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My Journey Through East Africa The School for Field Studies Kenya and Tanzania Wildlife Management Program - Ashley Fehringer, Animal Sciences

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Posted: August 28, 2012

I will never forget the first time I saw an African Lion in the Ngorongoro Crater, just a few feet from my jeep looking powerful, majestic and beautiful. And the cubs were adorable!
Me at my Kenyan home stay with a Massai family carrying a jerry can filled with water

Me at my Kenyan home stay with a Massai family carrying a jerry can filled with water

After another three days of long plane rides and even longer layovers, I was very happy to be boarding the last plane of my journey home.  At the same time I felt alone and saddened that my adventures were coming to an end.  I had just spent the last few months living and learning (in extremely close quarters) with 27 other students and I was not yet used to the silence of being the only one around.  However, the unfamiliar silence gave me the opportunity to reflect and absorb my study abroad experience; an experience that began in this very same place just three and half months earlier. 

I was nervous to meet my fellow students that would be traveling with me to Kenya and Tanzania to participate in the School for Field Studies Wildlife Management program, because I knew that my ability to get along with this small group would make or break my experience.  However, I quickly realized that my fears were all for not; by the time we began boarding the plane to London we were talking and joking around like old friends.  It was easy to strike up a conversation since we all shared a common love for adventure and East Africa’s exotic mammals.

After three long days of seeing nothing but airports and the insides of planes, it felt great to smell the fresh, and hot, air of Tanzania.  But we were not finished traveling yet.  At the Kilimanjaro airport we were greeted by faculty and staff of the SFS team and we began our 3 hour trek through northern Tanzania in our safari jeeps.  The ride was unbelievable; I saw a completely new world develop outside my window.  I saw Maasai people in traditional clothing herding cattle at free range, more people than I thought could fit into one city on one street of the city of Arusha, women carrying jugs of water on their heads (that at the time I could only imagine how immensely heavy they were), and so much more.  As we continued our journey towards Tanzania’s famous National Parks, we saw our first giraffes on the side of the road.  They were beautiful, and for the first time I felt like I was in Tanzania and it made the long trip worthwhile.

We jumped right into our classes the day after our arrival.  Our core classes were in Wildlife Ecology, Wildlife Management and Environmental Policy (a class that soon became my favorite).  What I loved most about our classes was the hands on approach.  We barely had any in class room lectures because we were always in the field.  However, this approach to learning also presented a challenge for me.  I had to learn to fully enjoy the field experience while still retaining the necessary information to succeed in the class. 

FehringerKenya2.pngMany of our lectures involved games drives through national parks.  In fact we would go on safari about once a week.  Game drives were the best part of my study abroad experience.  There is no greater freedom than the freedom I felt standing in a pop-top jeep driving through the beautiful savannah.  And there is nothing more amazing than seeing these exotic animals in their natural habitat.  I will never forget the first time I saw an African Lion in the Ngorongoro Crater, just a few feet from my jeep looking powerful, majestic and beautiful.  And the cubs were adorable!

In between lectures and game drives we spent time interacting with the local communities through volunteer work and homestay opportunities.  We went to an orphanage for kids who lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS.  We painted the kids’ rooms, cemented their floors and played with the kids who love to have us around.  We volunteered at local primary schools playing English games with the school kids and reading books.  We also helped the local community plant over 100 trees to help repair the river bank and help increase the quality of the water and thus increase the livelihoods of the local people.

Homestays were a great way to experience the local culture first hand.  We had two, one day homestays throughout the semester, one in Tanzania and one in Kenya.  We did everything that our families do in a normal day which included cooking, cleaning and even carrying 20 liters of water in a jerry can on our heads from the river to our bomas.  This experience was always scary at the beginning, especially because there was a language barrier, but by the end of the day we left our homes with a new family and a new appreciation for a different way of life.

Half way through the semester we moved from Tanzania to Kenya.  The transition was hard because we had just begun to get really close to our staff and professors at our Tanzania camp and we were all very comfortable with our live arrangements and the surrounding area.  Although it was a difficult move, I felt that it gave us the opportunity to explore new and interesting places and I learned how to be more adaptable to different and somewhat adverse situations.

The first couple of weeks in Kenya involved more game drives, volunteer opportunities, and in class and field lectures.  During the last few weeks of our semester we finished class work and moved on to directed research projects.  My project focused on the status of the water in the Noolturesh River, a major source of water for the people in our area.  We collected field data about the water turbidity, erosion around the riverbank and land use along the river.  We also conducted interviews with local land owners to gain their opinion on water quality and quantity and other related topics.  From the research collected I wrote a 45 page research paper focused on the effects of increased agriculture along the river on the quality and quantity of the river water.  FehringerKenya3.pngFrom data collect and interviews I determined that agriculture as a major land use option was causing increased runoff of harmful chemicals into the water, erosion around the riverbank and sedimentation in the river.  We also presented our research to the local community members.  We shared our scientific findings and solutions for the future with them.

Writing the directed research paper provided me with many skills for the future.  There were many short deadlines that we had to meet and I learned how to manage my time better so I could write an effective paper and still have time to enjoy time off in East Africa.  I also learned how to think critically about a problem and to come up with viable solutions.  The presentation to the local community was also a great opportunity to improve my public speaking skills, particularly in conveying a message with body language and tone since no one could understand me without a translator. 
My study abroad program was a life changing experience.  It taught me many valuable life lessons and it has shaped the way I view my global community.  Living in a developing country is not easy, but in the end the only things I remember are the amazing experiences and opportunities that I had.  I am so glad that I participated in this program and I cannot wait to go back to East Africa!