Everyday, I miss the feeling of the wind blowing in my face while riding on a game drive vehicle. The beauty of the animals and their environment is breathtaking. My name is Jacky Lu and I am currently a rising senior at Carleton College in Minnesota. During my beginning of my sophomore year, I decided to study abroad in South Africa with the Organization of Tropical Studies, which is sponsored by Duke University. I visited South Africa as a senior in high school but was unable to explore my academic passion of ecology. The program had a focus of savanna ecology and research. It was a perfect fit for me because I had the opportunity to learn about this field and return to the nation I longed to go back to. While on the program, I traveled to many regions and ecosystems of South Africa, ranging from the savanna of the northeast to the fynbos of the Western Cape. The research projects I participated in included the assessing the impact of African elephant on a species of Acacia tree, studying changing gait of a dung beetle species, and evaluating the impact of the house sparrow on the native bird population. One of the more unique parts of OTS is the homestay component. During the Apartheid era, many native South Africans were forced to relocate to homelands. While they make up the majority of the population, they were only given less than 15% of the land. I had the privilege of staying in HaMakuya, which is located near the northeastern tip of the country, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It was a very good experience as I was able to see how people live with the natural areas around them.
I grew up wanting to the work with wildlife and this trip gave me full exposure of that. While the trip was fantastic, I learned that I don’t want to pursue a career in ecology. While I am fascinated by the interactions between organisms and their environment, I dislike being disconnected from society. I do enjoy field research but I don’t see it as something I can do for the rest of my life. Fortunately, I am equally interested in other fields of biology that also explore interactions. I have always been interested in health so looking at microbe interaction with the human immune system will be a plausible career option for me. My current goal is to pursue a PhD in microbiology after graduating. I am grateful that I received a sampling of the field of ecology because it allowed me to resolve the career dilemma I have faced since high school.
Studying abroad was a valuable experience and I am glad I did so. I was able to learn about myself and grow personally. In addition, I was able to study something I would not be able to on a college campus. I was also exposed to another culture. I strongly encourage everyone to study abroad in college. SRA made this possible but the costs were still difficult for me; my school only covered for a trimester but I went on a semester program. The cost of the program was more the cost of one of my academic terms. The remaining cost was made possible through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. The scholarship provides grants for students who demonstrate financial need. Studying abroad is a valuable experience and scholarships such as the Gilman Scholarship will make that possible.