When catching up at the beginning of term, some lively exchanges can often emerge around the topic of “What did you get up to this summer?”. Those from the Roehampton Life Sciences cohort of 15 students that participated in ‘Conservation, People and Wildlife: South African Field Course’,an optional student-funded module, would have had a head start in that discussion…
“Oh, I just went on a trip of a lifetime adventure to South Africa, for which I’ll also get module credits!”
Field courses are a rich aspect of a number of courses at Roehampton, but the fieldwork traditions of anthropology and zoology mean that the opportunity to experience conservation in action, as well as learn alongside local community groups, provides an ideal way to blend elements of theory with practice on the ground in another culture and country. At the same time, the different fieldwork and conceptual traditions of the subjects that the field course is open to, allow for additional reflection on issues of interdisciplinarity, such as what can comprise fieldwork and data gathering.
With a particular emphasis on bringing together the chance to view and consider diverse expressions of human-animal relationship, the two-week module begins with concerns of wildlife conservation in safari and game reserve settings where the big five are never far from consideration. Then students have a homestay experience in a rural village compound, with the opportunity of observing and talking directly to community members, to gain a closer understanding of how both domestic and wild animals are treated and interacted with. All of the itinerary, organisation, accommodation and transfers are provided through the vastly experienced local educational tourism company, African Insights.
Across the whole module, an emphasis is placed on providing opportunities to interact and think through issues both individually and collectively. The different field settings allow input from a range of perspectives with a variety of stakeholders, including businesses, conservationists, local villagers and community members. Discussion and interaction among the group is then further facilitated through a regular debriefing, and energetic evening campfire exchanges. These cover concerns including animal welfare, conservation ethics and considerations on how to engage with differing methodological approaches.
Field notebooks are studiously kept close at hand, to help organise observations, thoughts, interviews and comments – not least because they contribute 40% of the module assessment, with the rest relying on a practical report and an essay. The trip certainly packs in a lot of activities, travel and memorable landscapes, animals and people. But in so doing students are also given a perfect opportunity to reflect on the similarities and contrasts between what is written in the literature, taught in the classroom, and what is experienced out in the field.
(Thanks to Chloe Rooks for the fabulous images from South Africa study trip 2018!)