The Best Part of South Africa

Ella HeadDuke University
African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa – Spring 2018
That’s me on top of a giant termite mound!

While I was deciding whether or not I was going to study abroad in South Africa, lots of fears crossed my mind. I worried about all the things I would miss out on campus while I was abroad. I considered my senior friends who would graduate while I was away. I thought about what if someone in my family got sick I needed to return home? Really though, I think most of the hesitation came from the idea of traveling to the opposite side of the planet, alone. This was my first time traveling internationally by myself, and my flights would take nearly two days.

I remember as I was about to land in South Africa, I had this moment of panic. What had I gotten myself involved in? How could I have committed to traveling across two continents and an ocean to a place where I didn’t know anyone? And suddenly I realized that I left the slip of paper with the OTS instructors contact information in my living room. Now I was going to land, somehow not find the person waiting with a sign, and be unable to contact anyone. What was I going to do?

But of course, I found my professors waiting at arrivals, with a large sign that was impossible to miss. All my luggage arrived in one piece. I saw my friends from Duke who were also doing the program and had the comfort of familiar faces. It would, however, end up being all the unfamiliar faces which I fell in love with.

Kruger has the highest density of wild leopards on the plant.

I could talk about how amazing it is to experience another country and culture, what a great opportunity OTS is for getting field experience, all the amazing places I’ve gotten to see, all the amazing food I’ve eaten, how mind blowing it is to drive through Kruger National Park and see a leopard walk down the road directly at you, but for me the best part of studying abroad were my fellow classmates.

Just like me all 19 other OTS students faced similar fears and hesitations when applying to this program, yet they all were accepted and were just crazy enough to commit to living either in new country, or with a bunch of Americans (since there are several South African students on the program also). This program, and everything it has to offer, attracts the funniest, smartest, friendliest, goofiest group of friends I know. With them, I am able to wake up at 4am to do field work with a smile on my face. I never miss Netflix because there is always a card game, or round of mafia being played, and I always know I have someone to turn to when I’m struggling with work or home sickness. They give me the confidence to perform a 12 minute presentation in front of an audience, the bravery to climb to the top of rocks and giant baobab trees, and constant laughter upon my lips.

The best part of being abroad with OTS in South Africa? All the amazing students who go.

Life in Nylsvley Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park
First Day of Field Work in South Africa