Make The Connection

Travel-Learning Course, ‘Biology of East Africa’

October 8, 2014 – by Katie Nunner '15

Learn how OWU’s Course Connections, Travel-Learning Courses, Theory-to-Practice Grants, and other programs prepare students for global citizenship and leadership and help them…Make the Connection.

OWU professor John Gatz (left) led students on a Travel-Learning Course trip to Tanzania, where the group visited parts of the Serengeti ecosystem, Ngorongoro Center, and Serengeti National Park. Students prepared for the experience by studying the biology of various species in the region, including their natural histories, roles in the ecosystem, and behaviors. (Photo courtesy of Julia Jandrisits ’16)

Name: Ellen Hughes ’16
Majors: Zoology and Psychology
Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
Experience: Travel-Learning Course, ‘Biology of East Africa’

Lesson Learned: “The Serengeti was unreal – you could really feel the natural world working in harmony all around you. At one point on our drive through the park, we could smell and see rain, smell a natural wildfire, hear the wind rustling through the long Serengeti grass, feel the wind through our hair and on our faces, see the beauty of the kopjes and the sunset, and observe African animals in their natural habitat. It was the most exhilarating yet peaceful moment I’ve ever experienced. The Serengeti is a very magical place!

“Aside from learning so much about the biology of Tanzania, my most glorious lesson learned was a short but thrilling glimpse of our origins as humans and our place on Earth.

“Being in the Serengeti, for example, I felt so small. So insignificant as an individual but so incredibly strong as a piece of the natural ecosystem of the earth. I have never felt more alive than I did on this trip, and it made me fully understand that I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. This experience showed me first-hand how unbelievably amazing it is that I am alive and can breathe and think! It showed me the beauty of the world’s natural rhythm and the beauty of life.

“It is one thing to know where we come from and to know how we are here on Earth, but it is a whole different thing to understand the meaning of that information. On this trip, my perspective of the world changed because all the known information in my head finally had meaning. Oh, the power of experiential learning!

“On an academic level, experiences like this one teach you more about whatever subject you’re studying than any textbook can. It was always brilliant when we observed something specific we had learned about in class – seeing everything first-hand solidified what I had previously learned in class and also taught me loads more about East African biology. On a person level, this experience provided me with insights into the natural world I never could have discovered in a classroom. I think people can gain a lot from an experience like this one – it certainly fueled my previous passions and introduced new ones to me.

“Honestly, I did not expect this trip to have such a profound effect on my life. It totally shifted the way I view the world and gave real weight to all the information I had before. There is something so incredible about really seeing what you’ve been reading about for a semester – putting theory into practice.”

Julia Jandrisits ’16

Name: Julia Jandrisits ’16
Major: General Zoology
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Experience: Travel-Learning Course, ‘Biology of East Africa’

Lesson Learned: “In class we studied the animals of East Africa and learned how they were supposed to act, when they were supposed to hunt, where we were supposed to see them, what their normal behaviors were supposed to be, and more. In Tanzania we learned that animals don’t always go by the books and love to do unexpected things that catch you off guard. You can read as much as you want about animals, go over every single research paper, but there is nothing like seeing them in their natural habitat.

“I never expected to see a group of lionesses hunt gazelles or to see a mother cheetah with four cubs feeding on a kill. One year ago, if someone told me I’d spend four nights sleeping in tent on the Serengeti with nothing but a thin piece of fabric separating me from the animals outside, I wouldn’t have believed them. And nothing can beat the experience of taking a sunrise balloon ride over the Serengeti with hyenas and gazelles running beneath us in the shadow of the balloon.

“Summing up everything that I learned in Tanzania isn’t easy; I learned so many different things about so many different topics from animals to cultures. To me it was about appreciating the wonder of nature. There were tourists in vans all around us getting bored of watching the animals after snapping two quick pictures. They’d say they were done and tell their guides to move on. But I could sit there watching the same herd of elephants or pride of lions all day long. Each animal had their own personality; we could see it in the way they interacted with one another. Before I took the class I never imaged I’d have the opportunity to experience such an amazing adventure. If I were given the option to go on a plane this second and return to Tanzania I’d take it in a heartbeat.”