Written by Freya Santana Cubas
My name is Freya, and if you come from Europe you have probably seen my home island advertised a thousand times as a holiday destination. Gran Canaria, west to the Moroccan coast, belongs to the Canary Islands. Seven islands, very close to each other, yet so different; ‘the fortunate islands’, blessed with pleasant weather all year long and microclimates which make you find the most different landscapes just within a thirty minute drive. Sand, ocean, volcanoes, forests, dunes, cliffs, mountains… Why not stay here forever?
After 18 years on an island with a diameter of 60 km, I really wanted to experience living in a place where you could take a car or a train and drive for hours without getting to the same point where you started, and I’ve always had this desire of travelling and seeing new places, which is pretty easy once you’re in mainland Europe and not in the middle of the Atlantic. I left to study Biology in Germany, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve been asked why I was there ‘in the cold’ and not home ‘in the sun’.
The truth is I have wonderful parents who have done everything for me to have a good education and learn languages so that I have better chances in the future. In Spain, unemployment is a very big deal right now, and the Canary Islands is not one of the best places to find a job. Because I had very good grades at school, some people expected me to study medicine, and me studying biology because it was what I liked was not always seen as ideal: ‘and what are you going to do with that?’ was a common question I had to hear.
Although I knew it was what I wanted to do, just because of my fascination for the natural world, it wasn’t always easy not knowing exactly what I wanted to dedicate my life to or in which direction I should go. You let yourself get caught in your own doubts, you compare yourself to other people who know exactly how they are going to spend the next years of their lives and suddenly you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing any more.
Not without some ups and downs and with the help of all the new experiences I was having living in Germany, I kept on, and started a master’s degree, which still was very general, but gave me the time to realise what I really wanted to do. The rising concerns regarding climate change and biodiversity loss pushed me to realising I wanted to take part in the fight against these issues. Now I know I always wanted to do this but saw it as an idea which was very hard make true. So after finishing university, I left Europe for the first time and travelled to Indonesia to volunteer with Stay Wild Tiger Protection Trust. It was so exciting having my first conservation-based adventure, seeing landscapes and wildlife I’d never seen before and meeting people who were so passionate and dedicated about making a change. Most of all, I am grateful for how much I learned about how involving local people is necessary to make a change, and how education can change someone’s mind. It is hard, it takes time and sometimes it seems no progress is being made, but it is worth it.
I said goodbye to Indonesia and returned to Europe without a real plan on how to go on with my life, so I started looking for jobs related to conservation without much luck. Although in Germany there were more offers than I expected, it seemed I didn’t have the necessary background or experience for them. After some exasperating months, I decided to go back home and volunteer to get some experience.
I started volunteering at the Centre of Recovery of Wild Animals in Gran Canaria, where wild injured animals are treated and then released back into the wild after their recovery. Also, I worked in the conservation project of the blue chaffinch of Gran Canaria (Fringilla polatzeki), a critically endangered endemic bird.
One animal which is often found injured is the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). The main cause is because they have been trapped in fishing nets or synthetic raffia, which can lead to the amputation of their flippers depending on how long they have been entangled in it. Other causes are the swallowing of fishhooks or collisions with ship engines. As all of the causes are human induced, it is important to educate people on the matter, so almost all turtle releases are made public to benefit from the occasion and talk to the people about keeping our beaches clean and how we all can do our bit to minimise the number of animals getting hurt because of our doings.
So I came back to Gran Canaria on April 2019 and now September is finishing and it turns out I’m going back to Germany in a week, because a few months ago I did find something to do for the next two years.
During my desperate scouting for a job, an internship or anything really, I came across a master’s degree in International Nature Conservation. It included a semester in Germany, a semester in New Zealand, an conservation-related internship which could take place anywhere in the world and a master thesis. It all sounded wonderful and as if it could open my doors to saving (or at least helping) the world and its wonderful nature. So I applied without much hope, as only ten students are admitted every year.
I passed the first round and got a date for a Skype interview, during which I talked and talked the whole time, about my experience in Indonesia, my experience in Gran Canaria, what I am interested in… (it really seemed like I was the only one talking).
When it was over I still didn’t know what to expect as my interviewers didn’t say much and made clear that already holding a master’s degree was not advantageous, as they would prioritise applicants who don’t. Even so, I had a feeling and didn’t let my hopes vanish completely.
I don’t know how many days after the interview I got the email saying I got into the program, and I was really happy. Once the initial feelings had calmed down, then came the nervousness but also the excitement (kind of a roller-coaster). I know it won’t be easy, that I will be challenged, but I’ve never been so sure of what I wanted to do with my life.
It’s hard being away of friends, family, people you love, giving up things to travel far away, but in the end you have to think of yourself. You can always change your mind because it’s okay not being okay with something. What makes you happy? What do you want to fight for? What risks are worth taking? If not now, when?
For more of Freya, check out @freciosa on Instagram