News Story Archive

Lessons Learned in Africa

By Morgan Kowalewski | IANR agriculture educator major

When I first decided to join John Carroll, School of Natural Resources director and professor, and 14 other University of Nebraska-Lincoln students on a month-long trip across the ocean, I wasn't sure I was making a great educational decision. I am studying to become an agricultural educator, and while I need some background in Natural Resources, I wasn't convinced that this class would help me gain a lot of relevant information and experience for my future career. Boy was I wrong. I came back from a month in the African bushveld with a whole new knowledge base regarding conservation, species classification and identification, animal behavior, cultural traditions and field work. I gained valuable skills in field work, communication and introspection. While these new facts and skills may or may not prove extremely useful in my future career (unless I somehow end up back in Botswana, which would be awesome), I also learned important life lessons that relate to all majors, careers and lifestyles.

Botswana Plains
It was easy to forget about technology with views like this!

It is possible to go for a month without connection to the outside world.

I am one of those people who is constantly on her phone. Pre-Africa, I was always checking status updates on Facebook and responding to the latest texts and emails. Spending a month in the African bush taught me that I can unplug and disconnect for a little bit to refocus on what is truly important in life.

Going with the flow is actually very freeing.

Being present and living in the moment made for a memorable experience.

During camp orientation with our guides, we were encouraged to leave our watches in our suitcases for the month and live in the moment. Live in the moment we did! We would be informed of what we would be doing the next day, at the earliest, the night before, and even that wasn't for sure. I learned that being present is necessary for survival in the African bush because the situation is constantly changing. I thought that I would hate not knowing what was coming next but, once the control freak in me calmed down, I realized how freeing and stress-free not knowing what is coming next can be. I found myself focusing on the present moment and not worrying about the next thing, thus completely and totally enhancing my experience.

There is a lot to be learned from the life around us.

One morning while we were out for a drive, we spotted a young female kudu with a broken leg. She was still walking and keeping up with the herd. She had to. This situation and so many other situations like it helped me see the incredible beauty and strength that one can find in the wilderness. It was amazing to me to see all of the different ways animals and plants have adapted even in what seemed like impossible conditions. I couldn't help but think about my own species and how we as humans can adapt to our situation and make the best of it.

Many animals like this klipspringer have amazing adaptations and resiliency to survive in the wild.

UNL professors (and students) are really cool.

Students and Director
Part of what made this experience so great was Dr. John Carroll and my classmates.

I already knew this to an extent, but after traveling across the ocean and spending a month in the bush with 14 of some of the most wonderful students I have ever had a class with and led by an extremely well-traveled professor, I know that there is no place like UNL and no better study-abroad trip I could've chosen. Getting to know professors and students outside of a classroom setting leads to lifelong friendships and great connections for the future.

Patience is a valuable skill.

This lesson was one of the more difficult ones I learned in Botswana as I am what some may consider an impatient person. One of our guides favorite phrases was "let's just sit here for a while and see what finds us." Initially, sitting and waiting patiently wasn't quite what I had in mind for my African adventure, but it definitely paid off. If we didn't sit for a few extra minutes with a cheetah, we would’ve never gotten to hear a cheetah chirp. If we left right away, we wouldn’t have seen the baby hyenas interact with the adults. Thirty minutes of waiting with a lioness allowed us to watch her catch dinner. Witnessing the most amazing things in my life to this point were due to patience. In our society today, patience isn’t exactly something that is rewarded, but it is so valuable in many aspects of our lives. I am thankful I was able to practice this skill.

Hyena Cubs
Our patience paid off when the hyena cubs came out to play.

Hands on learning is the best kind of learning.

On the trail
Every day was spent out in the field learning.

I learned more in the first three days in Botswana than I would've sitting in a classroom for a year. As a future teacher, this resonated with me because I want my students to learn as much as they can. Ideally, every student will be able to have an experience similar to the one I had in Africa, but since that isn't reality, I wonder how I can best recreate the hands on learning that was done out in the field. No matter the subject, no matter the age, experience will teach students far more than any PowerPoint will.

Going outside of your comfort zone is a really good thing.

Being in nature without any other distractions from the outside world helps one find their inner confidence. I had many experiences that pushed me out of my comfort zone, from sleeping outside in a shelter I built with my own hands, to driving the vehicle through an entire herd of elephants. My classmates had their own share of growth-facilitating experiences like tackling their fear of heights or getting stuck in the sand. Each time we overcame these moments, we gained a little more belief in ourselves and our abilities and came home with a newfound sense of accomplishment and confidence.

Sleeping Shelter
Building and sleeping in a shelter built by my classmates and I was definitely an out of comfort zone experience!

Appreciate the little things.

Crested Barbet
Seeing the brightly colored crested barbet was always a joy.

Every night, after supper, we would go around and share our favorite moment of the day. Even if nothing 'big' happened that day (except for the fact that we were camping in Africa), each person had a favorite moment that was special to them. Sometimes it was a simple as hearing a certain bird calling or sharing a conversation with a classmate. After a few days, I found myself slowing down to examine an interesting track or notice a cool insect. All of the "little" things turned into memories that impacted me in a big way.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the experience is priceless.

Going through the pictures from this trip helped me relive the memories, but that didn't come close to actually having the experience. I learned that I didn't need to stress out about getting the perfect shot because that distracted from the incredible moment I was living.

Pictures don’t adequately capture feelings nor do the moment complete justice.
Pictures don't adequately capture feelings nor do the moment complete justice. Photo courtesy of Jessica Schmidt

You don’t need much in life to find happiness and joy.

The group
One of my favorite things was having coffee in the African bushveld.

The most important thing I learned from my experience in Botswana is how easy it is to enjoy life without a lot of 'stuff.' We were living outside in the middle of nowhere for goodness sakes, but it was one of the happiest months of my life. There is something about sitting around a campfire after a good meal, getting to know people and their incredible stories, and looking up into an endless sky of stars. It really doesn't get much better than that.

It is amazing how much one short month of new experiences can impact a person. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that this study abroad trip was one of the best learning experiences I have had at UNL. It will always be the cause of many of my fondest memories from my college years and I am thankful to the people who made the experience so positive and memorable.