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This series of blog posts follow one of our students, Madison Knutson, as she experiences South Africa through a custom Conservation Global program, prepared for Franklin University Switzerland on sustainable development and wildlife management in March 2016.
Welcome to South Africa!
The past day and a half was the best introduction to South Africa that I could have asked for. So far we’ve met some really awesome people – Bianca, our tour guide is super genuine and gives us the lowdown on everything that we can imagine. We also got on touch with Natalie, her son Nicholas, and Ellie from Conservation Global, which is a really unique experience to have while being in a new continent because they know all of the local customs and things to do. They are also amazing resources if we have any questions about the local lifestyle.
On our first night we went to a traditional South African venue called Gold Restaurant. The live music and dancing created a lively environment that put everyone automatically in a good mood . After getting a goodnight’s sleep, we woke up this morning to see the District 6 museum. Noor, the founder, had some really emotional stories to tell us, but brightened them up with good humor and smiles. He told me two stories that really stuck with me:
During apartheid, he had a grandson who needed to use the bathroom yet the bathroom was “Whites Only”.
He didn’t know how to tell his 3-year-old grandson about apartheid, so he told him to “take a piss on the bloody floor.” Fortunately, he didn’t get caught or else he would have gotten arrested, but the story showed a lot of frustration during the time period. Julia read the second story, which was about how the 6th District got demolished and even the pigeons and dogs came back after the demolition and even they had empty looks in their eyes because they came back to their home, but it wasn’t there anymore.
Through the stories about the “whites only” benches and racially separated ID cards, he seemed to be happy, resilient, and insightful.
Our trip to the Cape of Good Hope was how I expected: incredibly sunny and breathtaking. We passed by Table Mountain and I just learned that it is one of the oldest mountains in the world — older than the Himalayans.
We got to finish the hike with the absolutely STUNNING Constantia Glen vineyard with one of the owners Mr. Gus Allen. We tried two whites, two reds, and a rosé, which of course were incredible. I never have thought about the intricacies of winemaking so much until today!
We followed it with a nice pizza dinner and drinks at a rooftop bar full of locals. Everyone on this travel agreed that it seems as if everyone in South Africa is basically model! Anyway, it has been great so far and I can’t wait for the days to come!
My week spent on Gondwana Game Reserve with Conservation Global was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa with Franklin University Switzerland on academic travel in the spring of 2015. Bonding with the staff and learning about the animals in their natural environment made for one incredible week. Each day was filled with activities and lectures that were as entertaining as they were educational. As a group we had a lecture in the morning either from a member of the knowledge staff or from a local expert. We learned about native bee populations and were treated to honey samples from the region and were given a demonstration on the practice of tagging and tracking animals on the reserve. Perhaps the most memorable was when we were taught how to properly handle a tranquilizer gun and had a competition to see who could get a bullseye! After the morning lecture, the group would split up for the safari in which the staff took great care to make sure we saw as many animals as possible. Later in the afternoon we would regroup for a drink and to admire the scenery. I have the utmost respect for Conservation Global and the work they are doing—hoping to return to South Africa soon!
Conservation Global provided a comprehensive and engaging travel experience for a group of seasoned travelers. My expectations were exceeded due to the organization’s ability to strike a balance between learning and fun, academics were firmly grounded as the motivation for all activities. We had access to sustainability focused thought leaders who were great privileges to learn from; many of whom were only accessible through this fantastic organization and their vast network of environmentalists. From a beautiful sunrise hike of Lion’s Head in Cape Town to spending time with the students at Tsiba college in Knysna, I would happily relive this trip in a heartbeat. I am grateful for Conservation Global and the time and energy they put in to ensure a memorable, inspiring and educational South African adventure for all involved.