Flag of South Africa

Emma Flieg Class of 2019

Ste. Genevieve High School in Ste. Genevieve, MO

"I went to a wildlife sanctuary called African Dawn, about 45 minutes outside of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. African Dawn is an animal sanctuary for animals that are going extinct in South Africa, animals that have been previously abused in their homes, or animals that were found in the wild. I stayed in little wooden lodges in a valley about a five minute walk from the main part of the sanctuary. It vaguely reminded me of a summer camp.

The whole experience was amazing. It made realize exactly what my dream was. I made so many new friends and got to learn about a lot of different animals. I want to go to different parts of the world and see what I can do to help other animals."

-Favorite parts?-

     "Well, I loved meeting all of the animals and forming connections. There were kind of like your pets. I got to know so many different types of animals and how they acted, what they ate, and believe it or not, their bowel movements. Scatty is a cockatoo and he loves to cuddle. Clyde is a water mongoose, he loves to play in people's hair and forgets that you’re not a mongoose and that he is not a human. I also went on a safari while I was in Africa. It was a day thing and they provided lunch and dinner in the cost. I got to see the big five (a lion, a leopard, a rhino, an elephant, and a buffalo) that I did not get to see in the sanctuary. It was absolutely amazing. I would recommend it to everyone. Another one of my favorite things is all of the friends I got to meet. I know a lot of people from England, Germany, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Brazil, Sweden, Russia, and Australia. I believe I made some lifelong friends that I will remember forever."

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-Was it what you expected?-

     "It was what I expected to an extent. I was expecting to work, to meet many people and to connect with the animals; which is exactly what I did. I also expected to do more rehab and rescue types of things. It was mostly just care, cleaning and feeding. But I also didn’t expect to be able to explore South Africa as much as I did. I didn’t expect the people and days off I got. I also didn’t expect the amount of memories that I will treasure forever."

-Hardest parts?-

     "One of the hardest things was the distance and time difference. When I woke up, my parents were asleep. The only time that I had off to talk to them was around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, my time. So it was like 7 o’clock their time. It was hard because I wanted nothing more than to wake up and be able to walk down the hall and see my mom but if I walked down the hall in South Africa, I’d be falling off of the porch of the lodges to where the wild bunnies run.

Also, I am usually afraid to talk to new people. I don’t really like to approach people. It was really hard to get out of my bubble and actually get to know others and let them get to know me. When I got off of the plane and saw the person that picked me up, I started balling. I told him, “Don’t worry that I am crying, I’m just really nervous and I don’t know how to react at this point.” In a really strong South African accent, he said “Don’t worry, we are all a big family.” And after that I was semi-alright, of course I was nervous but it wasn’t as bad."

-Considering all the work you had to do, are you happy with your choice of program? Was it all worth it and would you do it all again?-

     "The work was tiring but it wasn’t horrible. What actually surprised me the most was how much free time we had. I am extremely happy with my choice of program and I would definitely do it all again. I wouldn’t wish anything different."

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-What did you learn from the Patched Overalls process?-

     "I wouldn’t say this is a hard question but it’s not easy. I have learned so many things. I learned dedication because I really don’t think I would have gotten as far as I did without my mind 100% on the presentation and proposal. I learned distance; I was usually really dependent on my parents and I never really did much by myself without their help. I had to get on all four planes by myself with no help. By the way, I totally assume I am an airport genius by now. I learned how much work a sanctuary like this takes. The volunteers had it easy compared to what the managers had to do. They were up at 5am every morning and worked constantly until 10 at night. The volunteers did a lot of work but the managers did more. I learned what different animals ate and what they needed to be happy and how they lived."

-What are some things you learned about yourself, South Africa and working with an animal sanctuary/exotic animals?-

     "Something I learned about myself is that it's okay to be outgoing and that sometimes I don’t need to be so conserved and shy. All I had to do was embrace myself and everything I was taught when I was growing up. I have learned that I am actually quite good at talking to new people. Also, I have learned to step further out of my comfort zone, even if it’s only 5 miles instead of 8,894 miles."

-Did this experience make you want to learn more about working with animals or anything else you dealt with while in South Africa? Did it motivate you to do more with animals or maybe shift to something else?-

     "Before the trip, I was planning on becoming a veterinarian in a zoo. I wanted to study exotic animal veterinary medicine. In South Africa, I realized that I am perfectly fine studying regular animals in college; but instead, I want to open a Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Clinic in the Yukon. I was motivated to do more, but it also changed my dream a little. But I believe the change is exactly right for me."


-Was your planning from the proposal helpful and was it close to the actual reality of it all?-

     "Actually, the planning in my proposal was different from what really happened. I changed the program I was going to a week after I made the proposal and that meant prices and research in my proposal was actually different."


-Would you recommend Patched Overalls for future students? Why or why not?-

     "I would definitely recommend Patched Overalls. This experience was once in a lifetime. I would have never gone, and never had the choice or the hope to go, without Patched Overalls. It’s still worth it to make your proposal because you can get an idea of what you want to do in life, even if you don’t win it. It is worth a chance, no matter what."


-Any advice for students interested in Patched Overalls? Travellers Worldwide? South Africa? Etc?-

     "My advice for students interested in Patched Overalls is to ask for help! Definitely ask for help, no matter what. I didn’t ask for help from Ali or Tyson and I felt like I was drowning quite a bit during the proposal planning. Another piece of advice for students interested in Patched Overalls, Travellers Worldwide, or anybody who really wants to travel is to research the exact place you are going and make sure there are not other programs that offer different benefits or prices. I talked to many other volunteers at African Dawn and they got way better prices than I did. Also, you can go straight to the source, so instead of going through Travellers Worldwide, I could have went directly to African Dawn and I wouldn’t have had to spend as much money. My advice for students who want to go to South Africa is that there are so many different volunteer programs in South Africa. Make sure you found the right one for you. I heard about so many different ones that I believe I would have enjoyed more."

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-Any suggestions of how Patched Overalls can better serve the students and/or engage more students?-

     "If I’m being completely honest, I believe Patched Overalls served the other students and I perfectly. I was supported for every decision I made. Tyson and Mrs. Staffen helped immensely, even when I didn’t ask. I had all of the information I needed."

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 Emma worked with and/or saw cheetahs, birds (which she didn't even know she liked), lions/lionesses, ostriches, reptiles, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and even a water mongoose named Clyde.