As I am writing this, it is hour 8 of my 15 hour and 8500 mile flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. Though some dread flying for such long distances, I enjoy the adventure. There is something about long journeys that make the destination that much more special. I often have bad travel luck with things like unexpected bad weather, mechanical delays and even one case when I almost missed a connection because of coyotes on the runway. Though those travel moments were stressful at the time, they are also the moments that became lasting memories.
My journey to South Africa today started at 4:30AM in Jackson where I packed up the last few items for my trip and headed to the airport to catch my first flight at 8. Unlike trips past, my flight to Atlanta went smoothly with no issues along the way. I landed around 1:30 which gave me plenty of time to relax and do research about the conservation topics I will soon be documenting in the field.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have many opportunities to travel from a young age. It is from this appreciation for the places and creatures I have seen that motivates me to pursue photography as a means of sharing those things with others around the world as well as keeping a record of fleeting moments and experiences.
As of this moment, I have traveled to 5 of the 7 continents. My final two are Antarctica and Africa. But In just a few short hours, I will set foot on my 6th continent. Needless to say, I am beyond excited and grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a student on this Stanford trip.
I have been dreaming my introduction to the African continent for several years. Before I committed to Stanford, I went to the Stanford Art Gallery during an admitted students week and saw an elephant conservation photography exhibit by Susan McConnell, a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a professor at Stanford. I was both moved and inspired by the beautiful and intimate depictions of African elephants. Looking back, it was her exhibit that helped me solidify my decision to pick Stanford, a decision that has and will continue to have a profound influence on my life.
After seeing the exhibit, I tracked down Sue's email address and asked her if and how I take courses from her. In her response, she mentioned her courses in conservation photography at Stanford which I immediately put on my list, but what really stood out to me was that she said she was just days away from leading a group of students to do conservation photography projects in South Africa. At first I was sad, thinking I had just barely missed my chance to go, but I later found out that she leads similar trips every 2 years. In that moment, I set my sights on trying to earn my spot on the trip following my sophomore year.
Now, 2 years later, sitting on a flight for the very trip that I have been dreaming of for so long feels surreal. I have dreamed of this moment for such a long time that the distinction between dream and reality is blurred. Though sometimes dreams and expectations can exceed reality, there is no doubt in my mind that the real experience of South Africa will far surpass my dreams. Though I don't yet know what all I will see and what experiences I will have, I am most excited about the things that I don't yet know.
I want to express how grateful I am to Sue for being such a great mentor to me and giving me this opportunity of a lifetime. Keep posted for more updates and images from the field!