Deciding to do a wildlife internship in a different country can be exciting. The anticipation of learning about a new culture and stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be both exhilaration and nerve racking. It can be even more intimidating when there are hundreds of agencies, companies and programs all claiming to give you the most authentic experience. For anyone looking to volunteer in South Africa there are several different types of internships to choose from. Depending on what interests you there are wildlife center internships, wildlife photography internships, wildlife biology internships and wildlife conservation internships. They all sound similar but each are unique in their own way.
In order to help you choose the best program for you, we have put together a few tips.
1. Know and understand your cause.
As mentioned previously, there are many different types of internship and volunteer opportunities available in South Africa. Prior to looking for a program, it is important that you understand what excites you. When making an investment in a volunteer or internship opportunity you don’t want to waste your money on something that is not going to completely fulfill you. If you have a passion for a specific species ensure that you are looking for a program that focuses on that species. If you are worried that it may not give you the full Africa experience, not to worry, many programs will have additional excursions that will allow you to experience the vast wildlife of Africa. Being able to focus on a program that caters to your particular interest will ensure that you enjoy you time in South Africa.
2. Do your research.
If you take only one lesson from this, this is the most important, DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are so many different wildlife conservation internships throughout South Africa and they all claim to be the best and doing good for wildlife. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is important that you carefully research each project you are interested in and try to do some digging on each organizations practices and ethics. This information can be easily found through Google and Facebook. Many programs have Facebook pages and it would be simple to message a previous volunteer to learn more about the program. Ensuring you are well educated on the program you choose to get involved with will only set you up for success.
3. Manage your expectations.
Many volunteers that come from over seas experience a bit of culture shock upon arriving in South Africa. Although many programs are well organized, schedules are always bound to change and it is important that volunteers are adaptable to these changes. Another crucial part of any wildlife conservation internships is the hard work involved. Many volunteers come with the expectation that they are here just to play with animals when in fact they are here to take care of animals and this involves a lot more then just playing. There is hard work involved and ensuring you understand this is important to your happiness at any program. There is a phrase here in Africa called T.I.A, meaning This Is Africa – plans change, be adaptable.
Travelling abroad is an amazing experience and joining wildlife program is a great way to make a difference and meet people from around the world. In order to get the best out of your experience, it is important that you travel responsibly and do your due diligence in learning about the culture and conservation of any program you join. If you put time in to researching prior to boarding the plane your experience will be nothing shy of incredible!