GAF Story

Kayla Rowe

Murdoch University
Bachelor of Conservation, Wildlife Biology and Marine Science

Kayla Rowe, Murdoch University Scholar. Young woman standing next to an Asian Elephant.

When she’s not busy studying Marine Science, Wildlife Conservation and Biology, Murdoch University scholar Kayla Rowe makes the most of every opportunity to volunteer in her future career field. We caught up with Kayla to find out about volunteering in Northern Thailand with Asian Elephants rescued from the tourism industry and her advice for other scholars looking to volunteer overseas. 

Did you relocate to study at Murdoch University?

This year I relocated to study at Murdoch University from my home town in Albany, which is about 400 km south of Perth. Initially, I found the transition from rural to city life to be quite daunting, and it took me a couple of weeks to adjust, as Albany doesn’t even have any traffic lights! Overall, I think Perth is a very accommodating city, and there are so many great support networks available to students that aim to make relocation easier for country kids. Although I miss my family and home, I think moving away is also beneficial as you have a sense of independence and ownership over your own life and you gain so many more opportunities.

What are you studying, and why?

I am currently in my first year of my Bachelor of Science, studying a double major in Wildlife Conservation and Biology, and Marine Science. I have always been an outdoors person and have had a fascination with the ocean. In high school for year ten work experience, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer for the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions in Monkey Mia where I assisted with the dolphin interactions and monitoring. In January of 2018, I returned to Monkey Mia to volunteer with the same program. I enjoyed the role and immediately knew that I wanted a career that allowed me to interact with wildlife and protect their habitat.

Since then I have developed a strong passion for the environment and have endeavoured to be involved in as much as possible to lower my impact on the planet, as well as trying to encourage others to do the same.

How was volunteering in Thailand?

During winter break, I volunteered for two weeks in Northern Thailand with Asian Elephants. One week of my trip was spent volunteering for the Save the Elephant Foundation at Elephant Nature Park and the second for the Asia Green Project known as Journey to Freedom. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to work closely with elephants rescued from the tourism industry in which they are horribly abused, malnourished and overworked. The sanctuary also hosts 400 dogs and many cats which we were required to exercise daily.

I gained invaluable knowledge while volunteering, and the trip made me more aware of species threatened by the poachers, habitat loss and the dollars of uninformed tourists. So far, the volunteer trip is one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Do you have any advice for other scholars looking to volunteer overseas?

I would highly recommend volunteering overseas in your area of study or just for a cause you are interested in and passionate about. I think volunteering in Australia is important; however, volunteering overseas gives you a much wider perspective and skill set that you can then apply in your chosen field back home. I encourage anyone that is thinking of volunteering overseas to do thorough research on the company they are potentially investing money and time in. ‘Voluntourism’ is becoming a new sector of tourism, and some agencies have started to capitalise on this market and are not as ethical as they may seem. I have found volunteering to be the absolute best way to travel. You meet like-minded people, become truly immersed in authentic culture and positively contribute to the country in which you are a guest.

How has a GAF scholarship made travel possible for you?

Being a recipient of the GAF scholarship has made my travel and volunteer goals possible this year. Field experience greatly increases employability in my chosen field of conservation, and so it is really important that I do as much volunteering as possible in my semester breaks to increase my practical knowledge. Receiving the scholarship allowed me to save the funds that were necessary to gain such experience on my trip to Thailand, as I was able to put more of my savings away that would otherwise be spent on my accommodation and living expenses. I am so thankful to have the financial aid of the scholarship, as it has greatly eased the stress of being able to complete these goals, which I may not have had the opportunity to achieve without GAF’s support.

Any travel plans in the future?

Over the summer break, I am planning to volunteer on one of the turtle tagging programs up north, and I also hope to gain some field experience on the East Coast on the Great Barrier Reef. I have many travel plans for the future, and I am constantly consulting my world map for new destinations to explore where there is interesting wildlife. I aim to spend a semester abroad in Sweden next year, as it is a very environmentally conscious country. One of my goals in the next few years is also to participate in a Sea Shepherd voyage on one of their international missions and spend some time in South America as it is one of the most biodiverse continents in the world! I always have travel plans related to conservation to look forward to as a reminder of the career I am aspiring towards in my post-university life.