• South Africa
Fall, Spring
Subject Areas
African Studies Animal Science Anthropology Biology Botany Conservation and Preservation Earth Sciences Ecology Environmental Studies Field Studies Natural Sciences Wildlife Sciences +2

Program Details

Program Type
Degree Level
Dormitory Host Family


Price Details
Visit our website for more details on program costs. Scholarships are available.
What's Included
Accommodation Activities Some Activities Domestic Airfare Classes Meals Transportation Wifi
What's Included (Extra)

Lodging during the mid-term break in Cape Town.

What's Not Included
Airfare Some Meals Travel Insurance Visa
Mar 09, 2023
Mar 08, 2023
27 travelers are looking at this program

About Program

Immerse yourself in the Savannas of South Africa! This program travels through national parks and reserves and visits historical sites from the far north of the country, all the way to the Cape in the south. Students spend much of the semester in Kruger National Park, one of the largest conservation areas in Africa and home to healthy populations of megafauna like elephants, rhinos and lions.

Students are mentored by local and international academics, conservation managers, and experts in ecology and conservation. By designing research projects with their professors, students will contribute meaningful scientific data to critical issues faced by South African National Parks. A highlight of the course is a three-night homestay in a rural community; students leave touched by their time shared with the community and gain a deeper sense of cultural and social awareness. Open to all undergraduate students, transcripts provided by the University of Connecticut (UConn).

Video and Photos

Program Highlights

  • Live and conduct meaningful independent research in Kruger National Park, South Africa's oldest and largest national park.
  • Immerse yourself in South African culture during a 3-night homestay in HaMakuya, experiencing many of the challenges and joys of rural life many South African's face every day.
  • Visit various important field-sites throughout South Africa, including the Cape Region, Cederberg, West Coast National Park, Fynbos, Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems, and numerous sites within Kruger National Park.
  • Gain valuable field experience through the mentorship of world-class researchers and faculty via ongoing long-term research, and an independent capstone research project.
  • Develop advanced understanding of South African history, culture, politics and conservation issues through lectures and field trips to historical sites like Robben Island, Mapungubwe, Thulamela & Cape Town.

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Program Reviews

4.91 Rating
based on 11 reviews
  • 5 rating 90.91%
  • 4 rating 9.09%
  • 3 rating 0%
  • 2 rating 0%
  • 1 rating 0%
  • Academics 4.65
  • Support 4.85
  • Fun 4.9
  • Housing 4.9
  • Safety 4.9
Showing 1 - 8 of 11 reviews
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

OTS African Ecology and Conservation is Fantastic!

OTS's program is the epitome of "once in a lifetime." The access granted to the program by South African National Parks allows students to do research directly in Kruger National Park, walking through the savanna with zebras and giraffes watching from a few hundred feet away! The staff are all incredibly accommodating and do everything in their power to not only make you feel welcome and safe, but to push you to grow as a student and a scientist, fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions. The views, both of the landscapes and animals, are indescribable. I wish I could retake this program every year.

A few things of interest: The food is FANTASTIC. I would do anything to eat that food again, the catering service staff are geniuses. There are only a few times (a week max) in which there is no phone service, and honestly the "forced" break from technology was pretty nice. The accommodations are super comfortable, with AC for those super hot days! I honestly have no big complaints.

  • Field Research Experience
  • Amazing Food
  • Dedicated Staff
53 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

A semester of a lifetime

After nearly twenty-four hours of travel, I landed in the Johannesburg Airport. My excitement overcame my nerves while driving to the backpacker’s hotel to meet my twelve new classmates for the next three months. Recollecting on this moment, I could not have comprehended how these people, brought together from around the United States and South Africa would soon become so much more than my classmates. They are my collaborators, supporters, and incredible friends.

The Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI) in Skukuza, Kruger National Park was our home and base location for the program. Though safely surrounded by a fence, we fell asleep and woke to the calls of hyenas and lions in the distance, showered in the presence of kudu and waterbuck, and consciously protected our bananas from the local vervet monkeys. Our lectures on savanna ecology, evolution, or statistical analyses supplemented the knowledge we gained while working in the field. In groups of three to four we completed long-term research projects with topics ranging from microplastic pollution in river systems to differences in the species richness of birds between sites of varying levels of controlled herbivory.

We left the park and drove to the village of Venda in the north east corner of South Africa. In groups of three we said goodbyes to our friends and departed for four days in rural homestays. Equipped with my camera, two pairs of clothes, and a toothbrush I walked through the gate into our homestay family’s yard in the Sanari village. For the next four days we learned to cook traditional meals of pap with spinach or mopane worms, collected and carried wood (on our heads) from the bush, and spent many hours each day playing with over fifty local kids. Each night we fell asleep on hand woven grass mats and woke to the rooster’s call and the chiming of goat bells. Even with a wonderful translator, language remained a barrier, but the human ability to connect over a smile or gesture became profound. Being surrounded by people filled with generosity, pride, joy, and an incredibly rich sense of community has touched me in ways I have yet to realize.

My time in South Africa with OTS was informative, fun, and truly life changing. I highly recommend this program for anyone with a sense of adventure, love for learning, and drive to connect to people and nature alike.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
You may think 3 months is a long time. It's not. Get up early, go on every game drive, take walks when you can, and get to deeply know your fellow classmates, instructors, and support staff. Make every day worthwhile! Push yourself to try new things (like rock climbing or eating mopane worms), engage fully, and learn all that you can because you are surrounded by incredible people and places.
78 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

OTS student perspective

My study abroad experience in South Africa was an illuminative experience for me. During those two months, I was surrounded 24/7 by scientists interested in ecology and conservation. I was welcomed into OTS with open arms. South Africa made me learn more about the similarities that’s unites people together, and the problems going on in the world outside of my usual realm of living. Being surrounded by such like-minded people that cared about the environment re-solidified my dreams and hopes for my own future. OTS also handled the COVID-19 situation as appropriately as possible to manage our safety, and look out for our student group.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
My homestay experience was the definitely the biggest culture shock I've experienced.
Although I did have a feeling of disorientation, my homestay group was treated warmly and lovingly by our homestay family. Being suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture can be quite an experience, but the communal atmosphere we were able to experience made it absolutely worth it. My own understanding of the privilege I have was further expanded upon, and I left my homestay feeling very moved.
92 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Geek Out on Science

If you have a spirit of adventure and are passionate about conservation, if you want to get gritty in the field and think deeply about issues, and if you want an academic challenge--I definitely recommend this program! OTS is an incredible experience. The staff are all extremely knowledgeable and it's a privilege to learn from them. I was afraid that traveling so much around South Africa would make it hard to acclimate to any one place or get to know people, but OTS got the balance just right (although I would have liked to stay at any place longer). We really got to experience it all: from long days in the field to days in the lab. We learned constantly and still had the agency to devise our own projects for our capstones. I know my science writing skills in particular are drastically improved! The food was amazing and I always had options, even as a vegan. The program was really well organized and conceived to leave us with maximum impact, and then of course for fall break in Cape Town we were free to do whatever we wanted.

Just as a fair warning, OTS will keep you busy and there's very little free time. The good news is that what you learn is extremely interesting and includes game drives to appreciate the incredible animal diversity in Kruger (and beyond). There is a lot of stress that can come from high academic rigor and the unique situation of being inside a national park with the "Big 5"--and I think this is important to consider. This program can be tough due to compact group size (which is also one of its charms) and rural sites which make some amenities hard to reach. The focus on this program is also overwhelmingly science based!

Still, I honestly cannot imagine a better semester abroad and I'm so glad I chose this program! Now it's your turn :)

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Appreciate everything while you are there--I know it sounds cliche, but it's so true.
83 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

African Ecology and Conservation Rocks!

This program is superb. You will travel to many incredible places around the country, and see diverse landscapes. You will have the opportunities to hike, jump off cliffs, surf, and more. The wildlife is incredible, and you will have encounters ranging from massive elephants right next to you to catching gerbils in traps. The staff are amazing. They are friendly and helpful, and easy to talk to in both academic and social contexts. The people I interacted with on this trip come from many different backgrounds, and you will stay in touch with them for years to come as they become family. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to see South Africa and its ecosystems as a scientist and not just a tourist. 10/10 recommend.

What was your funniest moment?
A baboon stole our Wifi router (we manage to get it back).
77 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

The type of program I was looking for

I was interested in the OTS South Africa program since my freshman year in college, and then finally chose to apply for my junior spring and could not have been happier about it. I wanted a program that would challenge me academically, as well as not be in a traditional classroom setting. The mobile classroom style of OTS was so engaging, and it was a really great learning experience for me personally to be having lectures out in the field, visiting museums and historical sites, and gathering all of our own data directly for analysis. On top of the ecology and conservation aspects, the incorporation of history and culture in the curriculum made me understand more of the socioeconomic dynamics of South Africa, and how these dynamics affect conservation of wildlife and wild spaces now and in the future.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I WOULD HAVE PACKED LESS!!! I brought way too many clothes to South Africa with me. I barely wore half the t-shirts I brought, I could have survived with 2. When you're there you'll also be buying things for yourself and gifts for friends and family, so space starts to add up in your bag. Bring your favorite t-shirt, and 3 good field shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts. Thats pretty much all the daywear that you'll need. (This isn't including other stuff like socks and swimsuits and a jacket). Favorite t-shirt, one good sweater. (and maybe a few nice things for Cape Town!)
89 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

A Semester in South Africa

This program provided an involved and dynamic look into what constitutes a career as an ecologist. We traveled all over South Africa, gaining experience in many different settings and ecosystems. The program takes advantage of the expertise and wildlife located in Kruger National Park, research facilities, and other academic institutions to give rounded understanding of the country's ecology. It allows students the independence to develop their own style of research and writing, while still providing enough guidance. The academics involved are clearly passionate about their work and are enthusiastic to share this with the students. We were also given an in-depth view of the history and culture of South Africa, which was a unique and integral part of our education. My experience with OTS was formative and unforgettable. I am grateful to have attended this program and would highly recommend it to anyone.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
We did a homestay with a family in HaMakuya and one of the dishes they served us was Mopane worm! The worm is considered a delicacy and it was a sign of respect to have it served with our meal. Eating it was definitely a step outside my comfort zone, but it was good and I'm glad I did.
94 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Highly recommend OTS African Ecology & Conservation!

My experience in OTS African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa was amazing, and I am very glad that I chose to apply. I am grateful for the research experiences in a variety of ecosystems, the amazing people, and adventures around the country.
I appreciated how the academics were mainly focused on field research projects, which was very different from a usual semester for me. It was a great experience to apply some of what I had learned in lecture courses to field research, and I enjoyed learning from the OTS faculty and visiting faculty from around the world. While I was there, I also realized what a once-in-a-lifetime privilege it was to experience the parks in such a hands-on way.
One of my favorite parts of the program was becoming friends with the other students and faculty. Although at first I was worried about meeting a new group of people, it was fun to work with other students from a variety of backgrounds, and we quickly grew close through all of our shared experiences. I especially enjoyed going on game drives and doing activities (such as surfing, snorkeling, and hiking) with them.
I recommend this program to students interested in field research, South Africa, and ecology and conservation, and anyone looking for an experience that is quite different from a standard university setting.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
I recommend trying to learn to identify the common animals and birds before the semester begins. While the game drives and bird walks were always fun and exciting, I enjoyed them more once I was able to identify the animals that I saw. I recommend reading about South African history ahead of time as well. When we visited historical sites such as Freedom Park in Pretoria and Robben Island, I got more out of the visits when I already had some understanding of the historical significance.
85 people found this review helpful.

Questions & Answers