For all those who contributed to my GoFundMe campaign at the beginning of the year, you’re all angels, and I thank you once more for your generosity and encouragement in helping me meet my initial deposit for my course. This update highlights the status of my trip preparations.
For the past three and a half weeks I have been taking an online prep course as part of the study abroad experience, and will be finishing that up at the end of this week. Interacting with my long-distance classmates and getting my feet wet for the field has been a delightful experience so far, and I’m look forward to embarking on this adventure. I officially leave June 8th (in a little over a week!) and return home July 24th. I’ll be spending six weeks in Kenya, studying the environments that surrounded the biological origins of man through George Washington University’s study abroad program. While abroad, I will have the opportunity to see fossil and artifact collections at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi before leaving for more remote locations connected to the Koobi Fora Field School. This will be part refresher course and part completely new experience for me as I learn more about how different sub-disciplines within the field of paleoanthropology blend together to contribute to the big picture of the natural mechanisms that shaped our species and made us human.
I will be going to a wildlife conservancy ranch to observe living ecosystems and animal behavior as a model for past ecosystems and behavior, then learning more about ecology, taphonomy, faunal analysis in bone assemblages, the emergence of the earliest stone tool cultures, using stratigraphy and sedimentology (geology) in a paleontological context, and discussing human evolution in the fossil record as a whole to reconstruct past environments and understand evolutionary pressures that shaped human anatomy and cognition. I will also be participating in an independent research project under the mentorship of one of several participating professors. (This will be mentored research project number three for me, alongside my undergraduate projects exploring insect scavenging patterns on sauropod bones from a Dinosaur National Monument site, and learning how to reconstruct the family trees of fossil dragonflies using their wing anatomy).
Most of my preparations for the course (plane ticket, medical check-ups and vaccinations, gathering supplies) are just about complete. I have a few more things to do before I’m completely ready, but I’m pretty much literally all packed. (Okay, I’m still trying to figure out how to fit everything into my bags and what’s going to stay behind…but I’m getting really close!) I’m mostly camping for a month and a half, so I’ve splurged on an ultra-light cot and a little portable solar panel pack to charge my camera batteries and such to go with my ultra-inexpensive Walmart tent. Plus I’m bringing loads of sunscreen, hats, trail shoes, flashlights with rechargeable batteries that double as power storage, pens and notebooks, many of my usual toiletries… And I’ve got a mini set of scriptures all packed too.
This isn’t my first time flying outside of the US, and it isn’t my first time flying alone–but it will be my first time leaving the country AND flying solo. (I’ll be meeting up with my classmates, who are coming from around the world, when I reach Kenya). This will also be my first time going on a big academic trip as the only LDS person in the group (at least, I assume I will be the only LDS person in the group). Weirdly enough, my biggest concern has been over not being able to attend church for six weeks (I’ll be in remote locations most of the time and may not be able to have access to a meeting place–which, really, will be fine for a short period of time), or having someone think I’m weird because I don’t drink tea or coffee. My mother’s greatest fear, on the other hand, is that I’m going to get eaten by a lion or a crocodile. Or that I’m going to contract some crazy illness from mosquitoes.
I’m most excited to meet my classmates and to explore…The Circle of Life… *Had to make a Lion King reference.*
I may post one more time before I leave. But if not, I will post again when I return at the end of July and share the details of my adventures then (I will have little access to the internet, or to conventional electricity for that matter, for most of my trip). I will also take lots of pictures and post them online somewhere (so far I have requests for giraffes and elephants–if I see some, I’ll take pics). I cannot fully express how thrilled I am to be going on this trip, both for academic reasons and for enrichment. I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity. Many of my friends and family have been rooting for me, and I have felt your love, encouragement, assurance, and confidence, both communicated and unspoken. While it has admittedly been a little nerve-racking figuring out the financing for this trip, so many things have come together to make it happen. This field experience is going to be hard work, with many new and challenging aspects for me–and I’m excited to learn. Whether I get into graduate school or not as I continue to apply in the future, I’ll have some wonderful adventures to share from this trip and inspiration for new tales.