The effects of Nature’s Valley Trust on a South Korean intern

Ukyoung Chang
3 August 2015

Ukyoung receiving an appreciation certificate


Contrary to popular belief, Nature’s Valley Trust does not have anything to do with granola bar production and does not employ interns to taste various flavors.

As a renowned environmental NGO in South Africa, Nature’s Valley Trust has been hosting a number of domestic and international volunteers and interns for the past several years. However, the effects of the Trust on a specific intern from South Korea have been understudied. This 9-week internship was initiated to evaluate how Nature’s Valley Trust has impacted a rare and odd individual, Ukyoung Chang.


Study site and species

Nature’s Valley Trust is located along the Garden Route, specifically in Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park. As you can already see from the pictures on this NVT website, it is a phenomenal place. It is almost surreal, for you can find a beautiful beach, rocky shores, hiking trails, forest, and fynbos within 30 minutes from each other. You may think it is a peaceful place, where you can rest your body and soul, but beware; there are baboons and vervet monkeys lurking about. However, what is life without a little bit of suspense and thrill from watching a huge baboon eyeing you through a window with menace?

Figure 1. Breathtaking view of the sunrise on the rocky shores.

Figure 1. Breathtaking view of the sunrise on the rocky shores.

Ukyoung Chang is a nomadic species originating from South Korea, currently occurring in the U.S., mainly at Duke University, NC, and in South Korea, and unpredictably around the world. U. Chang, henceforth referred to as “I,” began its long and complicated relationship with South Africa in 2014. As a Biology major, I knew I wanted to study abroad via a program that offers a rigorous scientific experience in a country with high biodiversity. Fortunately, Duke University and Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) offered semester-long study abroad programs in Costa Rica and South Africa. It was purely because I disliked humidity and heat that I chose South Africa over Costa Rica. But I never regretted my choice since then.

Those 99 days of traveling in South Africa, mainly doing fieldwork and research in Kruger National Park, had been truly magical. It’s hard not to fall in love with South Africa for its fauna, flora, and people (and braai). So I vowed, on the last day of OTS while bawling my eyes out from saying goodbye in Johannesburg airport, that I will come back.

OTS Program director recommended NVT when I asked him about organizations to work with. After exchanging several emails and Mark mistakenly thinking I was a guy from my gender-neutral name, I decided NVT was a perfect organization as a community partner for my internship. An organization that had a holistic view of nature and science, balancing both the community and education, was all I could ask for. Then I planned my independent project, with the help of Mark and Kellyn’s long correspondence, and applied to DukeEngage funding, a program intended to support Duke students’ involvement in NGOs and NPOs focusing on civic engagement.

Long story short, sparing you the details of all the obstacles that stood between South Africa and me (think of Romeo and Juliet, but with me and South Africa starring all the bureaucratic problems), I arrived in Nature’s Valley.


The following is the list of activities, meetings, and events I participated during my stay.

Kniphofia uvaria study:

  • My main research project: determining whether the presence of bird exclusion cage affects bee visitation rate on K. uvaria flowers. (They do! Sort of.)
  • Observational Study.
  • Spent 10 minutes on each flower observing and recording bee visitation. This involved standing in the middle of fynbos, hearing a symphony of the faint buzz of bees in the air, clicking sounds of frogs, and occasional chirping.
Figure 2. Kniphofia uvaria known as Cape Poker inside a cage. For science!

Figure 2. Kniphofia uvaria, known as Cape Poker, inside a cage. For science!

Environmental Education:

  • Adopt-a-Beach Program - i Environmental education program hosting learners from communities around  Nature’s Valley, to teach them about beaches and their value; ii.      The tune ‘Funky Chicken’ was unleashed.
  1. Environmental Education Camp with Welkom High School from the Free State
  2. Bird Booklet development - Fynbos, forest, and waterbirds

Bird Ringing:

  • Probably my favorite. It’s like a large family gathering.
  • The point is to get up earlier than the Early Bird. Layer up, folks. And prepare coffee and biscuits.
  • I cannot even begin to describe the magical sensation of having a tiny bird in your hand, feeling the wings flutter like a heartbeat. And when you’re disentangling a bird from the mist net, you can see bird toes opening up like some sort of bird foot flower.
  • Then you can watch Mark and others take measurements from the birds, marveling at how much you can learn from ringing birds. Selena will dazzle you with all the cool anecdotes from her work!
Figure 3. Real life angry bird.

Figure 3. Real life angry bird.

Mosquito Fish:

  • Wet Suit! Feel invincible as you step into the lagoon!
  • Assess how far this invasive species has conquered Nature’s Valley.

Flower Walk:

  • Test your endurance, stamina, and thigh strength by hiking up and down a gorgeous trail with Kellyn and Brittany while documenting species’ flowering time and determining their peak flowering season.
  • And hunt for mushrooms. Check out NVT’s Mushroom of the Month posts! If you think mushrooms are weird but fascinating, these posts feature cool mushrooms found in Nature’s Valley and interesting facts about them.

Pollen Count and Identification:

  • Pollen morphology and geometry - You may regret knowing how to count when you encounter 17,800 pollen grains, but the diversity of pollen shapes will awe you.

Attempted Insect Diversity Assessment

Design NVT T-shirt

Lunchbox theater: 

  • Non-profit organization based in Plettenberg Bay that integrates theater and environmental messages.

Bird Club

Journal Club


  1. Bungee Jump - why on earth would you pay to jump off a bridge?

                  i.      If you have a fear of heights like me, then it’s a perfectly rational thing to do.

                  ii.      Once you stand on the edge, looking down (still not regretting), you feel your stomach plummet.

                  iii.      The moment you fall… I can only describe it as pure terror and exhilaration.

  • Birds of Eden, Monkeyland, Jukani
  • Pelagic tour - Felt like a mafia – feeding the fishes
  • Le Fournil - Almond croissant and macadamia nut cheesecake – MUST TRY. These brought so much joy into my life.
  • Biltong - Biltong Boutique. Also this. When you need an office snack, this is your best friend.
  • Robberg Nature Reserve - Must do it. But try to go when it’s not that windy. Otherwise, it is beyond breathtaking.
  • Braai - NVT has the best welcome and farewell braais.
Figure 4. A collage summary of my time with Natures Valley Trust.

Figure 4. A collage/summary of my time with Nature’s Valley Trust. If you look very closely, you can see each photo has a tiny ‘I miss you’ hidden in it.


This study showed that NVT’s programs spanning all four of their themes, Research, Conservation, Education, and Community, had a significant influence on intellectual and emotional growth. Both the programs themselves and the incredible colleagues had a synergetic effect, providing valuable insights and environment for individuals to flourish.

Figure 5. NVT Office crew sans Mark having a professional debate on who can eat 3 licorices the fastest.

Figure 5. NVT Office crew (sans Mark) having a professional debate on who can eat 3 licorices the fastest.

If my first South African experience with OTS had confirmed my passion for science, then this second time in South Africa with Nature’s Valley Trust tested my understanding of what kind of scientist I want to be. I was a narrow-minded, science-driven student when I arrived at Nature’s Valley. After being exposed to research, conservation, education, and seeing how vital a community’s role is, I realized science is not a simple, one-dimensional field. It is not a single ray of white light, but rather comprised of multiple spectrums.

When I thought I wanted to pursue science, I focused mostly on research, on answering questions. However, after interacting with children and students during NVT’s environmental education programs, I have seen the importance of educating the youth. The value of research truly shines when it comes to life from the pages into the form of education. Education gives research a voice – an important voice that needs to be heard. But a voice cannot be heard without those who listen, without the community. When all of these three components come together, people can take action – conservation. All four focuses cannot exist without the others. It took me 9 weeks to realize that.

So I’d like to think NVT is like a ‘science prism’ that helps people like me see science is more than just research.

Figure 6. Science Prism.

Figure 6. Science Prism.

I may still be confused about what to specialize in, within science, but I don’t feel as lost as before. If anything, this uncertainty feels like an open door of potentials and possibilities. I would never have reached this state of mind if it weren’t for all the remarkable people that I have met and worked with in Nature’s Valley. I have been challenged, inspired, and encouraged by each and every one of them in so many ways. It’s been a brilliant journey.   

For future interns lurking about this blog post trying to decide whether or not you want to come, this is all I can say to you:

Embrace the fact that you will probably have one of the best times of your life in Nature’s Valley working with these amazing people. Not only will you be in a phenomenal environment, but also you’ll be surrounded by phenomenal people who will stimulate your mind. I understand choosing internships can be risky. This 9-week experience was truly worth the risk. So I think you should also take the risk and surprise yourself.


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