Student Stories: Wildlife major camps in Serengeti during semester abroad

To junior Rob Ritson, African wildlife was the stuff of books and documentaries, not college experience. But a semester in Tanzania turned the exotic ecosystem into a place where he could bring his education from the classroom to the field.

Field research is what drew Ritson to Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Growing up in a family of hunters, he became fascinated by game management. "I knew that this program would allow me to do exactly what I want to do -- work outside with and study animals," he said

The wildlife and fisheries science major was kept busy with a full course load, but "the faculty did their best to integrate field study as well," he said. "So if we were learning about vegetation sampling in wildlife ecology, we would have lectures and then spend time in the field practicing things we were learning, which was really great."

This real-world experience, hosted by the School for Field Studies, also included a five-day camping trip in the Serengeti and a stay with a host family, during which he was able to see what a typical day was like for the locals -- an eye-opening experience for this Limerick, Pa., native.

While staying with the local family, life revolved around subsistence farming and preparing meals. The glaring differences between day-to-day lives in Tanzania and the United States changed his perspective.

"They don't go to work -- they go to the field and plow," Ritson pointed out. "Our problems are often technology based. When you see this you realize that they're worried about important things that we just take for granted."

'Under the study-abroad program, the semester normally would have been split between Kenya and Tanzania, but this being an election year in Kenya, the entire semester was spent in Tanzania for the first time. "This allowed us the chance to get personal with the professors and really get to know the country a lot better," Ritson said.

Learn more about the wildlife and fisheries science major.

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Last Updated April 23, 2014