Oliver Hutchens

Major: Biology

Home School: Sewanee: The University of the South

OTS Program: African Ecology and Conservation,

Spring 2022

Oliver Hutchens

Oliver is a Biology student from Sewanee: The University of the South, in Tennessee, passionate about landscapes, biodiversity, and ecosystems. Before joining African Ecology and Conservation in South Africa in the Spring of 2022, Oliver was looking for an experience that could allow him to put his acquired knowledge to the test in real-life situations. The balance of theory and practice that our AEC Program offers ended up convincing Oliver and drove him into a life-changing experience in South Africa.

Now that he is back, Oliver wants to share all about this amazing experience with other undergraduate students thinking of enrolling in one of OTS’ programs and courses.

It was an experience of a lifetime: I went on a safari every day for 3 months, saw countless elephants, giraffes and tigers, and got to live on a whole new continent

I went for OTS’ African Ecology and Conservation program because I wanted to immerse myself in a landscape. Before OTS, I was looking at another program in Copenhagen. I had already signed up and been accepted at that point, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get excited. That Fall of 2021, right before application deadlines closed, I went on a research trip on an island off the coast of Georgia. Looking at this beautiful landscape, and doing all this fieldwork, it became clear to me that I wanted an ecosystem, not another classroom! I quickly switched programs, bought a ticket to South Africa, and never looked back.

My personal highlight was when I saw an elephant tear through a tree, gutting it with its tusks to get at the nutrient-rich cambium underneath the bark. I had learned a lot about herbivory before that moment, told how impactful it is on the landscape. But it was never real to me, it was just a fact, an idea floating around my mind; it was never real life. When I saw that elephant gut that tree, I immediately understood what herbivory is, what it does, and why I need to understand its roles in the ecosystem. I hope I never forget that moment in which theory came to life.

I would tell them to be aware of what they’re signing up for! I loved how intense the program was, as I felt completely immersed in both the landscape and the world of the ecologists who work there. That said, it’s pretty demanding! If you don’t want to leave your comfort zone, if you want something that more closely resembles the standard classroom experience, you might have some trouble adjusting. If you know that you love fieldwork, you have no reason to worry!

Our project was focused on the invasive reed Arundo donax and its effect on the invertebrate communities that exist in the naturalized reed species, Phragmites australis. We went to a part of the Sabie River near the border of Kruger National Park and collected invertebrates from the reedbeds of each species, which we later identified and quantified. We found a considerable drop in biodiversity across a wide spread of invertebrate families in the invasive Arundo donaxreed communities. 

If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, let me give you some advice: DO IT! The second the plane lands you can’t believe that you were considering just taking another normal semester back home. For me, it was an experience of a lifetime: I went on a safari every day for 3 months, saw countless elephants, giraffes, and tigers, and got to live on a whole new continent. How can you say no to that?!

Ask our Alumni what they think of our Programs!

You can contact one of our Alumni Ambassadors directly to ask for their impressions and recommendations for the Programs we offer. Send a message to Oliver to learn more about her experience in our African Ecology and Conservation Program.