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Student Reflection

Borneo Student Reflection: Elizabeth Jackson

Borneo Student Reflection: Elizabeth JacksonGlobal Field Program graduate student Elizabeth Jackson shares her experiences and memories of the 2022 Earth Expeditions: Borneo course.

“When I first applied to this program, I don't think I knew exactly what was in store for me in the following months, and what will soon be years. I started this process knowing pretty much only one thing: that I loved animals and wanted to spend my life protecting them, something that I've wanted to do since childhood, but for one reason or another never pursued. Quitting one career, and getting back into school as a "non-traditional" student was exciting; I was finally following the path I'd put aside for decades. But in some ways, it was also nerve-wracking. I've always been a capable and resilient person, so I wasn't afraid that I wouldn't be able to handle the new, foreign material, but I was constantly worried about being the person in the class who knew the least about anything we might discuss. Thinking back on my first semester, and our trip to Borneo, I distinctly remember feeling like I was right. I knew a whole lot about art and architecture, but virtually nothing about biology, wildlife, or conservation. At times I felt like everyone could tell. Thinking back on it now, whether or not that was actually the case - that the class could see how little I knew - doesn't matter anymore. The difference between who I was and the knowledge I had before, or even in Borneo, is huge. I sit down to do work now, or meet with classmates in other courses, and realize that I am not the same person I was when all this started. I realize that I am well on my way to reaching the goal I set out to accomplish. 

My time in the field presented a mix of emotions. I loved it, hated it, was challenged to grow by it, wanted to leave about a million times, and also knew I was in the right place. Even coming home, when everyone asked me how my trip was, I responded with some variation of, "It was amazing, and also really, really hard." That is still true, and I think it always will be. While it was not THE hardest thing I've ever done in my life, it was up there. But it was also enormously rewarding, and sometimes very surprising. For example, I was not expecting to come home with such an enormous respect and admiration for the people of Borneo. They are truly some of the most thoughtful, kind, and happy humans I've personally ever met. It really got me thinking about the concept of being an ally, and including local communities in conservation efforts. Prior to Borneo, my vision of conservation was mostly about wildlife with some environmental concern peppered in, but I never did stop to think about the people. CBC was a new concept to me then, and now it seems ridiculous that that element would have escaped me in the past. It is enormously important. And conservation is not just about the animals, but so much more. 

Aside from this IAP course, I am also taking IEV and CSC this semester, and though they are technically not part of my field experience this summer, they are adding to it after the fact. The concepts I learned in the field are becoming more and more relevant and valid to me, and every now and then I can see them coming to light in my other classes, encouraging me to think on a broader scale. In CSC, I am discovering all the ways people in my community are part of the environmental equation, and that their needs and participation must be made part of the action plan too. In IEV, I am learning all the ways humans play such a critical role in eco-evo dynamics, acting not just as a part of the solution, but also a part of the problem, and vice versa. These are concepts I have always been aware of, but the level of my understanding has grown immensely, and I'm sure will only continue to get deeper and broader. In my eyes, everything around us, everyday, is an important and intricate part of conservation, and everything has equal merit. This is what I started to learn in Borneo; I just didn't yet know the degree to which it was true. 

So, when I think back about who I was and what I knew when I sat down to write my personal statement as part of my application to the Dragonfly program, I realize how naive I was, and in how many ways. And I'm sure I will discover a thousand more ways I have been naive before my time in this program is done and I move on to what I hope will be my dream career. The difference now, though, is that I will not let myself feel embarrassed by the knowledge I don't yet have because I know it's only a matter of time before it becomes second nature. 

Honestly, it's hard for me to put my field memories and reflections into words because they are quite personal. The trip and this entire program as a whole have so far been much more than a cool experience and a few classes. They are a gateway to the life I see for myself just a few yards down the path. None of it has been perfect because nothing ever is. But I hope I am not wrong in thinking that they will all eventually lead me somewhere truly great.”

Learn more about our Earth Expeditions course: Borneo: Primate Conservation.