The dense jungle of the Brazilian Amazon is among the most treacherous in the world. For a group of UC students, it was a place where fear was faced, confidence tested and courage found.
If you’d asked Megan Roberson a month ago if she ever imagined handling a creepy-crawly tarantula the size of her hand, the spider-squeamish third-year nursing student would have stared at you as if you’d sprouted a second head.
Yet here she was on a sandy beach in the middle of a remote tropical jungle nervously taking stock of the pink-toed arachnid affectionately named by locals as “Julia” crawling across her face and onto her head a mere five days into the 10-day University of Cincinnati honors study tour to the Brazilian Amazon.
“I hate spiders,” she emphatically declares. “But I feel like when I go back home, when I see all the spiders I used to be afraid of, I’ll think, ‘There are worse spiders in the Amazon.’”
Described by the area’s first European explorers as a “green hell” for the death and disaster faced by those who dared to map it, the Amazon has long stood as an untamed wilderness where fear was faced, confidence tested and, for many of the 16 UC students taking part in the study tour, courage found.
For some students, the nagging doubts started long before the 3,333-mile journey to the world’s largest rain forest. Erin LeFever, a third-year environmental studies major, faced down the long list of detailed and complex international forms, medical vaccinations and health precautions required for the study tour and sighed.
“There was a lot of stuff to work through to get to Brazil. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was even going to go through with it,” she admitted. “Then at the end of the trip, I could really feel this was worth it. I know in future travel, there’s going to be things I have to work through, but I’ll remember this experience.”
For yet others, the prospect of spending 10 days in an exotic and unfamiliar place with a group of complete strangers proved more nerve-wracking than the destination itself.
“When I signed up for this class, I didn’t know anybody else. You never really know, especially going somewhere that’s unknown like the Amazon for an entire week, which itself is already crazy to me, but to add on top of that, I don’t know anyone else? It made it a little more intimidating,” said Rajiv Karani, a graduating chemistry major set to enter medical school at UC in the fall.
But, Karani added, those fears were misplaced. The structure of the program – the 10-day study tour is embedded in the middle of a semester-long course – allowed the group to get to know and become comfortable with each other well before globe-trotting to South America, he said.
“I’ve gotten to know everybody pretty well and am now good friends with them,” he said.