Wild times: One international student's around-the-world field trip adventures

By Arina Krauja

Seminars, lectures and tutorials aren’t all UK universities have to offer. Arina Krauja shares her adventures in South Africa, Mexico and around Wales – all part of her degree in International Wildlife Biology.

Arina, lion tracking in South Africa

I decided to study in the UK because of the reputation of its universities.

I’m from Latvia, which couldn’t offer the degree I was looking for, so I chose to apply to university in the UK. I also knew I’d improve my English, gain new connections and give myself the opportunity to work internationally. In 2015, I applied to several universities for animal behaviour-related degrees, and the International Wildlife Biology course at the University of South Wales (USW) won my heart. I’ve never looked back!

The best thing about studying International Wildlife Biology at the University of South Wales is definitely the field trips!

I’m the kind of person who likes to learn in a practical way and loves being out in the natural world, so field trips are perfect for me. In the first year, there were lots of trips around the UK, but the most enjoyable ones were a month-long trip to South Africa, which was a compulsory part of two modules – ‘Big Game Tracking’ and ‘Patterns in African Biodiversity’.

The trip to South Africa was incredible.

We spent 10 days in the Telperion Nature Reserve, which is located in northern South Africa in Mpumalanga. We then spent a further two weeks in the Selati Game Reserve, which is in Limpopo – a South African province bordering Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We did lots of surveys and tracked mammals like lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinoceros – as well as blue and black wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, baboons and many other South African mammals. I also got to see and study many varieties of birds, including vultures, ostriches, hornbills and doves.

In my second year, I continued to get opportunities to travel.

There was an optional module, ‘Tropical Ecology and Conservation’, which involved a two-week field trip to Mexico. In the first week, we lived in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in the Mayan jungle and used mist nets to catch and study birds and bats. We also surveyed butterflies and vegetation and undertook behavioural research on monkeys. For the second week, we lived by Akumal Bay and conducted underwater surveys. I learnt a lot about scientific survey techniques – we surveyed reefs and fish and went on two dives a day.

Diving in Mexico

Diving in Mexico

The third year didn’t involve as many field trips abroad and was mostly focused on writing our dissertations.

However, there was one memorable trip in the beginning of the year. For my ‘Marine and Freshwater Biology’ module, we visited the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park where we collected plankton samples and saw seals.

I also had lots of field trips within the UK

Over the course of my degree at USW, we visited the Brecon Beacons National Park to carry out plant identification, vegetation and soil composition surveys, and river invertebrate sampling. We also had a go at bird watching and surveying on the Southerndown Coast. That wasn’t all: we squeezed in trips to the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Bristol Zoo, too.

Arina Krauja, taking soil surveys in the Brecon Beacons

Taking soil surveys in the Brecon Beacons

I’ve now finished my degree, and I'm currently looking for research assistant jobs in the field or in a zoo.

I’d also like to gain further diving qualifications that are accredited by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), such as my PADI Open Water license.

If I had to describe my student experience in the UK in three words, they would be ‘unique’, ‘challenging’ and ‘significant’!

Students at a greenhouse inspecting plants

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