South Africa 2014: Final Reflections on the Bush Experience

We ended our time in the Bush with some additional time around camp and repeated research experience in which groups participated either in bird counts, game transects, or habitat assessments. 

I must add, that additional time around camp included a dung spitting contest in which nearly our entire group participated.  Yes, apparently South Africans participate in such competition that includes placing a dried pellet from impala or kudu in your mouth and shooting it out as far as one can. 

Of course, on a repeat experience of research the students are significantly more skilled and are able to actually complete the tasks with minimal assistance.  It is during these last two days that leaves me contemplating the value of staying in one location for a longer period of time.  Just as the students are accustomed to the location, the people, each other, and the research, we are uprooting and going to an entirely new site.

When the lion was spotted, staff called others to come and look and before we knew it, there were another 4 trucks filled with excited students and staff observing at the lion.  So, it is a special event :), much like the black rhino that we saw on the game transect. 

The staff shared with us that they were really appreciative of the hard work our students put into the research. They then proceeded to share the belief that "The Bush will show you what it wants to show you.  Just 5 minutes ago we were talking among ourselves discussing what a hard-working group you are and we had said, 'but is it enough for the bush to show them a lion’ and here it is.  The bush has deemed you worthy of a lion sighting”. 

I turned to the students and said, "Wow, you've seen everything!" To which the response was, "I still haven't seen a leopard".   I wanted to shout from the jeep top, "But you've seen hippo, impala, kudu, nyala, crocodiles, warthogs, a host of interesting birds, giraffe, elephant, rhinos, and lion!!!!!!" Hippos and crocodiles were residing in our backyard!   A host of species walked through and came down to water at the river!  Isn't that enough?!?!?!?!  In all fairness, the students were excited by all that they had seen and experienced.

Our final night in the bush the students present, in groups why a certain species is most important to South Africa.  Our students present first and do a truly fantastic job on "grass" and "termite hills" -- they have taken the assignment seriously and have done a truly awesome job.  The staff all exclaim "awesome" or "terrific" after their presentations.  The grass group has put together a very creative dramatization and the termite group has a great drawing that serves as a center and constant visual as each person speaks.  I wish I had video of their presentations.  My colleague, Eva, and I were duly impressed. 

Again, it is clear from all the presentations that students were thinking outside of the box and that they had stretched themselves and their minds through their experience in the bush.  The value of hands-on, real-experience learning is glaringly apparent.  Noteworthy is the fact that so much learning was attained without the use of any digital devices.  I am left pondering how I might make every lesson like a classroom in the bush.  To bring the topic alive, to generate original thought and opinions, to value all life, to fill with purpose – those would, indeed, be desirable goals for a classroom.  

Student thoughts on what they learned:

"I learned so much from the trip...My eyes are now opened to new things..."

"I learned a lot about conservation, the issues involved with it and how to make it (conservation) for successful.  I also learned that I want something different from my life than I originally thought."

"I learned that conservation is a daily battle.  And it is fought not just in the parks but in the hearts and minds of people"

Our entire group with all the staff at Struwig.