Saturday, November 17, 2018

The transition from college life to field RA: An honest post

I’m officially four months into my stay here and cannot believe how quickly the time has gone. Honestly, even the most tiring and arduous of work days fly by. You get back from obs, eat breakfast, spend the day working and before you know it, it’s time for dinner, and then it’s time for obs again. It’s a circular lifestyle, but each day is unique. Truly, there is no such thing as a boring day in camp (except for maybe the two-week stint in August where we had rain nearly every day and could not take the car out).

However, this post isn’t about our daily routine, but rather a reflection on my transition out here. I just returned from a two-week Nairobi trip, which was the last thing I needed to be trained on before I could consider myself completed trained. Having finished this, I’ve been thinking a lot about my expectations vs. reality of this job, the transition from college life to this type of work, and the way I’ve grown as an individual in ways I did not expect.

For me, when I first heard about the position all I could think about were the hours I’d spend in the field…the hours I’d spend studying hyenas and seeing other wildlife, cruising around in the Masai Mara. A complete dream. And it is! I seriously have the best job ever. Ever. However, the time we spend chasing hyenas isn’t the half of our duties. For my personal development, I am grateful for this. I’m forced to be organized, have my brain actually turned on at all times, be an excellent communicator with my fellow RAs (and my closest friends) at both Serena and Talek camp, as well as being an effective communicator with everyone back in Michigan, working from afar to ensure this project runs smoothly.

I’ll give you the most recent example of the ways I’ve been pushed. Since I’m fresh from Nairobi…let’s talk about that.

Me and Benson in Nairobi!

A list of some things I did/RAs on the project frequently do.

1.     Drive alone on the left side of the road in a boat sized stick shift vehicle on busy streets with drivers that don't necessarily abide by the laws (or the lines--ha).
2.     Took an Uber alone for the first time in a foreign country (sounds simple, I know, but the first time, sure, I can admit I was a little nervous).
3.     Went to Immigration several times to handle our student passes and VISA renewal.
4.     Drove to the Kenyan Wildlife Service to pay for research passes and meet with government officials.
5.     Handled and exchanged large sums of cash for project costs.
6.     Had copies of car keys and mailbox keys made.
7.     Paid bills and called mechanics to handle things related to cottage maintenance.
8.     Spent many hours in many stores finding supplies for camp (such as massive jugs to hold water, new car batteries, pharmacy medications, re-stocking our food etc.)
9.     Communicated with our Nairobi mechanic about fixing the car during our stay.
10.  Filled the liquid nitrogen tanks.
11.  And of course (and more fun!) explored coffee shops and cafes in between.

Playing with the mechanic's pup.

Some of the purchased supplies for camp!

My point in listing all of these tasks is that so many of them are things that I’ve never imagined myself doing. In this two-week period, I proved so much to myself and what I am capable of handling. And these are only Nairobi related tasks!

During the drive home from Nairobi, I thought a lot about how the transition to this job was not an easy one. Some days have been really difficult and all I want to do is lie down and sleep the stress away. Other days have been some of the best of my life. So much is thrown at you right away and you cannot be crushed by the responsibility. Here on the ground, we must directly ensure the field sites run smoothly. Last year at this time, my biggest worry was if I would have enough time to go to the gym after class and study for a quiz before going out for drinks at a trivia bar. This morning, I woke up and the car was having battery problems and issues with the fuel gauge…problems that needed immediate resolutions. We solved these all before 9am. Last year, I might not have been awake by 9am. Here, we can’t procrastinate.

This job has even changed my personal organizational skills. I went from never making my bed, to being the person who makes her bed every day. Not only this, but I sweep my tent every day. A girl who cares about the cleanliness of the floor of her tent? Me!? Mom…are you reading this!? And even more shocking, I now have a full skin care routine of washing my face and moisturizing twice a day. Sometimes, I wonder, who the heck is this girl!? And I feel proud.

In four months, I’ve grown so much as a person. At 22 years old I’m proving to myself that I’m capable of handling so many responsibilities I hadn’t ever imagined.

And it has only been four months.


Sabrina Salome said...

Awesome post Erin!! So glad to hear that you are now a FULLY trained RA! How exciting. Keep up the good work!

Abby Thiemkey said...

This is so awesome!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science