Sunday, June 17, 2018

Meet the reseracher (student)!

Hola! My name is Sophia Guirola, and I’m an incoming third-year student majoring in Sustainability Studies and International Relations and Global Studies. Born and raised in El Salvador, I have acquired a passion for sustainable development in the region, especially regarding energy and water for agriculture. Appropriately, I am focusing on the Natural Resource Management and on the International Political Economy (with a focus on development) tracks for both my interdisciplinary majors, respectively. Through this amazing program, I hope to expand my understanding of cultural relations with the environment and of geographic and climate interactions. Quiero darle las gracias a Ms. Paz, quien hizo crecer mi amor hacia nuestro planeta y enriquecio mi sed para el conocimiento del mundo natural. Gracias, papi, por apoyar esta aventura con entusiasmo (despues de superar el miedo inicial). Mom, thank you for raising me to seek new experiences and to enrich my understanding of different cultures—you inspire me to become a citizen of the world. So much thanks to the Martin Dies, Jr. Forty Acres Scholarship for making my participation in this program possible, and to the wonderful Texas Exes staff who offer me so much support. It is a true privilege to be in the beautiful country of Botswana!

Another Baobab pic.

We will not have access to Wi-Fi for several days, so here comes a long post!

Today was our last day at Thakadu, so we thought we would reflect upon our time here in Botswana so far and write about what we look forward to.
After almost two full days of airplanes and layovers, we arrived at the tiny Maun airport. Most of us, except for Alistair and Jenna (who got delayed), spent two nights at the Okavango River Lodge. Many of us slept in family-style chalets which included indoor bathrooms, mosquito nets, and raised beds: the most luxurious accommodations for the forthcoming six weeks. Early in the morning, we packed into open-air safari vehicles and after a 7-hour trek, arrived at Thakadu Bush Camp just outside of Ghanzi, where we have been since. We have been sleeping in tents, cleaning ourselves in open-air showers, and eating in a mess tent for about three weeks in the middle of this private game reserve. As a small group of sixteen students spending so much time together, we have grown incredibly close: we can all recognize each other’s voices and can impersonate each other seamlessly, we can recognize each other’s gait at a distance, and even whose water bottle clanks in which way. We really have become a close-knit, caring community and look forward to continuing our friendships back in Austin.
Aside from fostering meaningful connections, this program has been incredibly academically stimulating and enriching so far. While at Thakadu we had the privilege of engaging with a group of San people who taught us about their culture and allowed us to celebrate it with them. The group led a walk through the bush around camp, digging up roots and showing us special plants while telling us about their traditional medicinal uses. Later that night (Thursday) we attended a cultural dance, learning about San music and even joining in on the physically demanding dance around the fire. 
A large part of our participation in this program has been assisting ongoing research carried out on plots all around the property by conducting vegetation surveys, weighing biomass, and even helping build a fence for one of the research plots–as you can see on previous blog posts. To complement our hands-on field work, we have also prepped data sheets for processing and entered our recorded data onto Excel sheets for the continuation of Dr. Meyer and Dr. Crews’ ongoing research on Kalahari vegetation response to climate change. With all that we have learned, many of us are enjoying thinking about how to apply our newly acquired skills in our own lives: our resumes will see some improvement with real-world experience that can help make us more competitive candidates for research positions.
Here at the camp, we have been lucky enough to have a peek at Botswana’s rich wildlife. Just in the short time we’ve been here, we have seen: ostriches, mongooses, kudu, springbok, impala, eland, wildebeests, Guinea fowls, zebras, and even two giraffes (caught on Dr. Meyer’s wildlife night camera). Our next journey, for which we leave bright and early tomorrow morning, is to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We are surely going to see many more animals in the protected area with almost no human presence. Keep posted for pictures! We will be staying at Camp Deception, which is where Mark and Delia Owens, authors of our class-assigned book Cry of the Kalahari, conducted seven years of ground-breaking research in the 1970’s. 

We should be getting access to Wi-Fi next Friday or Saturday, 23/24th of June.

Reflections (and funny quotes) about our time in Botswana so far:

“For me, my time here has been especially great for getting real-world, civilian experience relevant to the field I want to enter. I am most looking forward to seeing the larger animals at Camp Deception and later in Khwai: gemsbok, giraffes, lions, elephants, buffalo…”

“I’ve had so much fun, and now I can put ‘vegetation analysis’ on my resume!”

“To be honest… this has been an experience overall. I built a fence. Learned some plants. Cut some grass. Still haven’t seen a giraffe, though. Not gonna lie, I’m looking forward to seeing some!”

“I love sitting around the campfire and listening to stories. My favorite ones are: Shawn’s dung beetle story and Steph not realizing that a pickle is actually a cucumber. We have also played some quality pranks, one being a scavenger hunt that included me climbing a tree to hide something. Ga ke itse. (‘I don’t know’ in Setwana).”

“Botswana has enabled my peanut butter addiction… For anyone who cares, Choppie’s is better than SPAR’s.” (different grocery stores in Ghanzi)
“I love what we do to peanut butter.” (we go through a 1 Kg tub per day)
“Our last couple of days have been full of hilarious pranks, including giving Alistair some extra lumbar support.” (Virginia, Stephanie, and Sophia put rocks under his mattress)

“You have your peanut butter, I have Squillos.” (the SPAR equivalent of Nutella) 

“Guess I should go buy some more chips.” Casey, right after he found out that we pranked him by emptying his bag of chips and taping it back shut.

“My time here has been unreal, as I have indulged in Ricoffee (FAKE COFFEE) and pranking with my fellow cohort. Looking forward to camping out with the lions in the heart of the Kalahari. PS if you ever go camping, give Wilderness Wash a go. Not only does it act as a dish wash, soap, laundry detergent, and body wash but shampoo too!”

“Natalie, can you teach me how to French braid? (once the lessons begin) Oh, no… it grows!”

“Ooh, grab that plant! We can press it!” (we have acquired an impressive collection of pressed plant species, thanks to Ferny and Thalia)

“I love how close and how tan we’ve all gotten together.”
“We should make t-shirts!”

“My glasses are updating.”
“These bugs are wack.”  (we started keeping tally of how many bugs got into our soup at dinner)

“You guys are all right.”

“KE RATA!” (‘I like’ in Setswana)
“Actually, this tree species is ____.” (everybody would ask Ferny to identify species)

“I’m writing this blog post, what’s your quote?”

“Just come up with something… I’m busy watching Germany win.” (redacted)

 Francisco (our T.A.)
“Make sure you name the blog files according to the format I gave y’all. It works with my code.”
“Stay hydrated.”

“How can you tell if an elephant has been in your refrigerator? (dramatic pause) You’ll find footprints in the butter.” (an animal tracker joke)
“You see, pranks are the sort of thing that just happen.”

"It's time to get out of here."

To all the awesome dads out there, HAPPY FATHER DAY! (grammar inspired by frosted text on a cake at Choppie’s)
The sun has set on our time here at Thakadu Camp.
Thkadu means “aardvark” in Setswana. We saw a lot of aardvark burrows, but sadly, not a single resident!
Thalia having fun with her new grasshopper friend.
Dancing around the fire at the San cultural dance.
Natalie and Hunter in front of our favorite restaurant!
Virginia, Jenna, and Meagan signing the UT flag at the restaurant.

    Our mobile homes for six weeks.
Beautiful savanna scenery around the Camp.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meet the researcher (student)!

   Hello from Botswana! I’m Meagan, a junior at UT. As an environmental science major, I love leaning about the human impact on the environment, making this the perfect program for me. I can’t thank my parents enough for their constant help and support despite initial reservations at sending their daughter to Africa for a few months. A huge thanks to the Dr. Rapoport Liberal Arts scholarship and the International Education Fund for helping make this trip a reality for me. I look forward to experiencing the culture, environment, and wildlife of Botswana.

Meet the researcher (student)!

   What’s up everybody!! My name is Stephanie Settle and I am a Geography major at UT. Through this program, I hope to engage in the interactions between culture and the environment, specifically in an ecosystem similar to the one in which we live. With an interest in health and the environment, I look forward to applying the skills and techniques learned here in Botswana to my future studies. I’d like to thank my mom and dad for making this adventure possible and supporting me 100% of the way! Stay tuned. XOXO, Steph

Meet the researcher (student)!

Hello! My name is Casey Cannon. I am an avid sports fan and Geography student entering my senior year at UT. I decided to study in Botswana because it allows me to get out of my comfort zone and have some life-changing experiences, all while working towards a future in environmental science. I am excited about the hands-on opportunities in the field and just having a good time in a new country. I also want to say thank you to my aunt, uncle, and grandmother, who have all made it possible for me to chase my dreams.

From Badminton to Biomass

   And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the results from the 2018 Badminton World Cup: everyone brought their A-game as tent-mates battled opposing teams for their claim to fame. All matches were well fought and came down to close wins. Switzerland (Kelsey and Michelle) put up a good fight against Ghana (Juan and Alistair), but in the end, Ghana won the student bracket and faced Dr. Meyer in the final match. The day culminated when Dr. Meyer dropped into the splits to hit the birdie one final time over the net; an epic moment.

   After Sunday’s fun and games, it was back to work. We started on transects that stretch 100 meters each across the ranch. Every 10 meters we removed the biomass from 1m2, weighed it, and recorded the value. We also got some practice in the less enjoyable side of field work - data entry - in which we entered all the values for vegetation plots we have been surveying over the last few weeks.

   Last night was the first New Moon since we have been here and we got a beautiful view of the stars. Without any light pollution, we are able to see the Milky Way, hundreds of stars, and some planets. We used star maps to locate constellations and honed our camera skills to capture the breath taking moment. We were able to see the Southern Cross, the False Cross, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. We even named our own bright, twinkling star, the “dancing star”. While star-gazing we were able to see multiple shooting stars light up the sky.

   Today was our last day of field work. In the next few days we will be packing up camp and preparing to head out to our next destination on Monday, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Time to enjoy our last couple of days at Thakadu Bush Camp.

Pictures only begin to capture the beauty of the Botswana night skies.

Teams warming up for the fierce competition.

The highlight of the 2018 Badminton World Cup.

Kelsey and Hunter collecting biomass along a transect.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Meet the researcher (student)!

   Hey! My name is Natalie Regennitter, I am a senior Sustainability Studies major with an emphasis in Natural Resource Management. I am very excited to be spending the summer leading up to my final semester at UT in Botswana with an amazing group of people. After I learned about this program, I knew that it would be perfect for my interests and it was exactly what I was looking for. I’m most intrigued by human-environment interactions and how human perceptions of environmental change shift over time. Being able to study that in a different cultural context is what I’m looking forward to the most. I am also thrilled to see a part of the study area that I have been researching as a small portion of a larger project under Dr. Crews. I want to thank the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Endowment for International and Multidisciplinary Studies, my mom, Rob, my dad, Addy, and my grandma; none of this would be possible without their help and support. Thank you for making this dream a reality!

Natalie measuring biomass in a plot.