a Week in South Africa


By Blythe Owen, Wheaton College, MA ‘19

Blythe is currently a student on our Fall 2017 African Ecology and Conservation program.

This week we challenged ourselves to try new things and completely immerse ourselves in an entirely different culture on our homestays in Hamakuya. We were split up into groups of 4 or 5 people and went into different villages to stay with a family for 3 days. It was the longest we have all been apart from each other since getting here. There was definitely more excitement than nerves when getting dropped off at our new homes for the next few days although it was sad to say goodbye to everyone.

Once at our home it took maybe only 10 minutes until there was a crowd of at least 20 kids all ready to play with us. We played soccer, learned a lot of new hand games, and got new hairstyles from the kids. We spent most of our time over the three days with the kids really getting to know them and seeing how they fit into their community. We also learned a lot from the family’s helper who came in to help with the cooking. We watched her kill a chicken, learned how to make pap, and crushed peanuts using a mortar and pestle. Along with learning the cooking methods we tried a few new traditional foods though out the three days. My group got to try pumpkin greens, chicken feet, and of course Mopani worms! It was a very different experience from what we are all used to and we were all so happy we got to enjoy it together.

After being reunited with our fellow OTS members after the homestays we compared the songs, hand games, and dance moves we had learned at the homestays over a braai and a huge dance party with live music. After Hamakuya we made our way to Mapungubwe where we were back to watching out for the leopards, lions, and baboons we had all missed.


First Impressions of Costa Rica: a Series in Contrasts and Comparisons


By Mikayla Kifer, Bowdoin College ‘19

Mikayla is currently a student on our Fall 2017 Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet program

For most people, travelling is a way to explore differences. We like to contrast our “normal,” boring lives with something foreign and exciting; the distinctions between the two are intriguing. I like to focus on the smallest changes—light switches, systems of garbage disposal, ratios of food pyramid groups. The way that we interact with our surroundings shapes our lives and who we are as people. The neural machinery that bats use to echolocate is something that we can never comprehend because we have not experienced the same stimuli as a bat. I have not experienced the same stimuli as a Tico—until now.

Every night (and morning and afternoon), I eat Costa Rican beans and rice. I gaze across the same marsh as them and lift my upturned binoculars to the same herons. I am not and will never be a Tico. Being here has reminded me how vastly different one human’s experience can be from another’s. Yet we all love to laugh, to feel connected to other humans, and in my case, we’re all here because we love plants and animals and care about this planet. Every day when we go out into the field we do so with the same excitement and the same hatred of mosquitos.

Although this lifestyle is totally foreign to me, seeing people who are adapted to it has made me understand that although our environment shapes us in different and amazing ways, we are still fundamentally the same.