Making the most of Madagascar

Sigourney alum Maria Cline went on the trip of a lifetime for Spring Break when she studied abroad in Madagascar. She got to experience a new culture, new animals, new ecosystems and a newer less stressful way of life. Photo contributed by Maria Cline.

It’s been two years since Maria Cline left the friendly confines of Sigourney and made Ames her new home while studying Ecology at Iowa State University. The interactions between animals and their habitats is something Cline values, and recently she stepped outside of her boundaries to see a prime example of it when she got seized a chance at studying abroad in Madagascar.

She found a poster recruiting students to study abroad in Madagascar over Spring Break, the first trip Iowa State offered to the African country. All the elements were there for Cline. The animals, the nature and everything in between.

While most Stater’s packed their bags for some fun in the sun for Spring Break 2k18, Cline packed for her own fun and adventure. It would be the first time she had ever flown, let alone left the Midwest. After the long flight across the ocean blue something was noticeably different once she stepped off the plane.

“The first thing I noticed was the air,” Cline said. “Everything about it; the smell, the way it just felt cleaner and more natural, just the atmosphere itself. You don’t smell cows or pigs like we do in Iowa. You don’t smell the smog of the cities. You smell the mountains, forests and waterfalls all in one.”

While only in Madagascar for 11 days, Cline and crew had a packed itinerary every day and night. Their activities consisted of hiking during both the day and night, exposing different ecosystems as they went. They visited Mitsunjo National Park, Mantadia National Park, Isalo National Park, Zombitse National Park, Renihala Reserve, a reserved forest in Andasibe and capped it off with three days on the beach.

The ecosystems they encountered ranged from mountainous and valley terrains to rainforest to desert like forests.

Some of the best things come unplanned, which is exactly what happened with Cline while abroad.

“We went off the itinerary for a day. A girl on our trip had come up with a side goal of donating to a local school while we were here,” Cline said. “When the group found out, we all wanted to get involved. We went to the school and asked the teachers what they were most in need of and how much. It amazed me this tiny school yard had over 600 students, roughly 500 being top priority.”

The group set out to buy school supplies from every vendor they encountered on the streets in addition to purchasing some soccer balls and a trunk full of pineapples.

“We returned to the school, and with the hot sand burning through our sandals and sweat down our backs, it was worth it to personally hand out each individual pen, pencil, notebook, eraser, etc.,” Cline said. “We spent maybe $300 on those supplies and we were able to make an impact on a whole school yard of children, ranging from kindergarten to high school. The lump in my throat reassured me that this would be one of my most memorable experiences.”

While Cline went over with the intention of working and studying more about the native animals and ecosystems, the people she encountered, especially the children, made the biggest impact of all. She learned that simple actions can have much more of an impact than expected, regardless of dealing with a language barrier.

“I have truly witnessed the power of a smile, a laugh, a simple wave,” Cline said. “No matter the language barrier, us humans all share something in common – the power of kindness and happiness.”

The difference in way of life between the people of Madagascar compared to those in America also stuck out to Cline. One of the best parts was being able to take everything in on her own time, no deadlines, no exams and no time clock.

“It was just us in nature,” Cline said. “We witnessed and lived a whole new way of life. It really hits you at night, or at least it did for me. One night I’m falling asleep to the sound of Indri lemurs. A few nights later I’m showering on a beautiful secluded mountain under the stars of Madagascar.”

The excursion has changed Cline, as she brought her newfound sense of life and her surrounding environment with her when she returned to the States on March 18.

“In a matter of minutes, I was in awe of Madagascar, and within days I began to learn the way of the people,” Cline said. “There are no deadlines, no fast-pace of impatient Americans. There is only the day ahead of you and what you make of it. Be humble, be grateful and slow down.”