Environmental studies major Megan Curran '11 of Westfield, Mass., spent her last spring semester abroad in East Africa, at the School for Field Studies, located at The Center for Wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania.
Committed to environmental stewardship, The School for Field Studies (SFS) is the nation's oldest and largest environmental study abroad program. It combines hands-on environmental studies with scientific research to develop sustainable solutions to critical environmental problems.
As part of the program, Curran worked with the local communities to discover practical ways to manage their natural resources. She also explored human and ecological dimensions of the environmental problems faced by the local residents and contributed to sustainable solutions.
The habitat that surrounds the SFS camps is used as a migration corridor for wildlife. The area also is used by the people who live there: they use the land as a communal grazing zone for livestock and for growing food. As a result, they often face economic hardship due to crop damage from migrating wildlife, loss of livestock and resource depletion.
At the Haven Nature camp in Tanzania, Curran lived in a two-person tent in the Manyara area, not far from the Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro national parks - an area of the world known for its scenic beauty. And, at the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp in Kenya, she stayed in a small, thatched-roof cabin, called a banda, with three other students.
"At each camp was a chumba where we had our meals, attended classes. The chumba was basically the center of activity," Curran said.
While there, Curran did a research project and took classes in "Wildlife Management," "Wildlife Ecology," "Environmental Policy," "Introduction to Swahili and East African Culture."
"The classes, with one exception, were taught by professors from Kenya and Tanzania," she explained. "We were split into three groups for our research projects, which took up the last few weeks of the program. Each group spent time in the field collecting data on their topic, writing papers on our results, then presenting our findings to the local community."
The best part of the experience, Curran said, was also the hardest; learning to overcome language and cultural barriers - both in her classes and among the local communities where she lived.
"Sometimes we felt silly. Sometimes we felt frustrated. But, in hindsight, that learning experience provided one of the most useful skills I took away from my time abroad," she said.
While in Kenya, Curran also participated in a one-day home stay at local Massai boma, or homestead. "Getting to experience the day-to-day life of a Massai woman was one of the best experiences I had during the semester," she said.
The 30 students in her group also visited several national parks. This included a five-day expedition camping out in the Serengeti National Park.
"We saw everything from lions and leopards to crocodiles and hippos," Curran said. "A couple of other friends and I stayed in Nairobi for a few days after the program ended. We went to an elephant orphanage, a giraffe sanctuary, and spent a day in Nairobi National Park."
Her time in Africa was over far too soon, according to Curran. "We were all happy to be going home, but it was still hard to leave such a wonderful place and the people we had gotten to know."