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Getting Face to Face with Nature

Many students from the United States of America and other countries visit South Africa on Study Abroad programmes to widen their own perspectives on the career paths they have chosen to pursue. They also travel this far in the hope that they gain some life experience.


Many students from the United States of America and other countries visit South Africa on Study Abroad programmes to widen their own perspectives on the career paths they have chosen to pursue. They also travel this far in the hope that they gain some life experience. 

I have often wondered what makes students come from far and wide to visit the College and the Lowveld region. Some return from year to year. Many of them say it’s because they embrace chance to get face to face with our African environment, with our cultures and most of with all, with nature.

And this is the what some of the students from the Grand Valley State University from Michigan USA experienced. Getting face to face with nature.

On a visit to a nearby private nature reserve, the group engaged with a hand-reared cheetah, which for the most part rehabilitated back into the wild. She has the freedom to leave the camp area whenever she wishes and catches her own food yet still returns to the lodge to sleep in the camp. This allows her to hide from the bigger predators, like lion roaming the reserve. Early in the mornings when the guide calls to the cheetah, she emerges from the bushes and walks with the group, even allowing people to touch her head.  She then takes a bit of a rest flicking her tale back and forth while people are able to watch her. There are not many places where one can go and walk with a rehabilitated cheetah in wild territory.

Grand Valley State University getting face to face with a rehabilitated cheetah.

The Grand Valley State University programme started in the mountains of Mpumalanga in the Blyde River Valley visiting one of South Africa’s most iconic and scenic routes. The Blyde River Canyon is the only known green vegetation covered canyon in the world, the other canyons being for the most part dry and desert like. The group then travelled from the higher lying canyon gradually down to the savannahs of the lowveld region staying with us here at the College for just over a week. Engaging the nearby communities with Professor Mtunga, our college community liaison officer, the group got to meet the regional tribal authorities, enjoy a traditional lunch and play a soccer game with the local soccer team. They also visited various lodges learning about the region’s various business enterprises and how the local economy supports people involved in the conservation and tourism sector.

Grand Valley State University enjoying an early morning walk with a view of the Blyde Mountains and the lowveld savannah.

The group also engaged our Applied Learning Unit in a short 2-3 days research project, gathering data on invertebrates surrounding our man-made reedbed system and a nearby more natural waterbody. This allowed them to gain some insight into the potential impact a man-made reed bed has on the overall environment. One such short intervention from a student group builds much valued information into our local database. This then in turn makes way for follow-on research to take place as the baseline data is already available.

After the group visited the College, enjoying multiple informative talks during their stay, they left for a visit to the Kruger National Park. There they stayed in Skukuza for two evenings and Berg & Dal for one evening viewing wildlife along the route and having many interesting talks along the way. After their visit to the Kruger National Park they left for three nights in Swaziland (now called Eswatini), visiting the Matenga Cultural village and staying over in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Malolotja National Park. Highlights in Swaziland included walks along the mountain paths as well as a treetop canopy tour through the deep mountainous valleys. A memorable experience indeed!

The College wishes the Grand Valley students well as they head back to their respective homes in the States and thanks them for once again engaging with us and participating in a project that assists in building up data sets for Applied Research.

For more information on our University programs please contact Marilize van der Walt.