quickly found the African Conservation Experience (ACE) and emailed them asking for more information about their veterinary projects, the speed of their reply was very impressive and this continued throughout my whole booking experience! They sent me all the information I would need and I felt confident this was the company to give me a really great gap year, after applying and getting accepted they rang me and gave me even more info on the project I had been accepted on, Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience with Dr Rogers. Even at this early stage I was so impressed with how ACE kept me updated with all the information I would need, they booked my flights for me and allowed me to pay in instalments which was very helpful. ACE were great at answering all my question in the run up to my departure and I felt so confident and excited to get to my project even though it would have been my first time out of Europe let alone going without family!
Upon arriving in South Africa we were met off the plane by a lovely guy called martin who made sure we were put on the right transport to get us to our specific projects, he made sure we were sorted and happy and told us to contact him at any time should we have concerns about our placement, needless to say I never had to but it was nice to know there was someone there for us!
My host family were the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet! They went above and beyond to make sure we got the most out of our time in Africa and even spent hours driving us round so we could see all the different attractions, I got to go elephant riding and got to hand feed a hippo, basically if there was something you wanted to do, they would do everything in their power to make sure you got to do it. They took us to the vets practice every morning even if we had to be there at 4am and picked us up when ever we were finished, the food was perfect every night and all dietary requirements are catered for, you certainly become one of the family, I don't think I have ever been as happy as when I was there!
Spending time with the vet was incredible too! I was lucky enough to get hands on with 4 of the big 5!! (minus the lion) Dr Rogers is such a nice guy and an amazing teacher, he answered all my questions happily and in a way I (with no vet school background) understood and didn't mind having to repeat the names of drugs or funny diseases to me over and over until I remembered them. He always explained exactly what he was doing and why and talked us through everything so I really do feel like I got the most out of my time there. On the days where there was no wildlife stuff to do (these were few and far between!!!) we got to spend time in his small animal practice watching small animal surgery which was also really interesting!
My time there was 100% perfect and I wouldn't change a second of it for the world! It was better than I could have ever imagined and I'm so grateful to ACE for giving me the opportunity to go and for organising it for me! Everyone I spoke to at ACE was lovely and really helpful and answered all my silly panicky questions as my departure date got nearer and nearer, and everyone in Africa was so friendly it was so refreshing to feel like I was accepted into their community, I didn't feel like a foreigner at all! I miss it so much and I still cry looking through all my photos I would give anything to go back an do it all over again!
I cannot recommend ACE enough and I would seriously encourage anyone wanting an amazing gap year or summer project to look into what ACE can offer.
I will definitely be back at some point, There was a point on y trip when I was stood on the back of an open top truck racing round a game reserve trying to find the rhino when I realised that this was what I wanted to spend my life doing, ACE gave me the happiest most amazing month of my life and I'll always be so grateful for that!