Lonely Conservationists

Emilie (Lonely to “un lonely”)

Written by Emilie Priou

My name is Emilie Priou and at 21 I just completed my Wildlife Conservation Bachelor. I lived until I was 18 in the suburbs of Paris, and with my parents and sister I had the chance to travel every year abroad to discover nature worldwide. In high school, like many others, I was extremely stressed out because I did not have any passion or idea of what I wanted to do in life. It was thanks to my first real failure that I learned to take a step back, and realised how young I was, and how I could decide to pursue whatever I wanted, not only the common paths that were showcased to me: laws, business, doctor… And so I decided that I would dedicate my life to the protection of wild animals and environments.

My journey started after graduation: I took a gap year – very unusual and mal-seen in France – because I hadn’t found the studies that suited me yet and because I wanted to make good use of my time and energy for animal conservation. At 18 I volunteered for a small sun bear conservation NGO (Sun Bear Outreach) for 6 months: 3 months in Paris (doing community management, and fundraising) and 3 months in the tropical forest of Borneo, Indonesia (improving the well-being of rescued captive sun bears). It was the hardest and most empowering experience of my life. I was only with the founder: a 50-year-old guy, passionate but depressed by the world we live in – so you can imagine it was hard to stay positive and to not feel lonely. But I do not regret this experience, I learned so much, grew, and it did not discourage me to follow my passion. This gap year also allowed me to take more time and do more research to find the studies I wanted to pursue: I ended up going to Liverpool to study Wildlife Conservation.

I was the most excited when I moved out and started this new life: but again, things were not easy and for the first time in my life, I did not make friends and felt extremely lonely. I thought it was going to be the other way around: I hadn’t had any difficulty in my life to make friends anywhere, so I thought that going to study something that I am most passionate about, it wasn’t going to be a problem to make friends with similar-minded people. But the cultural difference was way bigger and more impacting than I thought it would be. Eventually, I did make friends, but all of them were studying in Liverpool’s performing arts school. Although in appearance I wasn’t lonely, I was going out, having fun, laughing with my friends – but in the end, I was not able to talk about what I am passionate about. It was another form of loneliness that made me doubt myself a lot and made me unhappy.

After my first year at uni, I found an intern position in a marine turtle conservation NGO in Malaysia for 2 months during the summer (Lang Tengah Turtle Watch) – and the wheels finally turned: it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was part of a small group of young passionate conservationists from around the globe: we were working and living together. I finally was not lonely anymore! The work we did was super rewarding, I learned so much about conservation practices and Malaysian culture, and I made friends for life. The summer after that I took part in a scientific and environmental mission for the Mediterranean Sea around the French Island of Corsica (CorSeaCare). And again, we were 10 young passionate individuals working together to make this world a better place.

I never lost hope during my hard and lonely times, but I could not have imagined how full I was going to feel once embarked in an “un-lonely” conservation experience! For all the conservationists struggling at the moment: don’t lose track of your goals because of loneliness and don’t lose hope, you will have amazing experiences with amazing people, and the hardships that will have led you to them will suddenly all be worth it.

For more of Emilie, check out @emiliepriou on Instagram

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