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Navigating Namibian Nirvana

During this past fall semester, I participated in the Namibian Wildlife Aerial Observatory Study Abroad program. I, along with 20 other NCSU students, travelled to N/a’an Kusê Wildlife Sanctuary on the outskirts of the Namibian capital city of Windhoek. This trip brought together a diverse group of wildlife and engineering students in an effort to learn more about the use of unmanned aerial vehicle technology to combat conservation problems facing Sub-Saharan Africa.

This study abroad trip was one of my first times having hands-on experience working with animals in their natural habitat. It didn’t hurt that I got to work with some of my favorite animals on the planet (elephants, giraffes, and rhinos), all of which can be found in N/a’an Kusê. We as students were able to use the wildlife techniques we had learned in our CNR classes in scenarios that had drastic effects on not only our NCSU projects, but also projects N/a’an Kusê itself was working on. We used drones to gain accurate game counts of the property, used telemetry equipment to track African wild dogs, and experimented with using drones to fight against the ever-growing poaching problem facing conservation today. However, one of the most interesting and inspiring parts of this experience was when a group of students joined Dr. Kobus Hoffman, the head veterinarian and researcher at N/a’an Kusê, for a week. During our time with him, we performed physicals on rehabilitated cheetahs, watched him do surgery on baboons, and even drove out to a neighboring property to help with one of their injured juvenile rhinos! Living as a wildlife field biologist for 3 months in Namibia further cemented my choice of majoring in a conservation field, and I am extremely grateful that I was given this opportunity.

Not only did we learn about native Namibia wildlife, but we also got to experience a great deal of the Namibian culture and way of life. During our first week at N/a’an Kusê, the trip coordinators arranged for us to tour the city of Windhoek and meet with some of the engineering students at the Namibian University of Science and Technology. One student in particular, Nauta, liked hanging out with us so much that he offered to give us a tour of what he called the ‘real’ Windhoek the next weekend. That next Saturday, Nauta hopped in the bus with all the students and showed us around the township Katatura where he and his family lived. He even took us into his cousin’s place of business which functioned as a printing press, restaurant, car wash, and lastly a bar where we listened to popular Namibian music and hung out with some of his friends. He then took us to a local open air market where we ate lunch for the day. Katatura could not have been more drastically different from what most of us are used to in the United States and yet not one person didn’t enjoy the experience. We all raved for weeks about how much fun our day with Nauta was. While we learned about Namibian culture, Nauta asked asked us his questions about living in America. Overall, that day was one of my favorites on the entire trip and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to expand my horizons and learn more about such an amazing and unique culture.

I find it difficult to put into words just how amazing and transformative an experience like this study abroad trip was for me in terms of my physical, emotional, and professional growth. I can only say that I am so glad that I expanded my horizons by going on this study abroad experience and getting the chance to make 20+ lifelong friends along the way.