Blogger Kristina Simonaityte dives into the dangers and possibilities of doing fieldwork abroad.
Wageningen students are very eager to go abroad as part of their studies. And according to a survey from last year, over 50 percent of them actually do. My fellow Forest and Nature Conservation students, for example, for their thesis or internship have already gone to Himalayas, Mexico, Uruguay, Uganda, Rwanda, Mongolia, Thailand, Bonaire and further. Many more will also spend their summer somewhere exotic doing research – which will eventually settle on electronic shelves of WUR library.
The university is not making anyone go to these remote and sometimes dangerous locations. But different conversations over the last few weeks made me think about whether it has any responsibility in such student trips – especially if something goes wrong.
When I went to Australia I took out a full health and travel insurance, as university’s own policy didn’t cover it all. When going to tropical countries, you have to take a course on health risks – but it’s easy to get exempt if there’s scheduling conflicts. I also remember a story in Resource last year about students pulled out from affected countries when Ebola became a pandemic there. So clearly there are some protocols in place. Though, I guess, more likely those were the workings of the embassies rather than the university.
What about individual emergencies? A friend of mine from Wageningen is doing her fieldwork in Latin America, essentially on her own. She recently got bit by a scorpion while in the jungle. It was painful and scary, but all ended well. But say for someone somewhere it doesn’t. Who do you call then?
I’m currently doing my internship at Centre for Development Innovation, part of WUR. Many of my colleagues often travel to various African, Southeast Asian or South American countries, which might be less stable. A few of them recently had to take a several day-long intensive security training, where they were getting “kidnapped”, “shot”, practiced first aid and so on. And I immediately thought of all those stories of scorpion bites, Ebola, as well as dangers of armed poachers or of refugee camps (especially for women) that some students get exposed to.
Of course, a university can’t provide trainings like these to everyone going to conflict zones or inhabited by fauna ready to kill you. Sure, you always try to think positively. And it’s your responsibility to be cautious and evaluate risks, just like on any personal trip. But some backup – in a form of checklists, occasional checkups and emergency contacts – wouldn’t hurt, would it?