7 things I learned while volunteering abroad

After publishing Wednesday’s guest post , I felt inspired. I’m about to do another project, my flight actually leaves today, so it’s time to review the lessons I learned last time I volunteered. Hopefully I won’t do all my mistakes twice.

1. Volunteering equals working. I worked every day for two months. Hard, manual labor. Losing weight wasn’t part of my expectations, but it was a reality after only a week. This time I’m in better shape and hopefully won’t feel so sore the first days.

An enclosure doesn’t look this good without someone having cleaned it. 

2. Just because I signed up to work, doesn’t mean everyone else did too. Some are there because it will look good at a future application, or make for a good story. Ignore their complaints. Shake it off.

Or take a walk with a cheetah.

3. The true meaning of “African time”. “Soon” doesn’t mean the same in every language. It could be 10 minutes or it could be hours. If I respect their meaning, they will come to respect mine.

Time will pass; relax.

4. Abnormal can rapidly become normal. I worked with cheetahs and other wild animals; the first days my heart was on constant overdrive. After a while though, it was “just” cheetahs.

Their fur was softer than I ever could have imagined

5. “Luxuries” can include juice. Especially when water and food supply is running low. Missing material stuff is normal in the beginning, it will pass.


6. The place I am visiting is also learning from me. As a visitor I first made the mistake of thinking that I was the student, while in reality it is a two-way street. I brought my Norwegian culture to Namibia, and took some of the African ways with me home.

Everyone loves to dance. They taught us, and we taught them.

7. Small changes do make a difference. I dug waterholes and fixed fences; stuff anyone could do. However, I was the one that was there, and that waterhole has made a difference to the animals in the area.


Traveling the Globe to Help Animals

Good morning/day/evening/ everyone! I have some exciting news! Today I am joined by a blogger I have recently interacted a lot with, she has been published several times and is a self-proclaimed comedian. Yes, she is definitely worth checking out!

Hello, blogging world! My name is Stacey Venzel and I write a lifestyle blog at Just Another Adventure, with posts on animals, travel, recipes and more! I am happy to share with Ragnhild an interest in animals and the world. As a zoologist with an equal love of both animals and travel, I have forged opportunities for myself that combine these passions. From Ohio to Texas and Florida and as far-reaching as Ecuador and Mexico, I’ve dotted the globe with animals at my side.


My animal travels started in my geographic roots in Ohio — “the heart of it all” — where I worked mostly with domestic animals, from pet sitting to shadowing dog trainers to running fundraising and scheduling volunteers for a local Humane Society. My interest in exotics led me to shadow at the Toledo Zoo on occasion, too.


The summer of my third year at university, I immersed myself in the primitive culture of the Amazon rainforest, embracing the jungle life with roaming mischievous monkeys and a faithful trumpet bird. I spent my days making oatmeal ball treats for two orphaned woolly monkeys, occasionally getting ambushed by a released free-roaming one-eyed capuchin, aptly named “Huahuasupay,” which means little devil in the tribal Quecha tongue. I flung meat into the ocelot pen, wrapping it in a leaf because my vegetarian heart still had a hard time dealing with the natural cycle of life for these primal beasts. I squished bananas and chopped lettuce for the abandoned tortoises and searched for the caimans hiding beneath the water’s surface. I marveled at a capybara’s swimming abilities. I admired the symbiotic relationship of leaf cutter ants and fungi. I syringe-fed a baby anteater at night while avoiding tarantulas, scorpions and giant cockroaches like the plague.


In Texas, I spent six months sequestered in the rolling desert of the Texas Hill Country, falling asleep to the roar of a retired zoo lion in the distant corners of 200+ acreage wildlife rescue center. I bottle-fed orphaned opossums, squirrels, skunks and raccoons. I made gruel for hungry baby birds that needed fed every hour of daylight. I assisted an injured duck with water therapy and watched a baby goat learn to head butt. I boiled rats and butchered a horse in humid, unventilated conditions to practice the cycle of life for the carnivores big cats and snakes. I learned how to shear sheep.

woolly monkeys

Spending four years in Florida, I rescued sea turtles from boat hits and lobster trap entanglements. I nurtured hatchlings back to full strength for life in the daunting wide open sea. I removed tapeworms from an endangered snake and observed parasites under the microscope. I rolled a sick 600-pound Galapagos tortoise on its side to properly administer fluids. I drew blood from an iguana and took care of three-legged dogs and cats. I fostered a guinea pig.


Mexico taught me to face my fears with an immersion therapy of sorts when I held a scorpion and tarantula, then let the tarantula crawl on me. I even ate a cricket. But even after facing my fears, I still jump when I see a big spider. I did, however, wrangle a venomous snake.

Through my globetrotting and animal adventures, I was able to combine my appreciation of culture with my work in conservation. This has fueled a fire in me to merge my many passions, a road that has led me to write a book on turtles and perform on-stage in a science-theatre production. I’ve even started educating people about the environment on my Instagram account: @staceyvenzel.


What have I learned from my traveling animal escapes? I’ve learned that it is possible to follow your dreams… but you might get pooped on by a monkey somewhere along the way.

Thank you, Stacey, for reminding us that it actually is possible to follow our dreams all around the globe. They might be scary and challenging at times, but definitely worth it anyway. For more adventures from this amazing traveler, and at the moment a guest post from me, vistit her blog Just Another Adventure!

P.S. All photos for this post are copyright of Stacey, Just Another Adventure.

P.P.S If you would like the oppertunity to do a guest post on my blog, or like me to do one on yours, contact me at ragnhild0@hotmail.com