SYMCO 2017: An international veterinary wildlife adventure across South Africa – Charlotte Spencer

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On the 28th of June 2017, I set off for what was to become an action packed 18 days with 79 other vet students from around the world all interested in one thing- African wildlife and a vet’s role in it. I was heading to Johannesburg, South Africa where I was lucky enough to be selected to join their biannual symposium on Veterinary Wildlife Utilisation in Southern Africa. We’d be travelling across the East of South Africa working with many vets, many wild animals and getting to the root of how to solve the problems that South African wildlife is undergoing today.

There were many things that I was worried about pre-adventure. Will I get eaten by a lion? Will I get charged at by an elephant? But seriously, my real worry was would I make any friends? It’s safe to say that I landed in South Africa knowing no one and left with 79 new friends that I’ve shared lifelong memories with.

So, what did I do on this 18 day trip of a lifetime across South Africa?

I can’t write about everything in detail so I’ll just mention my personal highlights.
Across these 18 days I was able to take part in lectures from amazing wildlife vets who are playing major roles in conservation in South Africa. Rhino dehorning, horn infusion, TB in Kruger and rabies throughout the Wild Dog population.

One of the most amazing activities I got to take part in was Rhino dehorning in a private game reserve. This is one of the ways rhino owners are trying to tackle poachers. If most of the rhino’s horn is gone then poachers are less likely to risk their lives for a tiny amount of horn. However this doesn’t always stop them. They darted the rhino from a helicopter and we raced on pick up trucks to the site that the rhino went down. They applied local anaesthetic to the nerves surrounding the horn and then removed the horn with a chainsaw. After microchipping the remaining horn and giving antibiotics, the rhino were good to go!

As well as this we were able to go up in a helicopter to practice our darting skills. Using a paintball gun loaded with tick repellent balls, we were able to try our hand at ‘darting’. Shooting at buffalo, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest we all soon felt like ‘proper’ wildlife vets! Doing this is one method to keep tick infestations down on a game reserve.
This trip has really broadened my views on how to tackle different conservation problems as well as listening to the extremely varied views from the different students on this symposium. Darting elephants, free diving with sharks and going on a Blyde River Cruise are just three of the things that I haven’t been able to mention in this short blog so hopefully the following photos do say 1000 words!

Many thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for aiding me on going on this trip.

Elephant Darting Kruger

Elephant Darting in Kruger National Park.

Rhino Dehorning

Rhino dehorning in a private game reserve.

Free diving Sharks

Free diving with sharks at Scottburgh.

Darting in chopper

Darting practice in a chopper.

Blyde River Cruise

Blyde River Cruise

Edinburgh University Human Rights Brigade 2017

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From Friday 23rd to Friday 30th June 2017, twelve students travelled to the Darien Province of rural Panama to take part in a week of human rights work with local Latino and Indigenous communities. Over the course of the week, the volunteers shadowed two Panamanian lawyers in providing pro bono legal clinics to community members at the local primary school and followed up on divorce and marriage cases chosen from the legal clinics of previous brigades. The group also benefited from talks given by the mayor of the local township, a local social worker and psychologist, and the members of a community bank established following a Global Brigades programme on micro-finance and capitalization. At the end of the week, the volunteers worked with the children of the local school in an anti-bullying awareness lesson.

Not only was I one of these volunteers but I am also a co-president of the Edinburgh Human Rights Brigade Committee and thus worked on organising the entire trip. Alongside peers, I did a lot of fundraising to ensure the brigade went ahead. However, the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund definitely helped secure this opportunity for me. Before the trip went ahead, I was nervous that things may not go to plan and that expectations of volunteers may be different to those expected. However, the work that we took part in and the experience we had exceeded all expectations.

I will take on the role of president of the Edinburgh Human Rights Brigade Committee myself for this coming year. After our recent brigade and all that I learned as regards organising a trip like this, fundraising, running a committee and working alongside lawyers in a foreign legal system, I am positive that we will have even greater success in 2018.

The power of sport and play – Sport for development in Lebanon

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This summer I had the opportunity to go to Lebanon for an internship with the NGO Right to Play (RTP). In Lebanon, RTP use play (theatre, visual arts, music, sport, and games) as a way of working with Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as Lebanese communities to help them deal with the psychosocial traumas experienced during war and conflict. I had several reasons for wanting to come to Lebanon. The biggest pull factor was this NGO. This internship with RTP comes off the back of an internship I had with them last summer in Thailand working with Burmese-Karen refugees on the Thai border with Burma. I therefore knew how RTP operates and knew that it was an NGO I really want to learn from, as their methodology for working through play is very forward thinking in development, and especially in Lebanon, RTP as an organisation is working in ways that few other NGOs have been or can, primarily because of this methodology they utilise. Another reason is that I’ve never before been to the middle east, and was very interested in better understanding how this kind of work is carried out in a region that is quite politically turbulent and to see how implementation has to be adapted to this.


Probably the greatest worry was around feeling that I may not be able to contribute to the work being done because of my lack of knowledge or development related techniques. I know that internships are an opportunity to develop your own knowledge and skills and so it is expected that interns will require support and assistance, but I also wanted to make sure I was giving back as much as possible for having been given this opportunity. Arriving during Ramadan, when most sport related activities are not being conducted as getting young children to run around in 40 degree heat when they are fasting is not too responsible, this was therefore a really great for me to gradually learn about the work being done and read up a lot about the country and the programs being run. Having those 3 weeks of slower work, meant that the remainder of my time I was able to properly dig in with the work.


In the time I’ve been here there has been significant development, most significantly from a professional standpoint, I’ve been able to see and learn how to apply different development techniques that complement the more theoretical work I do at University. I’ve also learned a lot about Lebanese and Middle Eastern history, politics, and culture. Overall, I am hugely appreciative of the opportunity I’ve had and in many ways this has been thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund.


Legal in Japan

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For my trip, I visited Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan for a 2-week short course studying Japanese Law. Whilst studying at Edinburgh (Japanese Society and Culture) I became interested in Japanese Constitutional Law (the topic of my dissertation) and since I’m also interested in further study, this course seemed an ideal opportunity to be introduced to a variety of legal topics within Japan. Whilst most of the lectures were aimed at those who wish to practice law (all my classmates) oppose to purely research. Lectures such as the Constitutional Law provided fantastic opportunity to meet professors with similar interests and share a few drinks at a British Pub across from the university, whose staff thankfully knew their way around a G+T.

The course included both high points and low ones: a particularly interesting event occurred during a visit to Yokohama Prison where the warden justified the appurtenance of prisoners with ‘pillows’ restricting hearing and peripheral vision as preparing for a North Korean missile strike. Other trips included visiting the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the Diet, and a law firm with a very good view.

Unfortunately, the course contained disappointing elements, namely some lectures were disorganized, a lot were rushed and thanks to no professor intervening often disrupted by other students for whom the concept of keeping quiet was foreign.

One concern I had revolved around the imminent submission of my dissertation on 17th August, I gambled by not taking my tablet with me and been unable to do any writing whilst away, I justified this to myself by striving to focus on research during this time. Thankfully, this approach paid dividends as I could utilize the resources of the library in an evening after class, which surprisingly held several books connected to my chosen topic. The cost of all this was not being able to socialise after hours with other classmates, this being highlighted by the end of course ‘party’ featuring pictures taken during the classes and after. Simply put, I am present in the images taken during lectures and field trips, but not in any of the social ones.

Whilst the course did what I hoped it would, by helping me to determine any further interest in the area, unexpected benefits such as connecting with a professor over a drink and shared interests, (we started the night discussing our areas of interest and ended by quoting the movie Aliens to each other) and access to the universities library during writing my dissertation proved most welcome and most importantly reaffirmed a desire to continue education.

House of representatives

House of representatives

One of the universities buildings

One of the universities buildings

Meiji Univeristy Mascot he was very fluffy

Meiji University Mascot, he was very fluffy

View from a law firm imperial palace toward the back

View from a law firm, imperial palace toward the back

Civic education and cultural immersion in Vienna, Austria

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Glimpses from my life as an intern at the Austrian Society for Civic Education, Austria’s main organisation for civic education for adults. Partially due to the nature of civic education and partially due to Vienna being an extraordinarily culturally rich city, I ended up spending much of my spare time in museums, reading, and in beautiful Austrian villages where the trainings of the Society would take place.


















New York – a state of mind

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The Principal’s going abroad fund allowed me to complete an internship in New York City. This 2 week period was conducted as part of a month long internship, in which the rest of my time was completed in London. Hence, it was not only a diversity in working cultures which I gained from this international experience but also the dichotomy in locations that imbued me with new approaches and transferrable skills.

I was working for brand strategy firm ‘Siegel+Gale’. The job of a brand strategist involves a lot of research, studying the competitive landscape of client and from understanding the role of the brand as a complete organization, improving or reinventing a brand’s image. From this, long term growth is predicted and advice provided to the client.

I was worried about not only struggling with mastering the concept of a brand strategist but doing so in an unfamiliar environment. I was also slightly concerned about the safety of navigating the city by myself. Nevertheless I feel like I learnt most when I was able to ‘encounter the city’ independently. I was able to fully immerse myself into the day-to-day not just as a tourist but as a resident. I got to experience all of the inbetweens. From this, my perspective changed. I saw the city not solely as a place but as a place brand. Thus, I incorporated my internal studies of product and business branding into my own lived experience.

Hubbard (2006) a key scholar in the urban theory of Cities contributing toward my upcoming course ‘Encountering Cities’ discussed the concept of how everyday life in cities is something that cannot be adequately prepared for. He described how urban life has a tendency to surprise, and we are constantly forced to improvise, adapting to events as they unfold around us. I was able to acknowledge this through my own experience. It was actually through an internal project I conducted within the office, that had most impact on my self reflection. In this project I presented to the team my personal branding of New York. As a place in itself, New York is a state. But, I suggested, as a brand, New York is a state of mind.

How did I reach this conclusion? From, living in the everyday and acknowledging the range of diversity of individuals roaming the city streets. From being able to notice that every person had their own reason for occupying that space. The city is more than the ‘Big Apple’. It is palpitating, the aspirations and livelihoods of the humans of New York give the city its unique and untouchable charisma. As writer Colum McCann described, it is a ‘city uninterested in history’, living in ‘an everyday present’. And so, what I learnt was that everyday life in a city constructs that given place-brand. As my dissertation is focused around this topic area, I can conclude that the internship and experience was highly conducive and an experience I will not forget quickly.

Shannon Devlin






Volunteering with Refugees in Greece

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This summer, thanks to the Edinburgh University Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was able to go to volunteer in Greece working with refugees many of whom find themselves stuck in camps and unofficial housing in this country as a result of instability within their own countries. As a Farsi speaker, I was able to work for a variety of organizations as a translator and interpreter as well as helping out with distribution of products and setting up of certain spaces. Last summer, I volunteered in Northern Greece near the town of Polykastro, mainly doing distribution work with the organization of Northern Lights Aid. Thus, I had had some prior experience in this field, and did not experience the same kind of emotional shock and turmoil as I had the first time I was exposed to such work.

Although I had already done it before, to me this type of work remains very difficult, as people are put into situations that many times violate their human rights, are not given basic amenities, and lack a lot of the attention medical and otherwise that they be in need of. As during this episode of my volunteering I translated in cities (working in Athens and in Kavala) and different areas of help, such as translating of information texts as opposed to interpreting midwifery sessions between doctors, nurses and patients, I was able to experience different aspects of the aid system that is (or is not) in place for refugees. These perspectives allowed me to link back my individual experience to the theoretical knowledge I have gained in my Politics courses throughout university, through which I could then come to more substantial conclusions about the situation as a whole. For example, although individual volunteering is important and can make a huge impact, many of the barriers that exist both for refugees and for the organizations working to aid them, are policies that are being put into place by the European Union. People’s perceptions of the refugees and racist biases also play a large role in the way aid is given to these communities.

Thus, I came to the conclusion that the methods of helping refugees need to reach beyond just hands-on work, and are strongly linked to politics, policy-related work, and campaigning, both towards governments, institutions and the general public in hosting countries. This insight allowed me to think more deeply about the way that I am trying to help the situation, and how I can continue to work on this throughout my career in different ways that are connected to my university degree as well. Nonetheless, such experiences also teach you a lot about the strength of grass-root movements and civil activity in the absence of effective policies, and also very much increased my knowledge of how NGOs operate and organize especially within Greece.