Adventuring into the wild

Relinquishing their familial bond, two Oakland University sisters’ paths diverged when their dream destinations brought them to different hemispheres.

Carly and Katie Zacharis both chose to take advantage of the International Student Volunteers Program that is offered each year to anyone interested.

The non-profit benefit corporation gives volunteers eight choices for the trip, including South Africa, Costa Rica, Eastern Europe, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand, which they rate on a scale of 1-8, depending on interest. Volunteers then select how long they will travel for, which can be from two weeks to three months.

The volunteer projects — which include sea turtle conservation, teaching English to children, home and community building, rainforest regeneration and elephant conservation projects, among other things — are aimed to teach students how to make a difference by getting a local and first-person feel of different countries.

Students spend the first two weeks of their trip completing these projects and academic credit can be earned doing so.

Carly, a junior majoring in English, went to South Africa for a total of four weeks and teamed up with 14 other volunteers to work in a cheetah sanctuary for the first part of her program.

With her group she worked for two weeks making the animals more comfortable by feeding and grooming them as well as weeding their enclosures. They also disinfected the cats and transported them around the facility.

“(ISV) is the coolest thing ever,” Carly said. “I’m trying to tell people how amazing it is, but I can’t do it justice. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had and the best thing I’ve ever done and ever will do.”

Katie, a senior majoring in nursing, also went on a trip with ISV but to a different location. Katie spent two weeks in Costa Rica helping a local family do research on dolphins and lived with the other volunteers in a bungalow with a host family.

“We spent about six hours a day, every day on a boat, searching the bay for dolphins,” Katie said. “We’d find pods of dolphins and track their behavior, and then we’d record the information.”

After completing their projects, volunteers use the last two weeks to explore the country on an “Adventure Tour,” which can include many different activities.

“My group from the cheetah center teamed up with the other community projects,” Carly said. “All 40 of us joined together and did a lot. We had surf lessons, went snorkeling, sea kayaking, mountain climbing, koofing (canoeing/white water rafting), horseback riding, adventuring and we went to a geothermic hot pool … every day we did something fun.”

Though the trip can cost around $4,500 including flight, Carly and Katie both fundraised and asked family members and friends to donate so they could attend the trip.

“It’s expensive, but ISV helps you a lot with fundraising and gives you ideas (to raise money),” Carly said. “It’s very possible.”

Now student representatives for the company, both Carly and Katie hope to attend the program again next year, at different locations. Though they initially planned on going on a trip together, both said they enjoyed going alone.

“Carly and I originally planned on going together, but neither of us wanted to budge about which country we were going to,” Katie said. “I liked going separate where you’re forced to meet other people. I made a lot of great friends.”

Katie and Carly are hoping to make ISV an on-campus organization, and plan on hosting meetings and informational sessions for those who’d like to get involved.

The duo is having their first informational meeting on Thursday, Sept. 22 in Lake Superior Room A from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. every hour on the hour for interested students.

The meeting will discuss the details of the program as well as their experiences.

For more information or to get involved, email Carly at [email protected], attend the meeting or check out