By Lena Basha
Volume 142, Number 2, March/April 2008, Page 4
Photos courtesy of Appalachian State University and Anne Bradley Furr
Studying abroad for most students means spending a summer in Spain or a semester in England. Not for Anne Bradley Furr, a member of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence Chapter, Charlotte, N.C. She had something more adventurous in mind when she applied to study abroad during her junior year at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Instead of studying French in France like most students, she chose Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar.
When it was time to return home to North Carolina, Ms. Furr says the departure was bittersweet. "I was excited to come home, but I was so sad to be leaving such a beautiful region," she says. "As soon as I left, I knew I'd be back someday."
It didn't take long for Ms. Furr's prediction to come true. Her grandmother told her about a friend's experience in the Fulbright Program, an international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government that provides grants to young adults to study, teach and increase understanding between U.S. citizens and those of other countries.
Ms. Furr decided to further her study of marine conservation, an interest she first developed in high school and honed in college, earning degrees in sustainable development and French and a minor in biology. In 2005, Ms. Furr submitted a lengthy proposal to work for 10 months with a nonprofit organization specializing in marine conservation in southwest Madagascar. Less than a year later, she moved into her thatched beach hut.
Getting used to the living arrangements and not being able to converse with the local villagers who spoke Malagasy took some adjustment.
"If we were lucky, we had electricity four to six hours a day and running water for an hour or so," she recalls. "But I got used to it. Plus, I just kept telling myself, 'I'm living on the beach in a tropical paradise.' It's hard to complain about that."
Six days a week for 10 months, Ms. Furr woke up and walked down the beach to the dive site. She dove daily with full-time researchers to conduct fish and coral surveys. She also helped the group set up marine-protected areas for the village fishermen and assisted doctors and nurses in educating locals on family planning and general wellness.
When she wasn't working, Ms. Furr enjoyed exploring the village of about 1,500 people, walking around the open-air markets and dancing to Malagasy music with friends. When her program ended last summer, she wasn't ready to come home just yet, so she spent three months traveling around mainland Africa, working her way up the eastern coast—sometimes by hitchhiking—from Capetown, South Africa, to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.
Ms. Furr plans to start graduate school in the fall of 2009 to further her studies in sustainable development, which she wants to turn into a career someday. But not until she sees more of the world. Recently, she returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand with her mother and grandparents, and she's looking for a job abroad until grad school starts.
"I sold my car when I was in Africa, and it's very hard to live here without one," she says. "I miss the open markets, where you can buy everything you need, whether it's a toothbrush or a goat. I really miss all of that."