Volunteering Half the World Away
When Faye Hudson, a Geography and Natural Hazards BSc (Hons) student was considering her work placement options, she knew she wanted to find placement opportunities abroad. After much hard work and planning, Faye undertook a packed 36 week placement spanning half the globe.
Faye’s particular interests lay in volunteer work, and with the support of the university’s employability and placements unit, she secured placements with Conservation Volunteers New Zealand (CVNZ), La Hesperia Nature Reserve in Ecuador and Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT) in South Africa.
So was it worth it? Faye shares some of her experiences and advice for anyone looking to complete a placement whilst studying at Coventry University.
Placements give you the opportunity to learn practical skills
The skills I have learned on placement are definitely more practical in nature than academic. I was taught how to use a number of tools specific for conservation projects, some of which (such as the machete) were considered more dangerous.
Additionally, I have gained several life skills that I’m sure will be important later in life. For example, clear communication was a key skill that was required to complete many of the daily tasks. Completing a placement abroad definitely boosted my self-confidence as well, as I was meeting new volunteers and staff members all the time, which in turn improved my ability to work in teams.
You get to work on some exciting projects
During my time at La Hesperia I worked on projects ranging from eco-construction to educative activities with local children. The most exciting activity was definitely heading out to the Galapagos Islands for a week to learn more about how the National Park works towards sustainable tourism. It was incredible to see the diverse wildlife and extraordinary biodiversity, and how the country is working towards sustaining the ecosystems on the islands.
A highlight at NVT was the weekly bird-ringing sessions. We would set up bird nets before sunrise in order to catch the birds as they woke up. Each bird caught was carefully removed from the nets and transferred to the table in order to have a metal ring placed around its leg for future identification.
You get exposure to unforgettable experiences Whilst in Christchurch, I was given the chance to be officially welcomed onto a Maori Marae in a cultural ceremony, which was an unforgettable experience. The project was aimed at working with the local Maori people to conserve part of their land.
In Ecuador I woke up on my 21st birthday to an earthquake – an incredible experience for a natural hazards student!
During my time in South Africa I worked with the marine team based in Plettenberg Bay, tracking whales and dolphins via land and boat. There was also an oil spill in a nearby bay which led to several seabirds being brought in for de-oiling and rehabilitation. I supported in cleaning oiled birds and aid their recuperation through cleaning the syringes used for feeding and preparing the formulas for the birds. This was an extremely humbling experience as it showed the true effects that human activity can have on the natural world.
Whilst in Nature’s Valley I had the chance to aid the ongoing research efforts at the Trust through data collection. I spent many days in the estuary helping to sample the invasive mosquitofish and record data on the increasing number of fish in the water. This required us to take out the canoes and wear wetsuits in order to reach the water-based sample sites. The experience was great fun and usually ended with one of us neck deep in the river!
It’s not all work, work, work
During weekends in New Zealand I had the chance to explore and travel to some amazing places. Highlights include exploring Christchurch and visiting the earthquake museums (a must for any geographer!); visiting the Weta Cave Studios and Hobbiton; travelling across the North Island with another British geographer; and completing the Tongariro Crossing, a 19.4km hike across volcanoes and around sulphur lakes.
In Ecuador I had the chance to explore the capital city, Quito, in more depth and climb to the top of the Basilica; visit wildlife hotspots like Mindo and the reserve itself; zip-line and experience the ‘End of the World’ swing in the adrenaline capital of Ecuador, Baños; hike around the Quilotoa Lagoon; and visit Isla de la Plata to see the famous blue-footed boobies!
In comparison to New Zealand and Ecuador, I spent most of my weekends and spare time in South Africa enjoying the peace, quiet and sunshine that a ‘winter’ in South Africa has to offer. My one main trip took me to Addo Elephant National Park where I drove through the park all weekend wildlife spotting – the elephants were certainly worth the trip!
Considering a placement? Go for it!
To anyone unsure whether to go on placement or not, I would say go for it – particularly if you’re considering completing one abroad!
It’ll take time and patience to plan and organise, but in the end you’ll gain unforgettable experiences. I’ve boosted my confidence so much by throwing myself into situations that I would never have put myself in before. Travelling halfway around the world for three months at a time was a terrifying thought, but the opportunities that arose were incomparable and it is an experience that will last a lifetime.
My final bit of advice is to make the most of every opportunity you have whilst you’re on placement – whether it’s in the UK or abroad. I have met some of the most incredible people whilst travelling and have made some amazing and lasting memories which I wouldn’t change for the world.