Becoming a Field Guide – Part 1

In this new blog series, we are going behind the scenes and taking you on a real-time journey. From deciding to become a Field Guide to touching down in South Africa to start with EcoTraining.

We are following David Ullman, from Germany, who is embarking on his dream of becoming a field guide. We will be giving you a real insight into what the preparation looks like, and how it feels to be counting down the months and days to a new career and life.

So first, let’s get to know David as we join him on his voyage to becoming an FGASA and CATHSSETA qualified professional field guide with EcoTraining.

Dave takes in the breathtaking views of the Saltpans in Botswana. – Photograph © David Ullman

Can you tell us a little about your background?

Hi! I’m Dave, I’m 27 and I grew up in Southern Germany, near the Lake of Constance by the Alps. I had a very typical school education. At university I studied Politics and Sociology, I’m really interested in people, and how society works, as well as analyzing community psychology.

Have you always been passionate about field guiding or working in Africa?

No, I never realized that it was even a possibility or a path that I could take. After I experienced Africa, it became a dream, a real opportunity for me. I knew I just had to do it as it combined everything that I loved.

Before I went to Africa, I’d traveled around Europe and had been to the US, but I wanted to experience other continents. Asia was just too frightening, with masses of humans, so Africa was a natural choice. Especially so, as I’d been working with Viva Con Aqua for eight years. They are a water charity that facilitates access to clean potable water for all, especially in poorer countries.

After graduation, I looked up organizations in Africa where I could volunteer with. I wanted to spend a lot of time there, so I wanted to start by volunteering. I wanted a guideline of how things were done there before I traveled completely on my own. I sought to ensure I conducted myself correctly, and that I was respectful and non-intrusive or offensive to the people and land. I came across an organization called EHRA, which is a human-elephant conflict organization in Namibia. It caught my interest, so I went for it! I spent 3 months with them, it was the most amazing experience of my life. After that, I spent two months traveling around Namibia and Botswana before coming home. The whole experience completely changed the trajectory of my life. I met my partner out there, and we both knew that our future was in Africa.

Dave getting up close and personal with the Desert Elephants in Namibia during his time with EHRA – Video clip © David Ullman

The whole experience completely changed the trajectory of my life. I met my partner out there, and we both knew that our future was in Africa.

What first introduced you to the idea of field guiding?

Most of the guides that I met at EHRA had gone through EcoTraining, so I gained insight from them. I met a field guide with who I really connected; he had joined EHRA as a guide as I joined as a volunteer. I learned so much from him, he had worked on some amazing projects. It opened my eyes to the range of careers and paths a field guide can take. I realized the possibilities within the job, and it became a dream for me.

After three months with EHRA, I was almost like an employee! So, when I went traveling on my own, I met lots of field guides and I think they realized that I wasn’t a typical tourist. I was much closer to nature. I soaked in as much as I could, knowing that I wanted to come back and train as one of them.

Enjoying a spot of fishing in the Okavango Delta – Photograph © David Ullman

What made you choose EcoTraining to become a field guide?

As I mentioned, a lot of the field guides that I had met had gone through the program, I know they have a very high standard and are very professional. I’d heard very positive things about them. I wanted to go for the full year of training and gain the highest certification that I could. As my partner and I had decided this is where our future lay, I wanted to make sure I was training with the best, so EcoTraining was my first choice.

What made you decide that now was the right time to book it?

Although it might sound like I arrived home and immediately booked it, it’s actually been two years in the making. After my partner and I decided that we wanted to make our life over there, we both started preparing in our own way. I had the opportunity in Germany to take an apprenticeship to become a professional plumber. I wanted to bring that knowledge with me. I know it will be very beneficial to have such a trade out there, to understand water supply systems, air conditioning, and heating. It was a good opportunity, and it gave me time to plan for the next step. That has now finished. I am fully qualified, so with a decent amount of preplanning and consideration, I decided to book it!

It became a dream for me

What are your expectations for the course? Do you have any fears?

I think there’s going to be so much to soak in, not only information-wise but impression-wise too. I’m going to be creating once-in-a-lifetime memories, lessons for life. I imagine the situations that I am going to be put in to simulate guiding guests are going to be very impactful.

I’m hoping that my learning methods will aid me and are on an appropriate level. Whenever you take a course, you have the fear of failing it, so I must be prepared. I hope to be good enough. I also worry that my fellow guides won’t be friendly or that it won’t be a friendly environment, but I think that is very doubtful. We will all have the same interests and desire to understand nature. To be a guide you must be personable, so I don’t think it will be a problem.

I’m going to be creating once-in-a-lifetime memories

Community engagement: working with EHRA to reduce human-elephant conflict in Namibia – Photograph © David Ullman

If Dave’s journey has piqued your interest, be sure to have a nose around EcoTraining’s website. If a year sounds too long for you, we have lots of shorter courses such as EcoTraining Field Guide Practical 35 Days, EcoTraining Field Guide 55 and 28 Days, EcoTraining Kenya Field Guide 55 Days, EcoTracker Course: Animal Monitoring 55 Days, EcoQuest 7/14 Days, Wilderness Photography 7 Days, Birding in the Bush 7 Days, and many more.

We also offer online courses where you can dip your toe into the wilds of Africa without leaving your sofa! These include our Online Field Guide Course, Online Nature Enthusiast Course, Online Trails Guide Course, Online Tracking Enthusiast Course, Online Birding Course, and, Introduction to Biomimicry.

In our next installment, we will be getting down to the practicalities of how Dave booked it, the visas, the payments, etc. We’ll also take a sneak peek at the books he currently has his nose buried in.

What are your hopes for the course? What are you excited about?

To have the chance to have access to very remote places within nature places you wouldn’t normally see and to have my eyes completely opened. I imagine my perspective will change. I want to value and have knowledge of the happenings in nature, appreciate the smallest insect and understand its place within the ecosystem and what it can tell us about the world around us. I can’t wait to get out there, but first, it’s time to prepare.

<< Looking into the eye of nature - Photograph © Glen Coombes

How to become a Field Guide | EcoTraining Professional Field Guide

The African bush is calling you! Will you answer the call? Ever wanted to know what the EcoTraining Professional Field Guide Course is all about? Well, here is your chance to learn more and get an in-depth idea of what your year with EcoTraining will entail.

About the Author: 

Helen Burt writes blogs for Conservation Careers and is studying for a degree in Geography and Environmental Science at the Open University. She is also an English Language Teacher. Her love of conservation was ignited after volunteering for EHRA in Namibia.

To follow her journey, take a look at her Instagram page @wild_lifewanderer.