In the past five months I have lived in two different countries in two different hemispheres, and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to a completely different continent. I spent my spring semester at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies on South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands, and I am currently sitting in a gazebo on Moyo Hill in Tanzania, East Africa. I have had the opportunity to swim with dolphins and sharks 100 feet under the ocean, and fall asleep to the sounds of hyenas and lions prowling around my campsite in the middle of the Serengeti. From Caribbean sunsets to Serengeti sunrises, I could never even have dreamed of a better way to spend my junior year.

As I write this reflection in the middle of a Tanzanian winter, my tan lines from South Caicos are beginning to fade, though the memories are still racing through my mind. Adjusting to a new group of classmates, a new SFS center and a whole new environment has not been easy, but I have come to love my home on Moyo Hill just as I will always have a piece of my heart on South Caicos. The stress of unpacking from my semester and re-packing only to leave three short weeks later is finally beginning to subside, and my intense longing for the friends I have just left are beginning to soften as I form connections with 34 new people.

Just as I will never forget my first time scuba diving, I will never forget my first game drive. A few days after our orientation to the Center for Wildlife Management Studies we were taken to Lake Manyara National Park. We spent hours driving around, and I couldn’t believe that the animals were really real! My whole life I have dreamed of visiting Africa and observing the wildlife, and to have this dream fulfilled was so surreal. After years of watching countless documentaries on African wildlife and practically memorizing Disney’s “The Lion King,” I was finally provided with the opportunity to visit a place that once seemed so impossibly far away. One of the highlights of my four weeks here, and perhaps of my entire life, was when a large male lion in the Ngorongoro Crater stopped, looked at our car and roared, and then proceeded to stroll right around us approximately three meters from my window. I’m pretty sure I have about 75 pictures of this one lion alone.

As I prepare for my senior year of college, the future of my career and education are constantly on my mind. If you had asked me growing up what I wanted to be when I was older, my response would have included saving all the white tigers and raising baby lions. Five months ago, I would have told you that I had no clue whatsoever where I would end up, just as long as I was somewhere near the ocean. A short summary of my many career aspirations at the time included marine scientist, wildlife manager, massage therapist, professional CrossFitter, and sports nutritionist. Obviously, choosing a grad school program was going to be a bit of a struggle. Because of my experiences with SFS, I now know that my childhood desire to work with big cats could actually be a reality. After spending an extended time leaning about marine ecology and wildlife management, it is now clear to me that wildlife research is what I want to do.  In five months, I have been able to narrow down my list and decide on a focus area for my future education, and I would not have been able to do this without The School for Field Studies. I am now looking into biology-related grad programs where I can focus my studies on large mammals, specifically carnivores, and I hope to one day return to the Serengeti with a research permit. I couldn’t be more thankful for the incredible life-changing experiences I have had, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be an alum of two different SFS programs.