Instructors Blog : Acquiring Essential Life Skills through Guiding
Ulovane update: I was asked to write about anything I find interesting about training field guides at Ulovane. What I find most interesting about training field guides, strangely enough, is not the wonders of nature, but the life skills that a career in guiding together with the wonders of nature, inspires and develops in people.
Field guiding has historically been seen as a gap year proposal for those that don’t know what to do with their lives, but in reality field guiding is a profession in its own right with real life responsibilities and a lifetime of learning to just scratch the surface of what there is to learn about nature and human beings.
Real life responsibility is stretched to the limit when one is truly responsible for the lives of a group of guests that you just met hours ago. Taking responsibility for your guest’s enjoyment, but most importantly their safety cannot be taken lightly when dealing with nature’s unpredictable elements and dangers. Guides are challenged on a daily basis to make split second decisions to ensure the safety of the guests and equally for nature by taking responsibility for the overall outcome of situations presented. As a guide, you find yourself in remote areas on a daily basis in a leadership position, responsible for people’s lives where you are the only person who is making the decisions without people around you to help or ask for advice, a brilliant classroom to become independent.
This level of constant alertness of a guide’s life fosters much needed observational and situational awareness skills that are essential skills in everyone’s daily life as a guide or whatever career change one makes after a career in guiding. In a lifestyle where good observational and situational awareness skills can mean the difference between life or injury will ensure that you make better decisions in your daily life. Your actions as a guide could have life changing reactions and this develops a mindset and a sense of reality that life has consequences and that one must tread carefully and respectfully through life. Being immersed in nature where the natural way of life is either to eat or be eaten also reminds you daily that you need to be aware of your surroundings or you will be eaten. An important life lesson in a human society where we have destroyed or tamed any real natural daily threats and where people live their lives today completely unaware of their surroundings because they don’t need to be aware any longer.
Taking responsibility not only for guests in remote areas, but also taking responsibility for the expensive equipment and one’s ethical conduct where there are no superiors observing your actions builds a trustworthy individual with integrity and accountability.
Being the guide, you are the staff member that spends most of the time with the guests and you become the link between the guests and all other departments of the business. As the guide, you, therefore, need to be a great all-around team player and have good working relationships with all staff in other departments to at the end of the guest’s stay exceed guest expectations. All guest requests, needs or complaints relating to all aspects of the guest’s experience will fall onto your ears and it is in your hands to work hand in hand with all other departments to make the guest’s stay an unforgettable experience.
As the frontline staff member spending the most time with the guests also means that you are the ambassador and the image for the business, for conservation and for our country South Africa.
To accomplish all of this, the guide has to develop above average communication skills. Not only above average verbal communication skills to bring to life a bland stone lying around in order for guests to truly imagine and experience the early human chipping away at the stone while staring out onto the plains while planning the hunt, but also great non-verbal communication skills where the guide’s enthusiasm and body language, needs to convince the guests that they are sitting there chipping away at the stone. The primary function of the guide is to be the communicator, the interpreter, the storyteller, the entertainer, the teacher, in a way that the guests buy into the whole experience, learn from the experience and take away with them a better understanding and appreciation of how special nature and our relationship with nature really is. The guide continuously has to assess the guest’s needs, expectations and state of mind towards the activity to be able to adapt the experience to best suit the guests. The guide, therefore, needs to have above average listening and observational skills to pick up the slightest gestures from the guests to determine their satisfaction or dissatisfaction and then to be able to adjust the experience according to the guest’s expectations. The guide, therefore, needs to become a great salesman who can convincingly sell ice to an Eskimo.
Nature is not a place to go visit, it’s Home, and having the privilege to work in nature and share the natural beauty with guests strengthens our connection and understanding of our planet which results in a knock on effect on our personal lives and the way we live, we are after all completely dependent on our beautiful planet.
So Yes, The guiding industry is a professional industry filled with professionals who are passionate and proud of the work that they do. The guiding industry is however also a great gap year proposal for those that don’t know what they want to do in life, not to do nothing for a year, but an industry where these people will learn essential life skills that they can apply to any industry they wish to enter afterwards.
- Schalk Pretorius
Nature is not a place to visit, it is Home – Schalk Pretorius