African Inspiration: Reflections on study abroad to Botswana

Photo courtesy Bethany Hollman, Fish & Wildlife major
Photo courtesy Bethany Hollman, Fish & Wildlife major

By Bethany Hollman, Fish & Wildlife major

Some lessons in life are owned by the inspirational poster market with quotes such as “Believe in yourself,” “Don’t worry, Be happy,” or “Dance like no one is watching.”

I’ve always thought these posters and quotes were, in a way, dumb. Believing in yourself is obviously a good thing to do; and if you have dreams, you should follow them; and if you can help, it be happy. But it wasn’t until I spent a month out in the bush of Botswana that I realized I wasn’t even following some of these obvious pieces of advice.

When thinking of the future, I thought of the practical instead of going out and taking risks. My dreams were separate from my goals. All this was changed during a month of crazy new exciting experiences out in the wilderness.

“Live your dreams.”
One of the first “inspirations” I realized was “Live your dreams.” I am a very practical person when it comes to thinking about my future. Sure, I had my dreams. However, they seemed too far-fetched, so I put them on a back-burner and just let them simmer while I was out planning my “foolproof” life. Maybe it was the study abroad experience or maybe I had my dreams boiling in the back of my mind for too long, but something inside me clicked. I didn’t need to settle for practical goals and a simple future anymore.

Let me explain. I’ve always wanted to study animals and travel. I’ve always had an idea of the places I could go with what I wanted to do, but I always ruled them out. I had a strange approach to my future career. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing, but I knew, practically, that it would consist of me working somewhere close to the Midwest and on some animal or project that I would eventually grow to enjoy. It was practical and seemed like a decent life to live. In fact, it still appeals to me. All the other options of traveling or working in unique ecosystems or working on amazing animals didn’t stand a chance against my practicality.

However, after I truly believed my dreams could become my goals, the world just seemed to open up to me. It wasn’t that I set my sights on another narrow-minded goal only this time set in Africa or that I won’t be happy with any other life than exactly for what I plan. It might sound counterintuitive, but after I realized I can live my dreams, my expectations for life relaxed. However, I think it makes sense. I realized my dream wasn’t to be happy in a specific life I had planned out, but rather realizing I can be happy in myriad situations. I don’t have to plan out every detail of my life. This doesn’t mean I won’t work hard for my goals or that I don’t even have goals. It just means that I can work toward my future knowing I have countless exciting options ahead of me, and I won’t settle for an option that’s anything less than amazing.

“Get out of your comfort zone.”
Throughout the month in Botswana, I had been many conversations with my professor about the many crazy places he’s lived and worked. My internal reaction to hearing about it was either jealously or a feeling of inadequacy. Even if I was good enough, there was no way that I could be put in positions like that in my lifetime. It wasn’t until fairly late in the trip during another conversation with my professor that I was told to just put myself out there, get out of my comfort zone and I would be surprised with what could happen. I’ve been told similar things a multitude of times before, but this time it was different. I actually believed it. I knew my new goals would be hard to reach if I stayed comfortable all my life.

Take this month out in the bush for an example. I had been beyond nervous to leave the country and do my first research project for weeks prior to leaving. I even thought about dropping the research out of pure fear of messing up. If I did, I could’ve gone through the study abroad experience without as much worry and had a grand ole’ time still. However, if that were the case, I wouldn’t have realized how much I love field research and how much potential I have in the field. I could’ve gone on with my life happily not knowing I missed out on an amazing opportunity, but I didn’t and I’m forever thankful. If a month out of my comfort zone can turn into the amazing experience that it did, I can’t wait to see how a life of putting myself out there will turn out.

“Be yourself”
This “inspiration” was probably the most important. As I mentioned earlier, I had major issues with feeling confident enough to do my research, and in thinking about my future, I felt I needed to change who I was in order to do well.

The transitions from this low self-esteem to confidence in myself was a slow process throughout the month. First it started with being comfortable in my surrounding. Then, being confident with responsibilities I was told to do. Next, understanding what I needed to do without being asked. Finally, being confident and on the ball of my project.

The amazing part of this was it came naturally to me. I didn’t have to act like a different person or really think about what my “next move” was. I was just me. I didn’t hide my questions or concerns. I didn’t change my passion or normal work ethic. Knowing that I could be successful while just being me in the area I’m most passionate about not only boosts my confidence, but lets me know I’m on the right path.

Real-life inspiration
Overall, my experience in Africa was one big, more effective, real-life, inspirational poster. But seriously, because of Africa, my outlook on the future is exponentially more open. My dreams are now my goals, and I know I don’t have to settle. My confidence has grown more in a month than it has in years. Yes, I still learned all about the intricate ecosystems, the unique animals and the tracks they leave behind, and the importance of conservation, but I felt, in a way, that was expected being all the way around the world. What I didn’t expect to find across the world was more of myself.

I suppose that’s the beauty of traveling, going somewhere you’ve never been and finding parts of yourself you never knew.

Want to study abroad?
Find more information about study abroad opportunities offered by the School of Natural Resources and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.