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I was just about to graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Geography and Conservation & Landscape Management from the University of Freiburg and looking for an internship when the WWF Explore! website caught my eye. Some of my most interesting University courses had focused on conservation in developing countries and this programme offered me the perfect opportunity to actually work in that field myself.
In 2008 I had volunteered in a school in Northeastern Thailand, travelled through Southeast Asia alone and came back a different person. Immersing myself into different cultures was the most enriching experience of my life, and although I have always enjoyed nature and being outside, I hadn't realized before just how beautiful Earth is. Since then I have been working for that NGO, preparing future volunteers for their trips. I now felt that it was time to depart on a new adventure myself. Hearing the word Madagascar had always made me fantasize about unique fauna and flora, although these images were rather vague apart from saucer-eyed lemurs. Being chosen as a member of the Explore! group felt like my wildest dreams were about to come true. They did. And once more, I changed in a lot of ways.
A different perspective
My time in Madagascar gave me the opportunity to see many things from a different perspective and shed a new light on my own way of life. Some of my previous beliefs and views were strengthened, some changed completely. Particulary the conversations about environmental issues with local farmers left me deep in thought for hours. Often they were well aware of environmental problems resulting from their way of life, but they had no choice in order to sustain themselves. Now that I have returned home, I cringe at how thoughtlessly we in Europe exploit our environment without any imminent need to do so. The Explore! programme has inspired me to work hard towards a future where humans and nature can flourish together.
Not only you will learn how conservation works in the field, you will also learn a lot about yourself, Malagasy culture and have a terrific exchange with young people from all over the world.
However, don't underestimate the challenges of living and working in the field. There will be long hikes on hot days, bushwhacking in the forest and plenty of mud and water to fall into. Your views on hygiene and privacy will change drastically. Rice will be the main component of every meal, but bear in mind that you are extremely lucky – you will not go hungry. Adapting to life in a developing country can be very difficult and there will be ups and downs throughout your stay. But don't forget that your friends will be there to help you out no matter what.
If you are patient, willing to deal with challenges as they come and happy to try things you've never done before, you will be rewarded beyond your expectations.
Since my return I have been working as a cartographer for the German Archaeological Institute, reconstructing a map of an ancient Roman town in present-day Algeria. In autumn I will return to University to begin a Master's course in Geography, with focus on sustainability and development. However, in Madagascar I have developed a new interest in nutrition and agriculture, and my path might also take a turn in that direction. Whatever the future has in store for me, I know it will have something to do with nature, and I will definitely visit Madagascar again.