Working with the wild animals of Bolivia’s jungle

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During the summer, Principals Go Abroad funding gave me the opportunity to travel to Bolivia where I worked as a volunteer at an animal rescue centre. The centre works within the local community to help rehabilitate animals that have been injured or mistreated and to educate about conservation in an area where an abundance of other social problems means the issue is low priority. I was assigned to work with an elderly jaguar Juancho, who suffers with numerous physical and mental medical problems as a result of years of mistreatment at a local zoo. It was an incredible experience to form an unforgettable bond with a magnificent animal and I learned so much first hand, about feline behaviour and management which will be of huge benefit working with cats in the future. The vet at the centre was willing to spend time explaining the various treatments I was giving Juancho and talk about ways to increase his exercise level and minimise stereotypic behaviour. The centre payed a huge amount of attention to every detail of each animals wellbeing and personality, and through thoroughly recording behaviour it was really interesting to appreciate the huge impact a cats environment has on its mood and mental wellbeing. Although sometimes difficult, it was really interesting to see the long term effect that trauma had taken on the animals at the centre. I really hope to work with exotic and wild animals in my future as a vet so appreciating how trauma and habituation to humans often prevents reintroduction of wild animals was highly invaluable. During my stay I also had the chance to work with a wide variety of other animals and had the opportunity to watch the vet treat wildlife that was brought into the centre from the rural surroundings.

The centre itself was in an amazing location in the middle of jungle and I had a brilliant experience meeting many likeminded people from all round the world with a shared passion for conservation and animals. On the trip was able to learn some basic Spanish which I have continued to work on since coming home, with lessons planned next term.

Before leaving I was worried that I might not agree with how the animals were being cared for at the centre and that the work at the centre may not be legitimate. I had spent a lot of time researching the centre but I was still relieved to find their main values and aims were similar to those I hold important. I was also worried about safety on the trip as I had never been somewhere so culturally different with a reputation for being unsafe. I was so reassured when on my way home I realised that at no point on my trip had I felt unsafe (except from hearing the stories of the deadly venomous snakes lurking in the jungle). This has given me a huge confidence boost for any future trips as I now feel more able to solo travel.

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The beautiful Juancho, pulling his funniest face to smell in his jungle enclosure.

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The volunteers of Comunidad Inti Wari Yassi rescue centre

SpaceX Hyperloop Competition with HYPED

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As a result of year long preparations, my team were invited to SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition Finals. As one of 24 top teams, we presented our design – Poddy McPodface. I travelled with over 20 other students from our Uni and spent weeks in LA area putting final touches on the prototype and preparing for the competition. Despite stress and things not playing out the way we wanted in the end it was certainly the most amazing and empowering experience of my life.

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The Dying Glacier

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Haut Glacier d’Arolla

It is a well-known fact that Glaciers around the world are subject to huge impacts from the ever changing Phenom of climate change. I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful country of Switzerland to see the Haut Glacier D’Arolla glacier first hand. Haut Glacier d’Arolla is a small valley glacier approximately 3.5 km long, fed by two main flow units. It has a relatively low gradient and has a long record of continuous recession, a behaviour which it maintained even in the 1970s & 1980s, when its neighbours (Bas Glacier d’Arolla, Glacier de Tsijiore Nouve) were advancing! The Arolla glacier once flowed the full way down the Arolla valley to reach the town of Arolla during the Little Ice Age (1750-1850) but now, it can only be seen at the very top of the valley and no longer reaches the valley floor. This is why I feel It’s so important to understand the cause, rate of retreat and its effects that glacier retreat has on the world around us and this is why I went to visit this glacier. Whilst I was here I collected data on the discharge which was released from the base of the glacier, the speed and depth of this water. I took measurements throughout the day and created graphs on how the cycle changed through the day and how each day related to each other. Since I have returned back, I am in the process of analysing my results and modelling my results to see how my results differ from previous years and the long term health of this glacier if the current retreat rate continues.

Before I left, I was worried about getting transportation as the glacier is a fair distance away from the airport, plus driving on the other side of the road and changing gears with my opposite hand. Finding the campsite was also a worry and then also finding the correct glacier along with getting onto the valley floor in order to reach my field site and take measurements. We decided to camp as accommodation is very expensive so cooking was a worry, as they have very little tinned food and eating out is very expensive. I was also worried incase my fieldwork didn’t go to plan or any of my equipment stopped working. My biggest fear was the weather. Forecast was lots of thunderstorms, lightening and rain which would have made camping hard and fieldwork dangerous and miserable – luckily this fell through and it was blazing sunshine throughout the day!

Through my trip I learned that a new experience doesn’t always have to be daunting and that I made the right choice in visiting such an amazing country. Seeing this glacier up close was amazing and everything in this country is beautiful. Being outside all day and never having a bad view was incredible and I’m more intrigued by glaciology than ever.

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A conference in India

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More than 1700 crystallographers from across the world descended on Hyderabad, India for the 2017 International Union of Crystallography congress, and I was lucky enough to be one of them!

It goes without saying that the science on show at the conference was world-class and the talks I witnessed were at the cutting edge of scientific research. Furthermore, such talks were presented by researchers and professors whose papers and textbooks I have frequently turned to for information throughout my PhD studies and have repeatedly referenced when writing my thesis. It was fantastic to hear and meet such speakers that are world renowned in my field of research.

Furthermore, travelling to India was a cultural experience like nothing I have experienced before during previous holidays in Europe and the United States. The cities were busy and chaotic, yet the rural areas were beautiful and incredibly scenic. The food was incredibly flavourful and the temples were fascinating. We happened to be in India at the time of the Indian festival Ganesh Chaturthi, and we witnessed the largest Ganesh Idol in the world which was located in Hyderabad, standing at 58 feet tall and made entirely of clay.

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Johannesburg Trauma Placement June/July 2017

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Chris Hani Baragwanath, situated in Soweto township, is South Africa’s largest hospital.

The trauma department is the largest in the world seeing on average 100-200 patients in any 24hr period.

It has a renowned training programme attracting medical students and doctors from all over the world.

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Ward 1 Trauma

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All crime must stop at the entrance to the trauma department. The hospital operates a very strict no-violence policy.

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Trauma pit on a busy Saturday night – 150 patients through the department by 4am!

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Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

Debating Championship in Estonia

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This year, I had the honour of representing Edinburgh for the second time at the European University Debating Championships, this year in Tallinn, Estonia. This was an honour I would have been unable to accept had it not been for the PGAF.

The experience started back in March when the Debates Union held trials to select teams for the Championships. Being part of the Debates Union is like being part of a family, so although tensions were high, the competition was friendly.
Having tried my best, but feeling disappointed in my performance, I wasn’t sure if I had done enough to receive a spot. I was absolutely stunned and delighted when they announced that my friend Noah and I would be going as a team.

As the thrill of selection wore off, the reality of the commitment settled in. Soon began the months of training. Twice a week from March until May, the various ‘Euros’ teams and other lovely members of the Debates Union, would do practice debates, covering every topic we could think of. Even when University came to the end, our preparation had to continue. We went to a practice tournament every weekend in June, travelling everywhere from Glasgow to Berlin. We started to see our work pay off at these tournaments, reaching the finals in Glasgow, and gaining several top-ten speaker positions.

Then came the main event. Two-hundred and fifteen teams, seven days, one city. The in-rounds of the Championships brought us mixed results, and the hours before the ‘break’ announcement to the out-rounds were filled with many moments of excitement, followed by immediate fear. We knew we were very close to the position we so wanted to be in, but we couldn’t know for sure if we had done it.

Unfortunately, when the break announcement came, we were disappointed. It was hard to discover we had not got the victory we had worked for. However, one of the other Edinburgh teams managed to get to the out-rounds, and I felt nothing but excitement for our wonderful friends. Seeing them give beautiful speeches in the quarter finals made me want to work harder and get better, so when I hopefully return to EUDC in the future I can make them as proud of me as I was proud of them. This competition taught me disappointment is not to be feared, it just feeds ambition.

Our friends from the Glasgow University Union were eventually declared the winners of the Championships. One of their speakers, Bethany, became the first woman to have ever won and be declared the best speaker in Europe. This was a beautiful moment to have witnessed at EUDC 2017. The representation of women in debating is still limited, but to see a Scottish woman prove that we are just as able to succeed in the activity as men, made me feel invincible. It feels like working hard for a potential future victory will be worth the effort, because it is no longer an impossible dream.

The Edinburgh Squad at EUDC 2017

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Noah and I at EUDC

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Berber Way of Life in Morocco

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I went to Southern Morocco to work with a Berber tribe to establish a community, and provide a strong platform for it to flourish. Berber people are historically nomadic, however in recent years, as Morocco develops, the tribes have found it increasingly difficult to continue their traditional life style, and must find ways to adapt. Many turn to tourism, by providing tours in the desert and authentic experiences of their rich and diverse culture. Many tribes however, turn to coming further inland and creating communities that survive on making argan oil and leather, to be sold at the now infamous Berber Markets, found in any major city. To be able to help and join a community who is going through such a cultural shift, and being able to witness the nuances in culture between “Moroccans” and “Hill Tribes” is an amazing opportunity.

Working within a community where many people would not speak English, all whilst being thrown into such a harsh environment was potentially the biggest challenge I had ever faced. Upon my arrival, and meeting Abdul, my host, I quickly realised that there was nothing to fear. Not because there were no challenges, but because the welcoming and relaxed outlook of the people meant that challenges could be dealt with one by one, as a team.

Experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim country was truly a humbling experience. There were two very contrasting sides to this beautiful month. In Marrakesh, as fast is breaking the crazy, relentlessly bustling streets become deserted, and the call to prayer fills the sky. Locals will regularly ask you to break fast with them, and the much talked about generosity of the Moroccan people is on full display. Berber tribes however, often do not follow the strict Muslim practises seen in the cities, and still to this day consider the Arabs as the invaders who destroyed their way of life, meaning that fasting is uncommon. The contrast between empty city streets and the prohibition of alcohol, to Berber Whiskey and Hash being enjoyed at all times of day to the sound of African drum trance was truly spectacular, and painted a much richer and diverse picture than I had previous had of Morocco.

During my time, it was established that solar panels could not be delivered during Ramadan, and then further established that they had not been ordered, and finally it was clear that this was not an intention on the near horizon. Vast changes of plan like this become very routine and I used them as opportunities to become as resourceful as possible, by making the most of the tools I had at my disposal. This experience made me aware of how consumerist the west can be, and has made me appreciate and respect the luxuries we can afford. Mainly, it has given me a much more grounded perspective on life, and its humble beauty.