Rino Eliassen: close-up of a zebra

Interview with a returned volunteer

1. What was your motivation for going to Africa?

I have always wanted to travel and Africa seemed like a great place to start. I was drawn there initially by its landscapes and the apparent rawness of the environment. However, it was not until I spent some time there that I realised how it certainly does have this, but so much more also. Africa seems to have everything that you could ever ask for - amazing scenery and wildlife, wonderful people, awesome coastlines, great cities - and that’s only what I’ve seen so far, I can’t wait to discover the rest. I said that it seemed like a great place to start travelling - the only problem is that now I don’t seem to be able to go anywhere else!

2. Why did you choose African Conservation Experience (ACE)?

The previous year I spent two and a half months travelling around eastern and southern Africa and my absolute favourite part of the whole trip was the 10 days I spent in Botswana. I was just blown away and wanted to go back to Africa and spend some proper time in the bush and learn about the wildlife and environment that I got only a glimpse of the year before. ACE seemed to be able to offer me exactly this - a real experience in the bush, working and learning about conservation.

3. Can you describe some of your best moments while on your placement?

Sitting by a waterhole in Botswana and watching 122 elephants come to drink, watching four lions slowly devour a zebra carcass in Garonga, being involved in the precarious process of darting hyenas also in Garonga to name but a few. But I think my favourite day was much simpler and less "exciting" than any of these. We spent the afternoon on foot in the bush picking up rubbish left from when the land was farmland, and it now forms part of a new reserve in northern South Africa. This day stands out not for any single reason, but purely because I spent it wandering around the bush in the baking sun, ducking under umbrella thorns and getting my hair caught, just a few birds in the sky - quiet, real, awesome. That’s what Africa’s all about for me.

4. Any worst moments?

Having to come home.

5. What are you doing now/what are your plans for the future?

I finish uni this summer and am heading back to South Africa, actually before I even graduate!

6. Has your trip affected your outlook in any way?

Yes - in so many ways. Primarily I guess it has made me just want to go back again, to spend more time in the bush learning and helping with conservation in any way possible. Also, it has opened my eyes way beyond what we do and see every day. It made me realise that by taking a chance and leaving the comfort zone you never know what you may find - and you tend to have a great time whilst you’re looking too!

7. Do you think your trip has improved your employability?

I’m sure that it has, and not only in a conservation-type job, too. An experience like this is something that stands you out from the crowd and many employers value people with life skills and experience. It shows that you’re willing to embrace a challenge and try new things.

8. Do you have any advice for people wanting to travel to Africa?

Do it, now. It is the most wonderful and inspiring place which changed my life, who says it can’t change yours too?