Name: Brigitta Rongstad
School: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: Geology and Physical Geography
Program: Wildlife Management Studies, Tanzania & Kenya
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
I really enjoyed being able to experience two different countries. While Kenya and Tanzania border each other, each country is very unique in both its people and conservation practices. I also loved how often we were able to get out into the field. Our field lectures, field exercises, game drives and Directed Research fieldwork are some of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had here in East Africa.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
One of the reasons that I chose the East Africa program was that we didn’t spend the semester in one country. Kenya and Tanzania have been amazing, and I couldn’t imagine having to pick between the two of them. The people have been so welcoming, and the staffs at both centers were unbelievable. The countries both have amazing wildlife (especially the Rhinos — love the rhinos) and rocks (yes, I love the rocks), and I hope I have the chance to visit again someday.
What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
I wouldn’t personally call either center “remote.” Sure, we aren’t in the middle of a city like Nairobi, but I’ve actually really enjoyed the ability to walk to nearby towns and villages while still being extremely close to nature.
The Tanzania Center and the Kenya Center are very different. The Tanzania Center was awesome because of its proximity to local towns, while the Kenya Center had an amazing amount of space inside the gates to move around in. The most challenging part about the Centers was getting used to limited communication to friends and family back home. Although even with the limited internet, I was still able to keep in touch fairly well.
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Learning Swahili was definitely a struggle for me. I definitely would have loved more time to learn the basics in the classroom/wished I had taken a class on it before I came, but I really enjoyed learning from the locals and the staff. I definitely got good at silent communication, particularly while on my homestays.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
The highlight of my semester would probably be the expedition to Serengeti National Park. Being able to camp inside the park, and game drive early every morning until late every night for five whole days was insanely awesome. I completed my big 5 sightings while there, and I even got to see a cerval chase and kill in action.
Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Sad (to be leaving soon), thankful, lucky.