Sam Wasserman ‘16 studies abroad in Africa, enhances academic career in environmental studies

unnamed-2Spending the day searching for and counting wildlife in Namibia, as well as  falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas and lions roaring in the night, has become the norm for Sam Wasserman ’16, who is currently spending his semester abroad conducting field work and learning about conservation in the country.

“It has been a goal [of mine] to go to Africa and see the wildlife since I was a child,” said Wasserman, who learned about the Round River Conservation Studies program through the College’s department of Off-Campus Studies. Only four students are on the program, one of which is a fellow Mule, Taylor Schlichting ’16.

As an environmental studies major, Wasserman is focusing his semester abroad on conservation biology. He is currently taking five classes: Humans and the Environment, Conservation Biology, Field Methodology, Human Impacts on Ecology, and Natural History of Namibia.

“We don’t really take classes here per se. Every day, we are working in the field and with the local people and wildlife, but we do have readings and assignments that we need to complete…. I love learning about the animal behavior in different areas of Namibia with regard to the human activity in that area,” Wasserman said.

The friendliness of the locals in Namibia has struck Wasserman. “[The people in Namibia] are the most forgiving and good-hearted people,” Wasserman said.

During his time, Wasserman has immersed himself in the Namibian culture. “Life [in Namibia] is defined by a person’s relationship with their livestock and to the land. There are no TVs and some people have cellphones, but it is a very rural and rustic lifestyle. The most important thing to realize is although it may seem very simple, the people here are more than happy and proud with the way they live,” he said.

Wasserman threw himself into the program and lifestyle of living and learning in Africa. “My favorite part is being completely and totally immersed in the environment, culture, context of the things I am studying…. I’ve realized how simple life can be. Living without excess…is extremely liberating and fosters a very pure kind of happiness,” he said.

A typical day on the Round River Conservation program consists of the students and group leaders waking up at 5:30 a.m., eating a quick breakfast, and then getting in their trucks to conduct wildlife surveys. These surveys are done by driving through the wild country and counting wildlife to determine the age and sex of animals.

“The coolest thing that has happened so far is that while camping in the Hoanib riverbed, five young male lions came into our camp just after we had crawled into our tents. They stood about ten yards from my tent and were playing with one of our coolers.,” he said.

“We scared them off with flashlights and loud noises, but when they kept coming back, we eventually had to get in our trucks and chase them. They were darting in front of the car and  diving in and out of the bushes. It took us an hour and a half to chase them far enough away,” Wasserman continued.

Learning by hands on experience has been the highlight for Wasserman, who loved the opportunity to apply his in-class learning to experiences in the field and real life circumstances. “When your work actually matters to the people and the environment around you, it’s rewarding on a whole new level,” he explained.

Although Wasserman understands that this form of study abroad is not for everyone, he highly recommends the program. He said, “[You should consider the program] if you are into environmental science and traditional cultures and are not afraid to be dirty for long periods of time. It’s an experience that will shape my life…. My goals in life and my immediate interests have been heavily influenced by the experiences I’ve had here.”

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