Interning at Save the Elephants- Kathleen Hopkins


Kathleen Hopkins, International Intern

Date Published

Hey guys. I’m so sorry that it’s the end of the month and my time here at STE, and I’m just now writing an intern blog. This month has sped by, and I can’t believe that I’m about to head home in just 4 days.

Since this was my first time in Kenya, as well as all of Africa, I had no idea what to expect. This was definitely a trial-by-fire sort of experience, and I have learned an incredible amount. I figured for my intern blog, I would try write up 10 points of what to expect during your trip to Kenya. If you’re thinking about interning with STE, or have already been accepted, I hope that this guide will help somewhat!

1. Something will go wrong.

It’s okay. Just be flexible and don’t get too stressed, and you’ll have it figured out. My flight from Nairobi went to the wrong airstrip and dumped me in the middle of nowhere without a working phone. But due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to get where I belonged.

2. 90% of the people you meet will be friendly and polite, and will help you.

Of course, there’s always the 10% of some really messed up people, but I’ve found that everyone I’ve met in Kenya is nicer and more welcoming than any other country I’ve traveled too. Their kindness has really made my trip, and I am so thankful to all of them for accommodating me during my stay here.

3. If you really love elephants, nothing will compare to the first time you drive into a family unit.

I really don’t want to ruin this moment for anybody, so I’ll just say it is an amazing experience.

4. Camp life

The loo is nicer than I’m sure you’ve imagined, showering out of a bucket is actually very nice, and the food is delicious. Just make sure to cover up or wear bug spray at night, and always carry your torch with you. There’s nothing stopping elephants and lions from wandering through the camp at night. It’s really cool to wake up and see elephant foot prints right past the office, but you don’t want to bump into one when you’re stumbling to the loo half awake at 2am.

5. Vervet monkeys

As a major part of camp life, they get their own special number. You will think that they are merely living simian teddy bears, with their cute little faces and little monkey hands. You will want to be nice to them and give them food and want them to be your friend. THIS IS AN ERROR. Evolution has tricked us by making the most obnoxious, devious animals appear adorable. If you leave your tent open even a centimeter, they will manage to break in while you’re sleeping, and you’ll wake up with a monkey on your feet rifling through your carry-on bag. They’ll steal the food you toss to the hornbills and squirrels, and if you’re female, you will not scare them at all. Don’t be fooled by their cute appearance.

6. Zip your tent.

Mosquitoes, snakes, spiders scorpions and the aforementioned vervet monkeys do not make good bedmates.

7. Try to learn as much Swahili as you can before you show up.

Here’s some important words:

Jambo- hello

Maji- water

Tafadhali- please

Asante sana- Thank you very much

Chai- tea

Ndovu- elephant Simba- lion (Yes, the main character in the Lion King,who was a lion, was simply named “Lion”. I’m sure naming him was a real stretch, Disney)

Nyoka- snake Nge- scorpion Nzuri- good

Mbaya- bad

8. You will have bad days.

You will miss home, you will miss hearing your native language, and you will miss your family. Naturally, every day won’t be the best, but you can counteract bad days by realizing that you are sitting in Kenya, and you just spent all day looking at live, wild, elephants. Better than sitting at home, watching TV all day by far.

9. Be smart and you’ll be safe.

Just because I have a somewhat paranoid level of care for my own safety, I feel like I have to add this in here. Yes, there is some risk in living in the middle of a national reserve for a month. But if you’re smart about it, you’ll (most likely) be safe. Take your anti-malarials and use bug spray, and you will cut down your chances of getting malaria exponentially. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t poke large animals. Don’t pick up snakes. Stay hydrated. Follow your common sense, and you’ll be safe.

10. Last of all, this will be a life changing experience

Interning at STE is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned so much about not only elephants, but also the Samburu culture, the Kenyan Zeitgeist, the terrible program called Excel, and about myself. This internship has allowed me to reflect critically on what I plan to do in the future. It has been an amazing journey, and I don’t regret a single day. I applied to this internship figuring that I wouldn’t get it, but decided to risk it anyway. If you’re unsure about applying, just do it. If you don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. But the chances are you will, and you will not regret the opportunity (this advice also can be applied to applying to graduate schools, jobs and basically a whole lot in life. It’s pretty good advice, if I may say so myself.)

I hope that this guide has been a bit helpful, and that you have a wonderful time during your internship. I know I will never forget my internship, and I know I am so lucky to have been allowed this opportunity. Thank you to everyone at STE!