In the spring of my junior year I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Kenya with the School for Field Studies. As excited as I was to go, when I got there I realized that my semester abroad would be like no other semester that I have had throughout college. My life changed overnight from an American college student to a field researcher in rural Kenya.
The hardest thing for me when adjusting to doing research in the field is the wake-up time. Every few days, I was assigned to work on the cook crew to help make and prepare breakfast for the whole camp. For cook crew, we had to be up and in the kitchen by 6:20 am. Still, when I didn’t have cook crew, I would wake up at 5:30 am. It’s important to remember that when studying abroad, we have two sets of goals in mind, our academic goals and our personal goals. For me, my personal goal was to work on getting photos for my portfolio. It has been my dream to be a wildlife photographer since I was eight years old, so a semester in the bush photographing wildlife in my spare time wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up. 5:30 became my regular wake-up time that semester, and I used that time to walk to the edge of camp and photograph the group of baboons that lived right outside of camp.
After my early morning with the baboons, the rest of the morning was very similar to life back home. We would have breakfast and start with our lectures. Most of the time, classes would be held at camp, but at least once a week, we would have lectures in the field, and my professors chose some genuinely unique spots for them. Day-to-day, we talked about different topics such as wildlife ecology, natural resource management, or the human dimensions of conservation, and a few times a week, we would have Swahili classes.
After our morning classes, we would have about an hour off for free time before lunch. I usually spent this time going out to get more photos, and sometimes my friends and I would just hang out in our hammocks and have an hour off to enjoy the weather and watch the birds fly past us, and the vervet monkeys jump from tree to tree. Lunch was a great time to recap the morning and talk about what we learned. What was great about lunch was that all of our professors ate with us, so if we had any remaining questions from their lectures, lunch was the perfect time to ask them. Having our professors eat every meal with us was great because it allowed us to build a close relationship with them.
After lunch was my favorite time of the day, this is usually when my professors would take us out of camps for field research. Whether it was transecting through the bush and collecting data on vegetation growth, looking at habitat management for the endangered Sykes monkey, or meeting with members from the local Maasai community and hearing about the difficulties of living in close proximity to wildlife and trying to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. These things were truly impactful on me because they made me care so much more about what we heard in our morning lectures. Experiencing and researching what we were studying in the classroom was one of the best features of this class and truly made me obsessed with what we were learning.
After getting back to camp in the late afternoon, we had a few hours off to do homework and hang out before dinner. Usually, after my friends and I had completed our homework, we would play a volleyball game. Sometimes our professors would come out to the field and challenge the students to a game. These games were a great way to relax and unwind after a tiring afternoon working out in the field and just a great way to socialize with other students and the faculty. After our volleyball games, we always had dinner as a group. After dinner, we would have ReKAP, which consisted of a reflection question, an impromptu Swahili lesson, announcements usually about what we would be doing for the next day, and finally, a presentation that a student would give about something they were interested in.
After ReKAP, we would usually have the night off, but some weeks our professors would take us out on a nighttime game drive in the wildlife sanctuary a few minutes from our camp. My favorite memory was our first drive through there at night. We had already been driving around for about an hour in the dark. Right as my friends and I were losing faith that we would see something that night, a male lion walked out of the bush about ten feet away from our car and stopped for a minute to look at us. Some of the other students in the car with me were very worried to see a lion this close in a car with no windows and no roof, but I was so focused on getting the photo that I didn’t realize all the nervousness in the car. The lion kept walking on the edge of the grass until it saw the flash of my camera going off, and that’s when it turned its head and looked at us. The car grew very silent as we watched this massive cat glare at us, but then he turned away from us and disappeared into the darkness. As exciting as this night drive was, on most nights my friends and I would play a board game or head out to the field to see the stars.
Stay tuned for more of my posts about Kenya, and learn more about studying abroad through the School for Field Studies (SFS).