Minjae Baek travelled from her home in Seoul to Australia to spend 4-weeks volunteering with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA). At the time, she was 22 years old, in her 3rd year of an Environmental Education degree at the Korean National University of Education.
What made her choose to volunteer with CVA and how did she find the experience?
At secondary school, Minjae loved learning about environmental science. She started watching nature documentaries and reading field guides. Her passion for birdwatching was ignited when she was walking in a forest and saw a brilliant green woodpecker in the wild. From that moment she was hooked.
When asked about her career goal, Minjae says: “I want to share stories about nature with citizens and children so they will understand why we have to conserve the environment.” To help with her career development, Minjae wanted to get some professional experience, but she didn’t want to do the administrative or research roles commonly on offer. Instead, she chose volunteering with Conservation Volunteers Australia after hearing about it from a friend.
“I was impressed by the way CVA brought people together from around the world to work together for a common goal and to share our culture.”
Minjae appreciated the opportunity to choose a range of projects in different locations, so she could broaden her understanding of environmental issues and learn a range of skills in different settings. Minjae took some classes in field research, and CVA gave her a chance to put her studies into practice.
“I wanted to understand what makes a healthy habitat and what I can do for conservation a practical way.”
As well as helping with her professional development, Minjae wanted to make a difference.
“Conservation volunteering is a good way to make a better world. I wanted to give a small hand to help keep nature healthy.”
Minjae spent 2-weeks in Newcastle near Sydney. Her team travelled to the upper Hunter where African Olive trees are invading woodland and competing with native plants, reducing biodiversity and ecosystem health. The CVA team treated the Olives with herbicide using several techniques. “I realised on my own I am just one person and I can pull a weed, but with the CVA team we could work together and make a big impact.”
Back in the Hunter Estuary she enjoyed an ecotour of the Ramsar-listed wetlands and learned about the migratory shorebirds that fly here every summer from the Arctic Circle. “We did a boat trip on the estuary with local guides teaching us about the ecology. The old mangrove forest was fascinating. I was excited to see so many birds and even a dolphin swimming in the river. It was amazing!”
Minjae has fond memories of her time with CVA and had a lot of fun with her team mates. Three years later she still has a video on her phone of a birthday celebration, with new friends from around the world singing happy birthday.
How has volunteering helped?
Back home, Minjae completed her studies and continued volunteering, monitoring waterbirds at a Korean site on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. She learned that the flyway encompasses 22 countries and is used by 50 million waterbirds each year migrating from the Arctic Circle through Korea, Japan and South East Asia to Australia and New Zealand. Governments from every country in the flyway work together through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), a regional initiative with the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Minjae set her sights on securing an internship with the EAAFP. She kept an eye on the website until finally one day she saw a vacancy, and applied successfully. She feels her experience with CVA was an asset on her CV and helped her secure the role: “In my studies, we didn’t do much work on the ground. With CVA I learned how to understand and work in field conditions.”
The internship is a big step in the right direction for Minjae’s vocation. It combines her love of birds with a commitment to conservation. She loves birdwatching with her colleagues and feels like the international scope of the Flyway Partnership is having real impact on shorebird conservation.
When asked if her time with CVA helps in her current role Minjae says: “For sure! My CVA experience was the first time I travelled abroad, and I worked with people from all over the world. That experience really helped me adjust in this organisation, which has an international audience.”
“I love what I’m doing now. The more I know about conservation the more I want to protect and conserve nature and encourage other people to join. I’d like to see conservation volunteering opportunities all over the world, spreading education and skills for community conservation.”