While on a field trip with IES Abroad to Rarotonga, Danny Kosiba (IES Abroad Christchurch, Spring 2017 | Hope College) and his classmate RJ Yoder (IES Abroad Christchurch, Spring 2017 | Purdue University) approached guest lecturer and humpback whale expert, Nan Hauser. The two ended up extending their time studying abroad in New Zealand and joining Nan as research assistants.
Read more about Danny’s experience and advice on how to go back abroad:
IES Abroad: How did this opportunity to work with humpback whale expert Nan Hauser in the Cook Islands come about?
Danny Kosiba (DK): We met Nan on our IES Abroad field trip to Rarotonga in April. Part of this trip included attending multiple lectures about the Cook Islands given by various people living there, and one of these lectures was given by Nan on her whale research. After her lecture, I approached her and asked if I could meet her again and ask more in-depth questions about her project, as I was a Biology student considering a career in field research.
RJ and I biked in a torrential downpour up a winding dirt road to the middle of the valley where her house was. All we had was a vague map drawn on a note card, and we got lost a few times trying to get there. We spent a couple hours talking with Nan about her project (while drenched from head to toe), and about our personal interest in biology and projects like hers. Apparently we said something she liked because she offered us a chance to come back and volunteer with her research team.
IES Abroad: What was it like living and working in the Cook Islands? What was it like working with Nan?
DK: It was an almost inexplicable experience. I’m from the Midwestern United States, and it is nothing like a small tropical island in the South Pacific. It was unlike anything I’d ever done. The island was small, beautiful, and unique, and the culture was completely different from any that I had ever encountered. It was really interesting to learn and live in the Cook Islands culture. The work was fast paced, non-stop, and breathtaking.
Nan is an inspiration. She is involved in all sorts of projects in film and science to protect the world’s oceans, and, more specifically, the whales she loves so much. The determination she has is so apparent, and she seems unshaken by so many obstacles that she faces day to day and throughout her life. She has worked so hard her entire life for the environment, and it was very encouraging to work around someone with that kind of spirit and dedication to our planet. Her passion is unparalleled.
IES Abroad: What did your job consist of over the summer? Any interesting stories to share?
DK: I had never seen a whale up close in the wild before, let alone a humpback, and every day around those incredibly beautiful animals took my breath away. We worked all day, every day as research assistants. Nan calls work on the boat similar to an emergency room, and she is pretty accurate as there are just a million things going on that you have to quickly keep up with. Weather permitting, we were out on the boat photographing, filming, recording song, collecting DNA samples, and much more.
We also had the chance to work with multiple film crews this summer, including a team from National Geographic working on a story with Nan. There is always plenty to do on land, too, like transcribing the day's notes, and sorting and downloading data from days on the water. There is never a shortage of work to be done.
I’d say [one of my favorite stories] was our first encounter with a singing male humpback. If you are close enough to these animals while singing, you can hear their song above the water and vibrating through the boat. It was astonishing. Everyone on the boat that day called family members and loved ones around the world to let them listen to this whale’s song we were recording with our hydrophone (an underwater microphone). We even played the song over the radio for the local fishermen. I’ve never experienced anything cooler or more beautiful than whale song. The work was by no means easy, but it was spontaneous and unforgettable no matter what.
IES Abroad: How did study abroad influence your desire to work abroad after your program ended? Is there anyone who influenced you in particular?
DK: While abroad, I quickly realized how little I knew about so many places around the world. It peaked my curiosity about our immense world, and really got me interested in continuing to travel. This type of experience is unmatched, and you just grow so much as an individual. Plenty of friends I made with people from many countries across Europe and Asia really influenced my opinion on working abroad. They told me about so many experiences you just can’t get while working at home, and I really wanted to have those, too. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to consider working abroad, and I want to take advantage of opportunities to do that while I am young.
IES Abroad: In your opinion, why do you think it’s important to try and live, work and/or abroad?
DK: I think it is absolutely essential to spend some time in your life working, living, or studying abroad. The type of lessons you learn from experiences like that are beyond necessary. Living abroad forces you to grow so much as an individual. You’re forced to reconcile your beliefs and cultural differences with people who may not necessarily agree with or even understand them, and you inevitably grow from this. This individual experience with different cultures than what you are used to creates an empathetic tendency that I think is essential to being a genuine human being and citizen of the world. If I had it my way, everyone would have to spend at least some time living or studying abroad in their lifetime.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give to study abroad students who want to work or study abroad? Are there any challenges to consider? Are there tools or resources students should be aware of?
DK: Keep an open mind. You never know what opportunities you’ll stumble across. There are definitely challenges in this. These opportunities may seem daunting at first because of the purely different details involved in working/studying in different countries, as they have different systems in general. Don’t let these differences in system overcomplicate your choice. Take things one step at a time, and if you believe you really want to and can capitalize on staying abroad, I encourage you to take advantage of it. Ask questions of the people involved in where you are interested, and the people that have figured out similar opportunities before. Chances are, they can give you advice on how to best move forward. Stay patient with the complications and stay open. If you truly want to do it, you can find yourself a way.
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