Karen Fadely studied on SIT’s wildlife ecology and conservation program in Tanzania in the fall of 1997. Below, we talk with her about her experiences on the program and what she’s being doing since.
SIT Study Abroad: Why did you choose to study on this program?
Karen Fadely: I had always dreamed of going to Africa and particularly the Serengeti, so Tanzania was an obvious choice for me. I was working on a BS in biology, so the program also had the benefit of providing me with useful credits for my major.
SIT: What were some of the highlights of the program?
KF: I have so many stories from my time abroad that I still tell today because the entire program was such a great experience. It is hard to choose. Living with a family was a wonderful experience. I lived in a small concrete house without indoor plumbing and only about four hours of electricity a day. I would walk with my “sister” to wash clothing and collect water. In the evenings, I would try to help my “mama” with dinner. I was quickly humbled by how inefficient my skills were since I was so dependent on various modern appliances and tools.
Our field trip to the Serengeti was also unforgettable, even though I had forgotten my camera. At the time, I was devastated about that, but it allowed me to focus on everything going on rather than focusing on getting the perfect shot. We saw all the animals that attract so many tourists, but with a focus towards animal behavior, ecological systems, and the challenging work of park rangers.
The field trip included talks with park rangers, international researchers, and local communities, which demonstrated how challenging park management can be, particularly for developing countries. Before the trip, I thought poaching was an activity of organized criminals done to kill elephants or other high value animals for illegal trade. I didn’t think about the individuals who poach of animals for the purposes of subsistence for their family.
SIT: How did your experiences on the program affect you?
KF: Looking back on the program, I would call it a “watershed” moment in my life. I knew I was interested in travel and conservation, but after my experience in Tanzania, I had a passion for it. The living experience and field visits opened my eyes to how complex the problems of poverty, development, and conservation were.
I came back to college and added an African studies minor and environmental studies minor to my degree. I was determined to find a way to work on environmental issues within an international context. After not immediately finding this job upon graduating from college, I went back to school for a master’s degree. Having already understood how important my time abroad in Tanzania was, I took a summer internship in Bolivia and worked towards a concentration in Latin American studies.
Upon graduating, I accepted a job with an international environmental consulting firm. My SIT experience in Tanzania and the internship in Bolivia gave me the required background to work on international projects as an environmental consultant. Eventually I gained enough international and environmental work experience to be able to land my current position with MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation), a US foreign aid agency with a mission to reduce global poverty through economic growth.
SIT: Tell us a little about the work you’ve been doing with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
KF: I work within the Environmental and Social Performance (ESP) group at MCC. My job is to make sure that MCC’s grants, known as Compacts, are developed and implemented in an environmentally and socially sustainable way that meets international best practices in project implementation. Given MCC’s model of country-ownership, I work directly with my country counterparts to do this work. I provide technical advice and oversight on environment and social issues related to Compact implementation. I’m currently working with our Compacts in Mongolia, Moldova, and Jordan.
SIT: What words of advice do you have for SIT students?
KF: Don’t underestimate the significance of your SIT experience. Many students go on a study abroad program, but few choose to challenge themselves with an experiential, field-based program like what is offered by SIT. In my opinion, the format of the SIT program develops real-world skills that are more applicable to your professional development in your chosen field than a traditional classroom experience.