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My journey from the USA to South Africa

In this blog, Bushwise student Heidi Reinheimer tells her story of coming from the USA to South Africa to pursue her dream of working in conservation with African wildlife.

Heidi (in the middle) came from the USA to South Africa to study as a safari guide.

It was two years ago that I decided to come to South Africa for the first time. It was late February of 2020, and I was so ready to visit the place I had been obsessed with my whole life. I came as a conservation intern and did GIS mapping and research on a pride of African lions in the Rietspruit Game Reserve. 

Six weeks in, however, as we all know, the whole world imploded as COVID-19 hit and shut down the lodge I was staying in. Heartbroken, I made my way back to the USA. I was on the verge of never wanting to leave South Africa by the time COVID-19 hit so when I was back in the States, it was hard to not imagine coming back.

The author Heidi with two of her fellow Bushwise Professional Field Guide students.

I tried to make it work and be happy starting a new career in the USA, but South Africa was always there in the back of my mind. And so I made it my mission to save up enough money and do a Bushwise course and find a way to make a career in the bush. 

During my internship I had become rather close to a few of the guides at the lodge where I was based. I remember the conversations we had and how I had promised them that I would come back from the USA to South Africa and try to be a safari guide one day as well. They were the ones that spoke so highly of Bushwise that there was never a question in my mind about where I would end up going to be trained as a guide when I made it back  from the USA to South Africa. 

Bushwise students on a game drive vehicle. 

I would sit at the back of the safari car and all my education in animal science and ecology would spring to  mind and I would wish I could be the person sitting at the front of the car speaking to people and spreading awareness about conservation and the natural world around us. 

I have a lot of experience working in conservation – ranging from oil spill reclamation to animal behavioural studies. I loved the research work, but I had begun to realise that to make a broader difference in the world, education was the key. People want to be educated in a way that is both interesting and entertaining – which will  help them to form strong personal connections and opinions about nature. 

Coming from the USA to South Africa means a big shift in life experiences, like seeing a giraffe in the wild!

I saw countless educators attempt to teach the world about our climate issues and the importance of ecology, but there was a certain zest and passion that I had only found in the South African bush through the safari guides I met along the way. Even though my research did make a difference and even assisted with winning an environmental lawsuit, I wanted to be in the field working directly with people. 

This always makes me laugh now because originally, I had gotten into animal science to get away from people, but soon realised that people are what is really at the centre of today’s issues. I’ve come a long way from – now, I love every aspect of being around people, I just had to be in the right environment. 

Bushwise students with their trainer on a game drive vehicle during a practice drive.

So far, I have not regretted a single moment of it. Even though it’s only our first semester we have already done everything from driving assessments to running our own game drives, from nature classes to first aid. Learning everything from geology, ecology, weather and climate, and biomes. 

Getting to immediately use this information out in the bush is so satisfying and motivating – I never want to stop learning. I’m so thankful for the little family we are beginning to form. I can already tell this is going to be an incredible first six months and am already looking forward to our future placements in lodges. 

Whether they come from the USA to South Africa or were born here, Bushwise students are passionate about wildlife and becoming field guides.

Just like Heidi making the journey from the USA to South Africa, you could make a major shift in your career and become a safari guide. Apply today to join a Bushwise Professional Field Guide course.

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