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Taste of the World: South Africa

As in front of signI sit in my room, during the first week of classes, I cannot stop thinking of all the incredible memories that were made on my trip abroad this past summer!  I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a month of my summer in Pietarmaritzburg, South Africa.  The primary goal of the trip was to collaborate on a practical engineering project with students of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. Along with the project, we got to experience a brand new culture and see parts of the world that many people miss out on in their lifetime.  

During the weeks we spent the days at the schools Agricultural Engineering workshop working on our projects.  The workshop was way more then I ever expected.  There was everything from lathes, saws, welding machines, and multiple types of milling machines.  Going into the trip I had absolutely no workshop experience in my life.  Everything there was new to me, and so I was able to learn many new useful skills that will last a lifetime.  Between us there where two different projects.  The one I specifically worked on was a mechanism to cut, trim, and plant eucalyptus trees.  Eucalyptus is a tree that is widely planted in South Africa, and provides a good income for the country.  Seeing the transformation of the project was a very rewarding experience just in its self.  It went from a few designs and theories on paper to a fully moving conveyor belt that had working blades.

Being able to work with students in another country was something that many people will never experience. Many times after spending a days work on our projects, we would spend time with our partners and got to see the lifestyle they live.   We even had the opportunity to have a braii, which is the Afrikaans word for barbecue.  If you ever have a chance to go to South Africa make sure to have a braii, and become friends with some South Africans.  From my experience all the locals were very welcoming and excited to have visitors from another country.  The best part of being in the country for 4 weeks, we were able to see more of how they lived, then just touring the country for the sights.

 

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Lamb Chops and boerewors at our first braii

 

Easily the best part of the whole adventure was our weekend trips.  The first weekend we were able to go swimming in the Indian Ocean at umhlanga rocks near durban, and zip lining in the Karkloof forest.  Ziplining was quite the experience.  Zipping down ropes at speeds up to 50 mph, you could see for miles and fly with the birds. Our second weekend we visited two game reserves and saw so many beautiful animals.  For four days we went on morning and afternoon drive to see as many animals as possible.  Being able to see the things you normally would only see in movies and zoos was invigorating.  We even had the thrill of an Elephant charging us! Finally, the last weekend of our trip we traveled to Injusuthi in the Drakensburg Mountains.  Here I was able to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in my life.  It included many river valleys that extending into peaks that reached up to 11,424 ft.  Between the 3 days of hiking we easily walked ten miles.  As amazing as seeing elephants, zebras, and rhinos in the wild was.  I personally enjoyed the hiking more.  There is nothing better then walking through huge mountains and seeing for miles!   

 

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This has easily been one of the best experiences I have had in my life and will remember it till the day I die.  It even has now sparked my interest to continue traveling the world and to want to study abroad for a full semester now.  Seeing new places and ways of life makes you reflect on the life you have, as well as brings friendships that cannot be beaten.  Thanks you so much to aces for helping put together this trip.  I hope that everyone reading this enjoyed hearing my adventures abroad.  Cheers!

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-Matt Faryan

 Agricultural and Biological Engineering ’16

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The South African Experience

Hallo!  This summer I had the privilege of spending four weeks in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa.  My primary city of residence during the four weeks was Pietermaritzburg, a developed area where I found many of the natives to be polite and welcoming.  During my time in Pietermaritzburg I collaborated with University of Illinois colleagues along with University of KwaZulu-Natal students on a net launcher to catch cape vultures, an endangered species.  While designing and constructing the net launcher we worked at the Ukulinga research farm in the agricultural engineering workshop.  The workshop had all necessary tools, including various welders, lathes, and milling machines.  It was inside the workshop where I welded for the first time.  I learned that welding takes patience and a steady hand, but with practice my skill improved.  

Practicing welding skills in South Africa!

Practicing welding skills in South Africa!

During the weekends, all of the Illinois students traveled to destinations within the KwaZulu-Natal province.  The first weekend, we visited Durban and spent time swimming in the Indian ocean.  While in Durban, I had the chance to try a new variety of seafood including prawn, which is a species of shrimp, hake, which is similar to tilapia, and kingklip, a species of cusk eel that live off the coast of South Africa.  We also visited the Karkloof canopy tours on our first weekend to experience zip-lining in South Africa.  It was my first time zip-lining and I couldn’t have done it at a better place.  The views were outstanding and the guides told us that at one spot we traveled at 50 miles per hour!  Finally, we stopped by the Pietermaritzburg train station on our first weekend to witness the spot where Gandhi was thrown off a train due to racial segregation.  This was a very historical moment in world history and to stand in the same train station felt unreal.  Another memorable stop we made was the Nelson Mandela capture site where Mandela was captured in 1962, which led to his 27 year prison sentence.

Memorial at the Pietermaritzburg train station where Gandhi was famously thrown off the train.

Memorial at the Pietermaritzburg train station where Gandhi was famously thrown off the train.

Ziplining in the Karkloof indigenous forest!

Zip-lining in the Karkloof indigenous forest!

Nelson Mandela memorial at the Nelson Mandela capture site.

Nelson Mandela memorial at the Nelson Mandela capture site.

The second weekend we travelled to the HluHluwe-iMfolozi game reserve to witness African wildlife in action.  The first two nights we stayed at the iMfolozi game reserve in safari tents where we heard hyenas and lions stalk our tents at night.  I had the privilege of watching the braai, otherwise known as a South African bbq, and fending off hyenas from eating our food.  One night, when walking to my tent, I turned around only to see a hyena that had stalked me.  I didn’t hear a thing and the experience was pretty startling.  During the daytime, we saw giraffe, buffalo, elephants, rhino, many bird species, lizards, nyala, kudu, crocodile, and many others.  One day, after returning from a game drive, my friend and I entered our tent to find that our tent had been raided by monkeys and the monkeys ate all of our food!

Giraffe at the iMfolozi game reserve!

Giraffe at the iMfolozi game reserve!

Buffalo drinking water at a hide in iMfolozi game reserve

Buffalo drinking water at a hide in iMfolozi game reserve.

Thirsty elephant in iMfolozi game reserve

Thirsty elephant in iMfolozi game reserve.

Elephant bathing in the river in Hluhluwe game reserve

Elephant bathing in the river in Hluhluwe game reserve.

Elephants! Rhino

Hyena stalking our camp!

Hyena stalking our camp!

On our final weekend, we traveled to the Drakensburg mountains to hike the beautiful landscape.  I have traveled to many mountain ranges in the past and the Drakensburg mountains, by far, are the most beautiful and enjoyable of them all.  Over the course of the three day weekend I was there, I hiked approximately 10 miles.  We traveled inside ancient caves, saw baboons, and climbed atop many large rocks.  

Hiking in the Drakensburg mountains!

Hiking in the Drakensburg mountains!

Overall, the experience I had in South Africa will always be one I cherish.  I truly encourage all students to study abroad.  In addition, studying abroad isn’t just about the trips and sightseeing; forming new friendships that will last beyond college is another great reward of studying abroad.  Totsiens!

-Daken Fee

Technical Systems Management ’15

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Wildtrax Explorations: Adventures in Africa!

Jambo! I have spent the past four weeks in Tanzania taking an African Wildlife Ecology and Management Practices course through the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka, Tanzania. The two week course provided us knowledge on the history of wildlife management in Africa, Protected Areas, anti-poaching techniques, wildlife conservation values, animal handling and capture techniques, ecosystem health, wildlife habitats, and tourism management. After classes we played basketball and soccer with Tanzanian students where they taught us all a bunch of Swahili that we carried over when talking to villagers and merchants. It was a quaint campus compared to the University of Illinois but the nature and beauty was so surreal. It was located on Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in all of Africa! Seeing the peak after getting out of class was beyond what you would see in a painting.

On a walk by the coffee fields right next to our school with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.

On a walk by the coffee fields right next to our school with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.

During our first few days in Tanzania we actually got to hike Kilimanjaro’s first days’ worth to Mandara Hut, which was roughly 9000 feet. We got to see how the landscape changed from a montane forest to boreal and eventually to a dryer climate with fewer vegetation and snow. It was amazing to experience the wildlife at the park and I plan on coming back to complete the whole journey with my Tanzanian friends sometime! I felt so at home being at the campus there because everyone was friendly and would greet you or help you with anything you needed. It made me feel at peace over there because of the simple lives that everyone lived. There was no need for fancy items or advertisements for products. Sometimes it made me think of how we lost our connectedness in society in America. Too many people are plugged into their phones, Ipods, computers, television- or just technology in general. It’s hard to find a hello or a smiling stranger because we are so consumed by busy schedules and life in general.

The group under a Baobob tree in Tarangire National Park.

The group under a Baobob tree in Tarangire National Park.

After the two week course in Mweka, we went on safari for another two weeks. This was the best part of the trip because I’ve always wanted to go on a real safari and camp with the baboons, lions, and hyenas coming right past my tent (they really did too). We went game driving at day and night at Manyara Ranch and saw the large fish camp off of Lake Manyara where locals spend three months catching and cleaning a certain species of fish to be distributed. I’ve never seen anything like it and the reason there was only one species of fish was because of the high salinity of the lake. We also stopped at Lake Eyasi and went to the Great Rift Valley, where supposedly human existence began. Then we headed to Ngorongoro Conservation Area where huge caldera lay and houses over 25,000 animals and 80,000 Maasai. We also stopped at many Maasai villages to learn about their customs and traditions, which was my favorite. We all soon became Maasai by dancing with them, wearing their handmade jewelry and red shuka cloths, and buying Maasai warrior bush knives. We learned about the other tribes in the area too, like the Hadzabe, which are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies in Africa. Our group went hunting with them and they killed a ground squirrel and an owl with their handmade bow and arrows!

Ngorongoro crater houses many different predators, as well as 500 different bird species.

Ngorongoro crater houses many different predators, as well as 500 different bird species.

                The final part of the trip was going to Serengeti National Park! It was neat to see all of the things that we were learning in the class about management practices and seeing them in the real world. The Serengeti was similar to Illinois in the way that both are flat and plains forever ongoing! I felt really inspired because of all of my surroundings interacting right in front of my eyes. My class really bonded around the campfire and we all realized that this was the final part of our journey, so we cherished every moment of it. It felt a lot like the Lion King and saw every animal that we ever wanted to see, including 80 different species of birds that we identified. I’d like to thank the College of ACES for this study abroad opportunity and Wildtrax Explorations for developing a superb program to help further my education.

-Justin Rigler

Natural Resources and Environmental Science ‘15

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Daken in South Africa

I have been staying in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for about three weeks now and for my first international experience South Africa has been very enjoyable.  In my time here, I collaborate with University of Illinois and University of KwaZulu-Natal students on a designing and building a net launcher to catch cape vultures, an endangered species, for the life sciences research institute at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  The project is going well so far and my fellow Illinois students and I designed and built a trip-wire system as an addition to the net launcher itself.  In my free time I have traveled with fellow University of Illinois students to various sites in South Africa, including the Indian ocean, the city of Durban, and the HluHluwe-Imfolozi game reserve.  While on the safari in the game reserve, we experienced some exciting moments like watching elephants bathe in the river, a male elephant charging at our vehicle, hyenas stalking our campsite for food, and monkeys breaking into our tent to steal our food stock!  I am looking forward to spending more time in South Africa and working with my South African counterparts on the net launcher.  As for now, I am preparing to depart with my Illinois classmates to the Drakensburg mountains for the weekend!  Sayonara for now!

Daken Fee

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Finally Back Home

Two days ago I got back home to Chicago after nearly 6 months of being abroad in Krakow, Poland. What an amazing experience it has been! In total, I’ve traveled to 11 different countries and dozens of different cities in Europe. While this may seem like a lot, it could’ve been a lot more. The reason for this is that I loved my study abroad city, Krakow, and wanted to stay in it as long as possible. Some of my other friends traveled a lot more throughout the semester because they didn’t like their home city. This was definitely not the case for me! Krakow is an amazing city that I’ve grown to love. I miss it so much already and I cannot wait to go back sometime in the near future!

One of the reasons I loved Krakow is because I joined a Polish student organization where I met a bunch of Polish students. We got really close and I was able to experience university life like a local student. Here is a picture of me and the student group. It was taken at a lake near Krakow where we had a grill and went camping for a night.

Cioch Krk Camping

The student group has three different pillars: Culture, Social, and Learning. Each pillar has different events throughout the semester including going to the theater, getting to know the city by touring different areas, and integration events. I made a bunch of new friends from this and got to know the city even better. I am very thankful for this because it made my study abroad experience the best it could be!

 

My semester in Krakow ended towards the end of June and I stayed in Europe after to travel and visit family. Before meeting my family in Poland at the end of July, I traveled via bus and train to the following cities: Budapest, Ljubljana ,Zagreb, Zadar, Split, and Vienna. Here is my favorite picture from the trip. It was taken in Zadar, Croatia.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1851Towards the end of July right before my flight, I was definitely ready to come home. It was amazing traveling some more after the semester and spending time with family, but I got pretty tired towards the end and was ready to come back. I’m very excited to get back to campus in a few weeks and get into the swing of things again. I have missed Champaign-Urbana and am looking forward to a great fall semester!

 

Thank you ACES Abroad!

-Peter Cioch

 

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