By Charlotte Kugler ‘14
Recent graduate and geography major Veronica Crosier ’12 took two courses relating to African studies during her freshman year at Mount Holyoke and joined the Youth Action International Club. After she befriended a student who frequently talked enthusiastically about her semester abroad in Africa, she decided, as she put it, that life was giving her a sign.
Her curiosity about Africa, combined with her passion for environmental policymaking and the management of natural wildlife, led her to apply to a program in Africa offered by the School for Field Studies (SFS), a study-abroad organization centered around environmental studies for college undergraduates.
“SFS programs are unique in that they are hands-on and research-based,” Crosier explains. “I ended up spending much of my time visiting six national parks in Africa, where we conducted a great deal of observational research focused on wildlife management and conservation.”
Her exploration took her to both Tanzania and Kenya, where she participated in two different homestays, one with an Iraqi family and another with a Maasai family. In addition to learning about the natural world around her, Crosier was able to experience firsthand the life of the local communities.
“When I stayed with the Maasai family, I helped to cook, cut firewood, carry water, do laundry, and harvest crops along with my hosts,” she says.
She also interacted with local people, including authority figures, when conducting a four-week intensive research project at the end of the semester. Her focus was environmental policy related to wildlife conflict with land-tenure systems.
“At the end of my research, I was able to present my findings to the community, and people then gave feedback and participated in discussion,” says Crosier. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see that your work sparked an interest in someone and made a difference, no matter how small.”
Getting to know the people she lived and worked among was the most valuable part of her semester abroad, Crosier says. She conducted many individual interviews on land use during her research project, which often turned into conversations about life in the community in general.
“I learned so much about their day-to-day life that I wouldn’t have known from simply reading about it, or even if I had just stuck to the questions I had planned to ask,” she says.
During her time in Tanzania and Kenya, Crosier also had opportunities to participate in community service projects at the local primary schools and orphanages; to witness elephants, lions, and ostriches mating; and to camp in the Serengeti for four nights--with hyenas and buffalo paying nightly visits to the campsite. She also learned how to bargain in Swahili, throw a spear, and paint with a knife.
“Really, there was a new adventure waiting for us every day,” she remembers.
Crosier says her time abroad strongly influenced her idea of what she wants to do in the future, namely either to become involved in or report on environmental policymaking.
“Originally I had little idea of what I wanted to do after college,” she says. “I knew I wanted to write, but I had no idea what I might want to focus on. Being abroad opened up new possibilities that I hadn’t considered before.”
While in Africa, Crosier contributed a blog post on SFS’s website in which she wrote in detail about her experiences. Read it here.