Becoming a Field Guide – Part 2

In this second blog in our series, we are following David Ullmann, 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.

Finding your way

We track David as he books and begins his journey into becoming an FGASA and CATHSSETA qualified professional field guide with EcoTraining.

What were your initial steps in the booking process?

Once I was ready to actually book, I decided to book through Natucate. They are a German-based company that guides you through the whole process. You can book directly through EcoTraining, but I felt I wanted to be walked through the process so that I didn’t make any mistakes. Natucate offers a lot of services, and it just makes it way easier doing it all from Germany.

Photograph © David Ullman

What did your first conversation with them entail?

They wanted to know how serious I was about the course, and if I fully understood what it entailed. I wasn’t tested exactly, but I felt like I was proving myself in terms of what research I had done, and my background. They basically wanted to know if I knew what I was getting myself into!

I obviously had information from both Natucate’s and EcoTraining’s websites, and my previous experience in Southern Africa, but I had additional questions in my mind too. They made it very easy and were very helpful. All my questions were answered with regards to the finances, the timetable, start dates, and visa and insurance. They reassured me how it would be done as a non-native South African. They also gave me a rundown of the rough timeline, what needed to be done next, how to make it easier, and what exactly I should be doing right now.

They basically wanted to know if I knew what I was getting myself into!

What were the next steps?

They sent me loads of forms to fill in, and lots of information about the course and the modules, really in-depth. They gave me the price of the course for this year, which can fluctuate with the conversion of the Euro and Rand, so once the price was quoted, that rate was locked in. I had a set period, where I was then required to make a down payment of 10%. They paid EcoTraining the full amount to ensure the rate, and then I will pay the remaining balance a few months before I leave.

They also gave me a list of books I should buy to read in preparation, as well as a birding app to download – Great fun to play with on a Sunday morning!

A sneak peek at the birding app (left) & Recommended reads (right) Photograph © David Ullman

The books you will need to read in preparation for the course:

The course is split into two parts:

  • Part 1
    Approximately five months of theoretical and practical training with highly qualified instructors, where you complete various modules and certifications.
  • Part 2
    A Placement period of five to six months where you work with industry professionals to develop your newly acquired skills. The two parts aim to bring together certification with substantial, industry-related working experience.

As you can see, there’s a lot to cover, your schooling will take place in beautiful camps in the African wilderness, where every day is an adventure.

Contact EcoTraining or Natucate for more information.

What’s the most interesting thing you have read so far?

There isn’t one certain thing, but I just find our whole ecosystem in general so fascinating. The symbiosis between the animals and the plants, and how they build upon each other. I have had the luck to work with people who have gone through EcoTraining already, so I understand a bit about the bush, and I understand that it’s not all about ‘the big five’. Even a dung beetle and its interaction with elephants is a crucial part of the ecosystem. Also, when you look at one of the big mammals like an elephant, you can see how its existence fits into the cycles of the whole habitat. For instance, when an elephant tears down a tree, they provide food for termites, fruits are now accessible to other animals, and germination occurs as the seeds are dispersed. Through one action, they can shape a whole landscape.

Elephant minding its own business, whilst shaping the world around it – Photograph © David Ullman

It’s not all about ‘the big five’

I also love reading about how the birds live interactively with the bigger animals, and how everything is just so connected to each other.

What’s coming up next?

I need to sort out a lot of bureaucratic stuff here in Germany. I have to make sure all of my vaccinations are up to date and get an official copy of my driving license stamped. I have some office administration to complete, as well as insurance documents. I also need to keep going through all the books, there’s so much to learn about the ecosystems, the animals, and the vegetation. I want to be as prepared as possible.

There’s so much to learn about the ecosystems, the animals, and the vegetation. I want to be as prepared as possible.

When will your visa process begin?

They would like me to hand in everything 3 months before I go. This gives the South African Embassy enough time to process everything, and there is time if there are any further questions or information required.

How are you feeling now that you are further on in the process?

Things are getting serious. So, it’s getting exciting. I now have my flight booked; I leave on the 31st of July from Frankfurt for arrival in Johannesburg on the 1st. I then have one day and night to get to the pick-up point and stay at a suggested hostel before I officially begin on the 2nd of August. I’m also feeling a bit afraid, I hope I can live up to all the expectations, and what is required of me. I’m just going from day to day right now!

What’s awaiting Dave in the dreamy African bush – 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, there are 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.

There are also 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 catching up with Dave on the countdown to leaving. We’ll go over what to pack, what not to pack, and find out if everything is going to plan!

This could be your office | 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.