About Thomas Elliott

Campus Y Administration

How to Become Rich, Married, and Invisible to the Police

by Thomas Elliott

As today represents a month since my return to South Africa, it’s time to take stock of what I’ve done so far.

A string of days in the office followed my excursions into the field to fix our weather stations and to continue setting out our community resource harvesting plots, and my official first task was a rather boring but important one. Cleaning data consists of taking the raw data that comes from the field in the form of databases or spreadsheets and standardizing entries or correcting errors. In this case, field workers had gone to 600 households in the community for five years and had asked them about their natural resource use. The names of trees, medicinal plants, bushmeat, and other species were entered in Shangaan, the local language. My job was to go through all of these entries, thousands of them, and correct for spelling, caps […]

Back in South Africa!

by Thomas Elliott

I’m back in South Africa!

After a month of suffering in the bitter northern-European cold, it is a wonderful feeling to spend entire days sweating in hot and humid Lowveld conditions. My trip home would make for relatively uninteresting reading, but there was one event that I do want to highlight here.

My second week back I travelled to Brussels to the place where I attended middle school. Since then, they have added a high school and expanded into a new building. Being back amongst old friends and finding that our relationships had not really changed was an enlightening experience, but what excited me the most was that I was given the opportunity to speak about my experiences in South Africa, focussing on some of the issues confronting my particlar region .

To the high school students I spoke about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and some of the social factors that […]

The Kruger

by Thomas Elliott

Aaaah-woooee, Aaaah-woooe. I will never get used to the sound of hyenas at night. There is something unsettling in the cries of that animal. I saw a few the other day; they are strangely beautiful. Their backs slope down from powerful, muscular shoulders making them look like bodybuilders on all fours. I’m separated from them by a fence, but to most animals, a fence doesn’t mean much. It isn’t rare to have all sorts of things break through.

But this is life at Wits Rural Facility. A few days ago, I awoke to the sound of rustling leaves. As always, I ran through my mental checklist. Impalas? No, couldn’t be. They wouldn’t be in the trees. Vervet monkeys? Naah, they’re usually a bit louder. So that just leaves… Giraffes! I was right. I looked out my window, and there they were, three giraffes just standing there, eating, a […]

“I Am Beginning to Feel like I Could Love this Place”

by Thomas Elliott

Note: This is Thomas’s first blog post from the field, written on Sept. 16, 2014.

Over the course of my first few weeks here, people have often asked me, “How is South Africa?” and I quite frankly don’t know what to tell them. In all sincerity, if I put on my expert chef’s hat, I would say that South Africa is about 5 cups African, 1 cup American, 1 cup British, ½ cup Dutch, and a ½ cup Indian. Mix all that together with 5 heaping tablespoons of chaos, and you’re getting pretty close. This country bru, it pulls you in, pushes you away, confuses you, and challenges you. It holds you close just long enough for you to feel comfortable, and then it drops you on the floor, and you’re not quite sure why. So much of it is familiar: the KFCs in every town, the cars, […]

Resource Monitoring and the World’s Most Exciting Commute

by Thomas Elliott


Avuxeni! Mi njani? Ekaisa!

(Hello! How’s it? It’s hot!).

The experts over in Norway (tip: Norwegian website is considered world’s best meteorological website out here) say it’s about 38 C, or 100 F. Fortunately, I spent the day in the field.

SUNRAE (Sustaining Natural Resources in African Ecosystems, the program I work for) is in the process of setting up natural resource monitoring plots in a few of the local villages. While any number of resources could be monitored, our work specifically deals with firewood harvesting. Our job is to set up the plots, while the actual monitoring will be done by others. This is an extremely labor intensive task, but fortunately the university (Wits) has been assigned four environmental monitors, two of which are being used for this project.

The South African government, in an effort to decrease unemployment, created the expanded public works program. This provides labor intensive […]

South Africa Bound!

by Thomas Elliott

Everyday my departure for South Africa comes closer. I wait, I pack, I try to control my excitement, mitigate the anticipation. My old friend David Bowie helps me along, as I alter the lyrics to “Space Oddity” to suit my pre-departure situation:
“Ground control, to Major Thom:
Take your MALARIA pills,
and put your BACKPACK on.”
Packing for a Gap Year means more than just putting material things, like soap, into a backpack. It takes a little creativity. Take, for example, this conversation with a friend: Me (Major Thom): “How am I gonna take all my books?!”

Friend: “Buy an e-reader.”

Major Thom: “Oh.” I was so astounded, I wrote a poem:
How easy can it be?
Oh, practicality.
How I do love thee.

But, and this is a big “but,” no one seems to know what you really take with you on your year. Now, I’ve obviously lived a long, long, long time and know a lot about […]

By |September 22nd, 2014|Pre-departure|

Unbearable Excitement: Planning a Gap Year

What amazed me the most about Orientation weekend was the atmosphere; you could almost feel the excitement in the way people spoke, thought, and acted. It was intense in an indescribable way, not implying physical intensity but an emotional sense of all that is going to be possible in the next year. To see the effect that that atmosphere had on this year’s fellows, myself included, was both inspiring and astounding. We went from complete strangers who shared nothing more than an acceptance letter to a team of like minded people helping each other prepare for a year of international work and adventure. Although we will all be spread to the far corners of the earth, I got a sense that with each other’s support added to that of the campus Y, we will never be truly “alone”.

The most difficult, and exciting, part of planning a gap year completely […]

By |April 21st, 2014|Pre-departure|