I can write pages about practically any other topic, but when it comes to writing about myself, I struggle and how ironic is that: I should know myself so well I could literally write a book. I’m still on a magnificent journey toward self-discovery, but I can tell you about my life thus far:
I was born and raised in Southern Virginia. I was always outside, pretending to be on expeditions with my younger brother. Every tree in the forest was exotic and every animal was a new species. I was always acting like I was filming and could spend hours talking to nature. This curiosity for the natural environment and care for animals was instilled in me very early in life and continued to grow into an intellectual curiosity that I couldn’t control.
Because of my passion for learning as much as I possibly could about the world and my place in it, I decided to change my major halfway through college to Anthropological Sciences. I recently graduated from Radford University in Virginia – a small college just about 30 minutes from where I grew up. Archaeology and forensic anthropology majors dominated my department. Although I love these two aspects of anthropology, I was more interested in biological anthropology, and more specifically, primatology (an interest that was a result of reading a lot about Jane Goodall in my younger years). My professors, Dr. Boyd and Dr. Urista, suggested a primate field school in Costa Rica. As soon as I read about “DANTA: Association for Conservation of the Tropics,” I was determined to go.
I will never forget when I got the congratulations email and had to begin planning. If I’m going to be completely honest, I was more terrified than excited. I had never been on a plane, therefore, I had never been out of the country! I actually cried halfway to Costa Rica, but as soon as the plane landed and I walked out of the airport, my jaw dropped. I definitely began experiencing culture shock. As soon as I arrived at the hotel and began meeting other people in the group, I started to feel much more comfortable. I couldn’t wait to be out in the forest and to see primates in the wild. While on my first hike, I was overcome by emotions and at that point, the whole experience seemed surreal to me. I couldn’t believe me (this country gal) was in the jungle!
So many moments are circling in my brain as I am typing this, such as the first monkey spotting, the wildlife I was surrounded by each hike, walking on the beach at night and seeing a shooting star, and visiting an indigenous community – moments I will never forget. More importantly, DANTA’s field course changed my life. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true! I learned more than I ever anticipated and it was completely different than the fieldwork world I had imagined, in which I was less sweaty. For an entire month, I woke up to the sound of Howler monkeys screaming, was bit by everything that could bite, got chased by a snake (yes, it can happen), and got a leg rash that ended up leaving scars on my legs. Even though I was pushed to my limit, I wouldn’t change one part of it. It emphasized the primate’s ability to adapt, and by primate, yes I mean my peers and myself. By the end of the course, I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to go back to the chaotic life I had back home (oddly enough being in the forest, with much more going on than my part of Virginia, was soothing). Participating in DANTA’s fieldschool was the best decision I’ve made thus far and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could.
While I was in Costa Rica (Summer 2014), I learned how to observe and record behavior of wild primates, measure population density, and learned more about conservation efforts, among other things. All of these, however, I was prepared to learn because they were stated as learning outcomes in the syllabus. Things I didn’t expect to learn: the difficulties of field work (such as spending hours in the forest, and finding no monkey to observe), truly appreciating small things that went unappreciated back home, such as tree leaves that can be used as repellent (much better than store bought), how different people can actually be, even when they are from the same country (such a beautiful thing too), and the importance of culture conservation. These are just a handful of things I learned, but because of DANTA, I know so much more and only want to continue expanding my knowledge.
Since returning home, I have been applying for different internships and jobs primarily concerned with animal conservation. I’m hoping to continue my education after getting some more fieldwork experience. I would like to eventually put all my focus into nonhuman primate conservation. At the moment, I’m still waiting to see where I am going, but I know wherever life takes me, I’ll be ready because of DANTA’s help.