Editor’s note: Nabila Khouri, '14, received a UR Summer Fellowship to intern with the African People and Wildlife Fund on the Maasai Steppe. Here, Khouri reflects on her summer in Tanzania, where she managed the organization's websites, updated social media accounts, and even wrote a story for National Geographic online.

The first time I heard a lion roar, I think I stopped breathing. I was lying in my bed, in a clay and thatch-roof dormitory in the middle of the Maasai Steppe in northern Tanzania. Although the dorm was very safe, the bellowing sound echoed from every direction, like the lion had taken up residency in the room next to mine. The lion was right outside my window, and even though I couldn’t see him, he made sure to let everyone in camp know he was there. This happened sometime during the second week of my internship with the African People and Wildlife Fund.

The APW is a nonprofit organization working directly with the Maasai to help protect Tanzania’s most threatened wildlife and habitats. In the two and half months I spent working for them, I learned to love the sounds of the bush. The hundreds of birds in the early morning were my alarm clock and the cooing of hyenas at night let me know it was time for bed.

APW headquarters is located on a hill just outside the village boundaries of Loibor Siret in the Manyara region of northern Tanzania. The Noloholo Environmental Center was built on land donated to the organization by local Maasai. Throughout the summer, I spent many mornings and afternoons writing on the patio of the center. From the patio, the eastern boundary of Tarangire National Park lined the ever-changing horizon. Every day a new herd of animals would pass through, searching for fresher grass and water as the land got browner, deeper into the dry season.

I have always loved wildlife and the outdoors. I grew up having a deep respect and reverence for the natural world and I knew that I wanted my summer to reflect my passion, but also my career. I wanted to take myself far outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself to work in an environment that would allow me to mature professionally and personally.

At the end of my internship I summited Mount Kilimanjaro. The six-day hike was the hardest thing I had ever set my mind to, both physically and mentally. Reaching the rooftop of Africa there was no welcoming committee, just a sign and a few other climbers. I realized in that moment that my trip up the mountain — and my trip to Tanzania — was never about the destination, but the journey along the way.

Looking back almost two months later, it seems surreal to think that so many wonderful experiences could have amalgamated into one summer. On the Maasai Steppe, I woke up every day inspired by the environment I was in. The vast landscape, the beautiful, peaceful people, and the stunning wildlife made working from eight to five an absolute joy. As a member of the APW team, I knew I was contributing to the protection of some of the world’s greatest ecological treasures, while meeting and learning from amazing conservationists and warriors for wildlife.

Now that I am back on campus, I am more focused and inspired than I have ever been. I look to the future with excitement and dedication to keep telling stories of amazing people, beautiful places, and how we can all play our part in protecting our planet’s greatest resources.