Chesapeake Summer, Colonial Times

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Getting Real

Reverse culture shock is real….especially when you never let yourself fully engage in it. If you recall, shortly after I returned home from the Galapagos, I moved to Williamsburg, VA for my internship. I began working 8 hour days, 5 days a week, then went to the gym all evening, made food, slept and repeat. I never gave myself much time to think about what I learned from my experiences and how I was impacted.

After my internship, I had a short period of down time for travel and relaxation before I was back on Juniata’s campus for tour guide training and cheerleading. It was difficult coming back to living on campus for the first time in a year while learning about everything that has changed while I was away. Luckily, I have great roommates to help me with this transition but it is still hard for me. Our Center for International Education has hosted events for study abroad returners to give us a place to talk and discuss our transition process. It has been really great to have that resource.

Roommates Deanna (left) and Mara (middle) in our new home Pink Palace

That being said, I finally feel like I have somewhat of a routine on campus again and can start finding time to write about my most recent experience. It is long overdue, but better late than never.

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The Internship

Just to recap from my last post, this summer I participated in my NOAA Hollings Scholarship internship at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Since VIMS is the graduate school of marine science for William and Mary, I learned more about graduate school options for my future.

My Project: Translating Chesapeake Bay Research and Stewardship Projects into Useful, Hands-on Education Products

This is a paraphrase of my previous post but I felt it was important to explain again. I worked with both the stewardship coordinator, Scott Lerberg, and the education coordinator, Sarah Nuss, to enhance education on Chesapeake Bay environmental issues and current restoration projects. I only had 9-weeks to plan, conduct, and analyze my project. The 10th week was a presentation at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.

My project was 2-fold: first, I created a lesson plan based on the current National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s thin-layer placement (TLP) project and then I made an interactive digital version using Esri Story Map.

The basic definition of TLP is the purposeful placement of sediment or dredged materials to a specified thickness to provide higher elevation for marshes to withstand sea level rise and erosion. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is comprised of 29 locations and 8 of these are home sites for the two-year TLP restoration experiment. CBNERR-VA is one of these sites and I was able to participate in monitoring of the experiment first hand.

Esri’s ArcGIS Story Map is an evolving tool that allows end users to explore a topic through images, videos, interactive maps, data, figures, and text. This platform is accessible for educators, researchers, industry professionals, and even students. I highly recommend this for teachers or for public outreach. I already knew how to use GIS (mapping software called Geographic Information Systems), but this allowed me to use it in a different way to reach the public.

The second step of my project included piloting the tools with students and receiving evaluations from teachers on both the traditional and digital platforms. This included interviews with both groups to gain their perspectives on digital learning vs. traditional learning of science. I was able to access both teachers and students over the summer through two of the CBNERR events: Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) workshop and VIMS/CBNERR summer camp.

The TOTE workshop was held at VIMS Eastern Shore Laboratory in Wachapreague, VA. This week long workshop is designed to train teachers on research and field methods in their local estuary. This allows NERRs to create connections with teachers and show them what tools are available to enhance their classroom instruction. Teachers had the opportunity to go into the field and practice what they can teach. I used this week to interview them for my project and have them sign up to review my tools.

Some images below are thanks to CBNERR-VA Staff, VIMS Staff, and fellow teachers.

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The VIMS/CBNERR summer camp was also a one week experience for rising 9th graders and above to learn about the Chesapeake Bay, environmental stewardship, future careers, and to train to be a junior camp counselor for future camps. I used this week with our students to interview them about their technology use in class, I practiced teaching my lesson, and also had them explore the digital tool. Some images below are thanks to CBNERR-VA Staff.

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My everyday work was different each week. In the beginning, I was working more with the stewardship team doing field work in the reserve sites. I got to visit each of the four reserve sites and learn about all the projects ongoing at CBNERR-VA. Here’s some photos from my field work adventures!

I then transitioned into thinking more about my project and writing my lesson plan. Once my lesson plan was closer to completion, I was able to begin my Story Map. From there, it was a lot of computer work but I got to break it up by going to TOTE and helping with the VIMS summer camp.

I also helped with two Discovery Labs, which are themed public outreach nights for all ages to come and learn about science at VIMS.

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Through these experiences, I learned a lot about the lack of resources and difficulties teachers are facing in our developing technological society. I also was able to understand how students respond to technology and what learning styles they prefer. Overall, I was able to create the first story map for CBNERR-VA and understand how to help science teachers effectively teach science while using technology. This will help NOAA and the NERRs system better equip teachers to share estuarine science.

Personally, I learned how to conduct research in education, how to effectively teach science, how to create and design a lesson plan, how to create a story map, and the importance of estuarine stewardship. I gained a new understanding in my role as a scientist with a passion for outreach. Interacting with the students during my lesson and watching them interact with the digital tool was one of the highlights of my summer. It was great to see my hard work have a positive impact on students.

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Adulting 101

This summer, I was forced to be more independent than I ever have been before and be an…..*gasp* ADULT! It was great practice for my next steps after graduation (which as of right now is getting a job…more about that later). Although I spent my summer working a 40-hour week and going to the gym everyday, I found some time to have fun and enjoy colonial Williamsburg.

For the summer, I lived in a house with William and Mary students in Williamsburg, just 20 minutes away from VIMS, which is down the York River in Gloucester. I lived a 5 minute walk from Colonial Williamsburg and had easy access to a direct drive to VIMS on the Colonial Parkway. I loved the people I lived with and the friends I made this summer. I lived in a beautiful place and there was always something to do. They also showed me the local bar scene.

One of my favorite things to do included going to the farmers market on Saturday mornings. I got local vegetables, fruits, soaps, and kombucha! Check out my favorites from the Willliamsburg Farmer’s Market: Ninja Kombucha, Virginia First Tea Shop, Glow Holistic, and Tasha’s Own (lovely goat milk soap).

In addition, I was able to enjoy visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown with my family when they visited and with friends.

On my own, I ran in many different parks and sat on many riverside beaches.

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Thank you CBNERR-VA for having me this summer. Also, thank you for the lovely farewell dinners!

There are so many amazing things to do in this area and I truly loved it. Thank you to my College of William and Mary friends for taking me in for the summer.

Follow my Facebook Page that I am finally uploading photos and videos to!

Coming and going

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hi, it’s me. Writing to you, back in the United States.

Leaving the islands was hard. I was excited to come home but I could not imagine being away from the place I knew and loved without knowing when I would return.

It was especially hard to leave knowing all the responsibilities waiting for me at home. A few weeks after arriving home, I was moving to Williamsburg, VA for my summer internship.

Everyone asked me while I was home, “Will you be staying here for the summer?” and I just kinda laughed.

“Now why would I do that?” I would respond.

As much as I love being home, with my family and friends, that is just not in the cards for me. I won’t say that’s not who I am, but my drive to adventure, experience new things, and educate myself in different places is too strong.

Coming and going. That’s what I do.

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Lima, Peru

Before heading back to the US, I decided to take one last adventure in South America and use my connections. I flew to Lima, Peru and spent the week with a friend I met on the Galapagos, who now works at a restaurant in Lima.

I really enjoyed getting to know Barranco and Miraflores, two of the districts in Lima. It was awesome to have my own town guide and I ate AMAZING food while I was there.

List of Restaurants I went to in Lima:

I loved walking along the coastline. The view was beautiful and there were tons of dogs!

Dogs!!!

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One of my favorite places was Parque Kennedy, where dozens of cats live. You can see them hoping to get a bite parked next to the food vendors or people enjoying their snacks on a bench.

Parque del Amor

Enjoy these pictures from my Lima adventure:

It also was a nice stepping stone before going back home to help me get used to being back in “civilization”. Since I was so excited to go to Peru, I was not as upset while leaving the island. However, I knew once I got home, I would start to feel the sadness creep in slowly but surely.

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Back in the USA

I was happy to see my mom, my brother, my grandparents, and my friends. However, there were a lot of things I did not miss, such as the fast paced lifestyle. I have the whole reverse culture shock feeling, which has been difficult to deal with.

I spent my first few days at home resting. I was extremely tired from my travels. Eventually I worked my way back into driving, throwing toilet paper in the toilet, and speaking English. I tried to relax for a little because in a few short weeks, I was packing my things up again and going South, but not as far this time.

While home, I saw my friends and my doctors, tried aerial yoga, visited the Distinguished Young Women of Maryland orientation, celebrated my birthday 21st birthday, swung by the local farmers market, ate at the Greek festival, and went to the Boonsboro Green Fest with my mom.

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Gilman Scholarship/Follow-on Project

Also while I was home, I completed part of my Follow-on Service Project for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. I went back to my high school, Middletown High School, to present to students about studying abroad in the Galapagos. Some classes even read my blog prior to my arrival and had questions prepared about my experiences. I talked with biology, Earth sciences, and Spanish courses. It was certainly a rewarding experience for me. I had several students come up to me after to ask more questions or thank me for coming. I am glad I was able to spark interest in study abroad or certain careers for students. It was moments like those when I was in high school that really opened my eyes to the opportunities world holds and what could be my future. Thank you MHS for having me!

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Down South: Williamsburg, VA

On May 26th, I packed my car and drove a few hours down to Colonial Williamsburg. Why the heck did I do that?!

Well, it has been awhile since I talked about my internship for the summer as part of my Hollings Scholarship. If you remember my post from December, I visited where I was going to work and met my mentors. Seems like forever ago. The Hollings Scholarship requires students to figure out locations and projects pretty early on, which was nice so I did not have to worry about any of it while I was abroad. Before I left, I even had my housing figured out thanks to my connections from DYW!

This summer, I am working at NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia. The reserve is on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). My internship is 10-weeks long, including the last week where we present our projects at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.

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My Project: Translating Chesapeake Bay Research and Stewardship Projects into Useful, Hands-on Education Products

So the idea of my internship is to work both with the stewardship coordinator, Scott Lerberg, and the education coordinator, Sarah Nuss, to help share more of the work being done on the bay in educational settings. We met together and they shared their visions. There are so many projects I wanted to do with them and ideas we had, but unfortunately I only have 9-weeks to plan, conduct, and analyze my project.

We looked at what resources were available to me and decided on a project. I will be creating a traditional lesson plan and a digital lesson plan using Esri’s Story Map to teach about marshland restoration and sea level rise. Specifically, I will be drafting a lesson that explains thin layer placement as a restoration technique and discuss a current experiment throughout many of the NERRs system.

Not only am I making these two avenues to teach students but I will be 1) interviewing teachers at a teacher workshop about their experience with technology and digital learning, 2) having teachers evaluate the lessons, 3) piloting the lessons with high school students at a summer camp, and 4) interviewing students before and after the lesson to evaluate their learning preference.

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What is thin layer placement?

You’ll find out once I finish my Story Map….or you can Google it…

See you next month when I finish up my adventures on the Chesapeake Bay!

Until then, follow my Facebook Page that I am finally uploading photos and videos to!

El último mes

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

After spring break, my 2nd to last course began. Families were visiting, people starting talking about home, and before we knew it there was only 6 weeks left in the Galapagos.

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Back to class!

My next class was Marine Ecosystem Based Management. I was not sure what to expect since all of the classes in the past were research and science based. However, our professor made sure we had plenty of enriching activities.

One of our projects consisted of looking at human impacts on the coastline of the island. We split up into groups and surveyed different beaches and areas for plastics, species present, fishing activity, invasive species, or man made structures. We took this data and used GIS (mapping software) to show different impacts and where they were more severe. This was an interesting project for me because I was really excited to use GIS again after learning about the software last semester.

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We also got to go on fun trips. First, we went to Isla Lobos, a small islet not more than about 30 minutes from the main port on San Cristobal. The island is named after sea lions, which is lobos in Spanish. We began the tour with a hike around the islet. Unfortunately it was raining and our feet got caked in mud, but that did not stop us from viewing frigate birds and blue footed boobies up close. It was so amazing. I wish I had my camera. Of course you can see sea lions on the island and like most places in the Galapagos, there were marine iguanas.

After our hike, we put our snorkel gear on and started exploring around the area. The sea lions here were extra playful, which definitely was the highlight of the trip.

Our second trip was to Española Island, the southernmost island. The beauty of the island is breathtaking. To access the island, you have to take a dinghy to the makeshift dock.

The upcoming photos are all mine!!! (usually all photos on the blog are mine unless otherwise stated)

We went around the whole island during the hike and got to see amazing wildlife. Many of the species on this island are endemic to it due to its isolation. For example, mockingbirds, lava lizards, and waved albatrosses. There are also Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos doves, and like all the other islands, marine iguanas and sea lions.

Although we did not have the chance to see a waved albatross, we did see the Galapagos Hawk!

At Suarez Point, there is an area is the rock where water splashes up into a blowhole and shoots up into the air. It was pretty amazing!

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Next, we went scuba diving and got to see the marine life below the island.

I really enjoyed this class and being able to discuss the policy and management side of the Galapagos ecosystem. We also learned a lot about the government structure and events in the past that had influences on current policies. The island is beautiful and has a rich environment, but there are also people living there and it is difficult to find compromise sometimes. We simulated these issues in debates where different people took on roles of different stakeholders involved on the island. Even today, policies are not perfect and enforcement is not efficient. However, when you bring in the locals, tourism agencies, fisheries, and scientists, finding solutions everyone can agree on is extremely difficult, as we learned in our debates. I hope in the future for the Galapagos that conservation can continue effectively and human impacts can be diminished as people still enjoy the islands.

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Photo contest

Shortly after my trip to Isla Lobos, photos were due for a photography contest between all student at GAIAS, including study abroad and local students. The theme of the contest was what Galapagos means to you. It took a lot of narrowing down my picture pool, but eventually I chose a photo from my snorkeling at Isla Lobos and it ended up winning 1st place! I won a free dinner for two at Muyu Galapagos, the restaurant at Golden Bay, a luxury hotel on the island. A lot of my friends on the island work there and so it was a really great night.

The winning photo with the caption: ” A sea lion with curious eyes, I have delved into the unknown to discover more about myself, these enchanted islands, and my role in our interconnected web – the world.”
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Under the stars

The weekend after my class ended, I went camping on the beach!!! On San Cristobal, you can camp at Puerto Chino, one of the most gorgeous beaches. First, you have to get a permit from the Galapagos National Park, which includes writing up a letter with names, birth dates, passport numbers, etc. and pay $10 per person camping. If you do not have a tent, no worries! You can rent tents on the island for pretty cheap!

Next, you take a taxi to the beach and make sure you arrange for them to pick you up the next morning because there is no cell phone service. When we arrived, there were people to check our permit and our bags. We then were able to go onto the beach and set up our tents before sunset.

We spent the night listening to music, stargazing, walking in the water, hiking up the rocks, and enjoying the sounds of the ocean. It was absolutely unreal. Other than scuba diving, it was probably one of the most amazing things I did on the island and the best experience. I got to practice taking star pictures, sleep on the beach, listen to the sound of waves, and wake up to watch sunrise on the beach. We even went swimming in the morning before it got too hot.

10/10 recommend.

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Last class…

My last class on the island was Techniques of Marine Research II. The professor was different for this class than our first techniques of marine research class. We had Alex Hearn, who everyone calls the shark guy because of his previous research. Everyone was super excited to have him and he was a really great professor. His lectures were always so interesting and he used his own research as examples. He also worked for Charles Darwin Foundation and has worked in fisheries research on the Galapagos for years. The stories and experiences he had were fascinating and reinforced our understanding of regulation issues in the fisheries sector.

For one week of the class, we went to Santa Cruz island to go on diving trips, where we did research to add to a database from many years. Many of us decided to go that Friday after class to enjoy the weekend there before class trips began on Tuesday.

That weekend we went to Las Grietas again for snorkeling and to enjoy the cool waters. We also walked to Tortuga Bay for one day to play in the waves and soak up the sun.

Beach fun
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On Monday, our class was not arriving until later in the afternoon, so one of my friends and I decided to go on a dive trip.

I went diving at Gordon Rocks, again. I just could not stay away!

It was a good dive (although I think my other one was better) and I got some amazing footage of hammerheads.

After our dive, we came back into town and tried on gear for our dive the next day. The class was split into 3 groups and we had different sites we were going to with different agencies.

My first dive day was to Santa Fe. For each trip, we each had a partner and a research role, and we changed roles every dive. As a group, we put out a transect line (which is like a long meter tape) on the sea floor. Along the line, we had some people recording species and abundance of fish and macro invertebrates. Our third group use a quadrat every 5 meters to record the species and abundance of sessile species, such as algae.

This was my first time doing field work while scuba diving and with the currents, it definitely was not easy in some places. However, it was still a really great experience.

Example of the quadrat to study sessiles
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The next day, our dives were to North Seymour and Mosquera. After we finished our research in Mosquera, we continued our dive and saw some amazing Galapagos sharks.

GAIAS students got talent

The evening after we arrived back on San Cristobal, we had a talent show and pizza party for our whole program. It was a really fun night together and I showed off my hula hooping skills!

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Rays and sharks, oh my!

That weekend, I had the opportunity to join my professor and go out to do research with his team. One of my previous professors was also on the boat. I went to the dock at the crack of dawn and we started our expedition to different sites around the island. Their goal was to look at abundance of juveniles in nursery areas of sharks and rays, using a drone survey and a variety of nets. It was a long day, but really awesome to learn different research techniques and see different parts of the island that I never went to before.

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And just like that…it was the last week on the island.

Unfortunately, since it was also the last week of the module, we also had a lot of work to finish for our class. But we still made sure to spend some time on the beach and at our favorite spots.

Finishing homework on the beach……

I was really going to miss the island and I was becoming stressed about the thought of going home because at home I would have so many more responsibilities and would be moving to Virginia for my summer internship. I was also thinking about the change in culture. There were so many things that changed while I was there about myself and my lifestyle. I was going to miss so much. I enjoyed the small island community, although sometimes it is frustrating that everyone knows everyone. However, that gave a level of comfort. This was my home and I was so happy to be able to walk everywhere. Not to mention I enjoyed refining my Spanish skills.

I made a lot of great friends in my program and on the island. Looking on the bright side, now I have friends from all over the United States, Ecuador, and South America. I was even already visiting a friend from Ecuador in Peru after leaving the island before coming back to the United States.

That still did not make the goodbyes any easier.

Goodbyes were long hugs and sometimes a few tears, sometimes a lot.

At the airport on the day we left, the tears were everywhere. I did manage not to cry until the plane actually took off and left the island. I knew I would not feel the emotions until I actually left the place.

I landed in the island crying with happiness and I left the island crying with sadness.

These were some of the best months of my life and I will never forget them. This was not just a once in a lifetime experience because I know I will be going back more in my lifetime. The friendships and the memories will always be close to my heart.

Me and my host mom

Gracias por todo Galapagos ❤

Island Hopping: Galapagos Archipelago

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Spring Break!!!!

Yes, we had a spring break while being here. And it was AMAZING. My last class was on March 15th and I left on the 16th for Santa Cruz, the most populated island. I did not come back to San Cristobal until March 24th because I had the whole week free. I went with 3 other girls in my program and we did not plan much beforehand because we wanted to have maximum flexibility. It worked out so well!!

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Day 1

We left San Cristobal early in the morning on a speed boat. Tickets typically cost $30 dollars one-way and it is a 2 hour boat ride. Some boats are nicer than others and sometimes the waves are rough. This ride is not great for those who get sea sick. Luckily, I do not get sea sick and I enjoy it!

When we arrived to Santa Cruz, we looked for a restaurant with WiFi and breakfast. We went to The Rock, which is a popular spot. From there, we found a place to stay, Hospedaje Carliza 2, and walked inland to it. It was sort of far from the Malecon and the tourist area of the port, but that is what made it so cheap and within our budget. It had a kitchen too, so we were able to cook meals to save money, which worked out really well.

After resting a little, we bought some snacks, found the bank, and asked a taxi to take us to the lava tunnels in the highlands. I was lucky one of my friends already had a few ideas and did research on what to do. The lava tunnels are on the El Chato Tortise Reserve so we got to see both! It was cool walking through dark tunnels formed by lava and then see tortoises in the wild. It was a beautiful area and a great afternoon.

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Day 2

This morning we woke up early and took a water taxi to Las Grietas, a popular snorkeling and swimming spot on the island. The water taxi drops you off near the trail to get there and you walk past Germany Beach and through a wetland to get there. It is a huge crack in the earth filled with water. The pool is deep and you can swim to the end if you climb a few rocks. The calm water is a nice place to hang out.

After Las Grietas, we bought tuna fish, cucumbers, and crackers for a refreshing lunch. Then we took the journey to the well known Tortuga Bay, a beautiful long beach with white sand and turquoise water. You can either walk on a path to get there, which takes roughly 30-45 minutes, or use a water taxi, which would be about $10 per person for one-way. We chose to walk and the path is incredibly gorgeous. When we arrived, we walked along Playa Brava, where you cannot swim due to strong currents, to get to Playa Mansa, the designated swimming area. We arrived late afternoon so we did not have much time, but we enjoyed seeing the baby sharks in the water and many iguanas.

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Day 3

I had a friend travelling with me who was also scuba certified and we decided to do a dive in Santa Cruz! We woke up early to go to North Seymour, a small island, and Daphne Minor, an extinct volcano. Both dives were AMAZING! I saw hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, eels, rays, and colorful fish. We dove with Eagle Ray Tours and would definitely dive with them again. They took great GoPro footage for us, check out videos on my Facebook Page (when I upload them)!

The dive trip was over by 3 pm and we were exhausted. However, we still had daylight to kill so we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. On the way we found a beautiful ceramic garden with mosaics.

My favorite from the garden

At the station, we first looked inside at the exhibits, watched a short clip about research in the Galapagos, and put a stamp in our passports! There is also a breeding center for different species of tortoises from the different islands. In addition, you can see adults from different islands and view the morphological difference.

One of the biggest draws for many people is viewing the preserved body of Lonesome George, the last individual of the Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about George’s legacy here.

Lonesome George and my brother’s reflection (Taken By: Mom)
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Day 4

We woke up very early this day to catch our 7 am boat and traveled to Isabela Island. We arrived at the island again with no major plans so our first task was to find breakfast and a hostel. We ate breakfast and looked up places, eventually finding one that would work. We stayed at Hostal Cerro Azul and loved it. They had a kitchen and fun hammocks in the living room. It was also a perfect location!

After a recovery nap, we rented bikes and went south of the town to find a trail along the ocean. Before we reached the trail, we stopped at a trail where you could view flamingos in a pond/lake. There was a bridge that took you through and it was breathtaking to see these birds in person at Poza Puerta de Jelí.

We continued back to the road to follow the trail along the coast and through wetlands with the end goal of reaching El Muro de Las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). In the 1940s and 1950s, this wall was built by prisoners sent to the island from the mainland of Ecuador. They lived in a penal colony and were forced to build this wall to “keep them busy”. These prisoners faced harsh conditions and punishments. Viewing the height and the roughness of the lava rocks made me shiver as I thought about the pain they must have endured.

The wetlands we biked through are called Los Humedales del Sur de Isabela and in 2002 was named a Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance. The roughly 11km path features many trails off of it for different views, lava tunnel, beaches, and sites to see different mangrove forests.

We did not have much time to stop everywhere, but I went back a week later with my family and I was able to see much more and show them everything.

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Day 5

The next day, we woke up and prepared to walk a lot. We had signed up for a tour to hike Sierra Negra Volcano. This is one of five of Isabela Island’s active volcanoes. The volcano last erupted in 2005 and the last recorded activity of the volcano is June 2018 after earthquakes opened up fissures.

The hiking trail is roughly 15km depending on which routes you take and takes about 5-6 hours for the round trip. Once you reach the rim, you can see the 6 mile wide and 300 feet deep caldera. For part of the trail, you hike around it seeing different angles of it. Eventually the paths turn into lava rock, but not just any ole lava rock…the most beautiful rocks. The colors were breathtaking.

During our hike, we got to see the area where there was activity in 2018. It was so surreal to think about how less than a year ago lava flowed where I was standing.

Although it was a lot of walking, it was not terribly difficult. I would highly suggest this activity!

Photo creds below to either Lucy, Lily, or Emily.

The sunsets on Isabela were also breathtaking…

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Day 6

On the last day on Isabela, we went on a tour of Las Tintoreras, a group of small islets off the coast. The boat first takes you around to view different areas where there are groups of penguins and blue footed boobies. It was amazing to see so many cool birds at once! The is also an area the boat drops you off where there is a small 5 minute walk to view one of the cracks in the rocks where white tip reef sharks like to hang out. You also have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the bay and through the large cracks.

Later that afternoon, I went on the boat to go back to Santa Cruz with two other friends in the program. We spent that evening trying to decide what day tour we wanted to do the next day.

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Day 7

We decided to go on a tour that took us to many places. We took a trip to go bird watching at the Daphne Islet, then snorkeling and enjoying the beach at Bahia Borerro, ending with a longer snorkel at Pinzon Island. We saw White tip reef sharks in the mangrove area and beautiful fish.

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Day 8

On my last full day on Santa Cruz, I fulfilled my itching desire. I went scuba diving to Gordon Rocks, a dive site around the remains of a volcanic crater with 3 pinnacles sticking out above. It is often called “the washing machine” due the the strong currents and upwelling. For this reason, they suggest intermediate to advanced divers only do this. One dive master once told me, the number of dives and the experience does not determine someone’s ability to scuba dive. Although I only had a few recreational dives under my belt, I felt confident that I could do the dive. I booked through Eagle Ray Tours again, but they sent me with their friend’s company since they were not going that day. I ended up going with Jesse from SharkBay Dive Center, who had no issue taking me to Gordon with my dive experience. It was amazing and they did a fantastic job during the whole day. It was an awesome dive.

We saw so many things….hammer head sharks, fish, Galapagos sharks, rays, etc…These are some stills of my footage!

Here’s some stills from SharkBay Dive Center!

The day was finished with a quick trip to the fish marke where you can see all the Galapagos animals surround fishermen as they return with their catch.

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Day 9

The next day, I came back to San Cristobal just in time to meet my family from the United States at the airport for their visit on the Galapagos for a week. 🙂

I took them to see all the beaches on the island, to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), a tour of the highlands, including El Junco (freshwater lake), Galapaguera (tortoise reserve), and Puerto Chino. In addition, we did a quick trip to Santa Cruz Island for the Charles Darwin Research Station and to Isabela Island for a night to enjoy the biking and the views.

It was nice to have a little taste of home, but it also reminded me I was going home soon. The last 6 weeks went by so fast and we were all really upset to even think about leaving the island, our new home.

Living on the enchanted islands: college student edition

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hola & Hello!

I am writing this post right before my last class here begins. It has been an amazing experience and incredibly life changing. I miss a lot of things about home, but I really do enjoy my life here a lot. I cannot believe I only have 3 more weeks left. Here’s a summary of my life here and special events!

Punta Carola
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Everyday life (Vida diaria)

The island life is different. Island time is definitely a concept here, nothing is on time or has a definite schedule. Ecuadorian time is already behind, dinner at 6pm could mean anytime between 6pm and 8pm. So if you add being an island on top of that, well it might take you a whole afternoon to get what you need. There’s only a few areas where people can live here, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is right on the water, and El Progreso, a town in the highlands. Everyone knows everyone, for the most part. You could tell a taxi “La casa de ____” and they could probably get you there. I live near a park with two soccer fields, a basketball court, and a new skate park. So I typically just say “Parque de Alegría”. However, I rarely even take a taxi.

View from where I live, you can see the ocean!
The view from the balcony at my house

Although it is a touristy area, it is still an island. Do not expect to be able to use credit or debit cards everywhere. Also, do not be surprised if you cannot find the hours stores or places are open. They open when they can but it might not be on a schedule and if it is, well, the locals already know what times. In addition, the few hours after lunch, most tour agencies and stores are not open. Lastly, there is only like two bars and one discoteca on the island. Social life is pretty small scale here. But the locals, who all know each other and most have grown up together, make the most of it.

My daily life here is pretty simple. I usually bike or walk to the university for class in the morning with my friend who lives in my neighborhood. Some students are lucky and live close by, but I live on the exact opposite side of town from the university. Even though the island is small, it is a 30 minute walk (unless you walk fast but it is HOT here so that is hard to do). At least it’s a beautiful place to walk around and you get exercise to start the morning! I was going to rent a bike for the whole 3 months I was here but one of my program coordinators on the island had a bike she was not using that I could borrow. I just had to take it to the bike shop and the shop owner fixed it for free. He is a really nice man and is always happy to help.

The Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) campus is right across from one of the most accessible beaches, Playa Mann. It is convenient because after class you can sit on the beach and sometimes the WiFi can reach out there. There is a nice space for students to do homework and enjoy the view above the classrooms in the building. There is also a balcony with outdoor seating. One thing that is different about Ecuador and the Galapagos is that open air is much more common. Especially in Quito, the weather is so temperate that windows and doors can be open comfortably and you do not need air conditioning. In the Galapagos, it is preferable to have windows and doors open, unless you have air conditioning. It is somewhat rare to have it, especially in stores, houses, and restaurants. However, one bread shop, the discoteca, our classrooms, and some host families have it. Some students got lucky, but I honestly do not mind just having a strong fan!

Playa Mann sunset
USFQ GAIAS campus

After class, I typically get lunch. Our host families provide breakfast and dinner during the week but lunch is on our own. There are 3 restaurants on Playa Mann that have good food, but also there are a bunch of places a short walk away on the Malecon or in town. Many students congregate at Fresco, the vegetarian café. Where else can you get pesto pasta or quesadillas here? Most places have basic lunch specials that include soup, juice, and a meal for only $4-$7. Except it gets old sometimes because it is always some sort of meat, a veggie or salad, and a big serving of plain white rice. Rice is a primary food group here. Eating pasta? Let’s have some rice too!

Quesadilla at Fresco

After lunch, I will either stay at the restaurant if it has WiFi or go to a coffee shop. There is a bread shop, Sabor Cuencano, with great coffee and delicious bread. They also have air conditioning, so it is the best escape. I am also a fan of Calypso on the Malecon. In the past, I have had group projects or reports to work on, so I will spend the afternoon doing that. Sometimes I use my afternoons to do field work for research projects, which is sometimes going to other beaches. I am so school focused I have barely given myself much time during the week to just lay on the beach. However, in the past 2-3 weeks, I have been working on fixing that problem. Side note: best ice cream is on Playa Mann. You can get a cone for $1 and flavors are typically blackberry, coconut, or passionfruit. Tastes like frozen yogurt!

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Volunteering (Voluntariado)

I volunteered in the afternoons for 3-weeks at a summer camp for local children here ages 6 through 12. I am taking classes right now, but the Galapagos is in the midst of summer. It was really fun to be with kids again and do fun things like painting or playing games with them. I also got to practice my Spanish and they got to practice English. I feel more connected to the local community after working with them. They are very intelligent about where they live and environmentally cautious. It was a pleasure to dedicate time to them. Although they were crazy, they taught me a lot and I understand the culture here a lot more. I also really enjoy being able to see them around town!

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Elections & Fiestas

The Galapagos had elections during my time here. Ecuadorians use the elections as an excuse to party. And Ecuadorians party hard. There were concerts, parades, and parties. The political songs were always blaring from taxi car stereos. Flags and billboards were placed around the town. It was strange at first but we all got used to it. Some students host parents were even running for a position in the campaign. It was interesting to be here during that time.

In addition to the elections, the San Cristobal hosted beauty pageants. I understand the beauty pageant world in the United States pretty well and enjoy them a lot. However, this was not what I was used to. The audience acted as if it was a soccer game. There were noise makers, beer, entertainment (I saw singers and dancers more than the contestants), food vendors, and children staying up really late. I was shocked and by 3rd hour of the first pageant I went to, I was very ready to leave. This first pageant was in El Progreso. The next one was right downtown. I am not really sure how it all works, but all I know is they are LONG.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to participate in Carnaval on the Galapagos. It was not as crazy as it is on the mainlands, but it definitely was a lot of fun. There was live music, people throwing paint and foam on each other, and some people were unlucky to get egged. There were parades and lots of drinking. I had a lot to do that week for class so I only did it for one day.

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Estoy Feliz

Overall, I am really enjoying meeting new people, having new experiences, and making memories. The Galapagos is a special place with unbelievable things to offer. However, I really like being integrated into the community and being able to be less of a tourist. I am friends with locals and I have been able to learn how life here really is. Although the wildlife and environment are amazing, there definitely are some issues on the islands that cannot be witnessed from a boat tour with a naturalist guide. Being able to experience island life has helped me see this place with an interdisciplinary perspective and understand my role in nature, my career, and the world.

Playa Mann, across from the university

Travelers illness(es), snorkeling, and scuba diving

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Hola!

Okay, I know…It has really been awhile this time.

But hey, I am living on island time now!

Sunset on Playa Mann (Photo By: Kayelyn Smith)
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It has been a wild ride so far here on San Cristobal in the Galapagos. I have learned so much about the island, the wildlife, and the locals. I had an adjustment period when I got to Quito in January and I had yet another when I arrived here too.

However, I am WAY more happier here than I ever was in Quito. I have learned from living there that I am not a city girl. Also, I found it pretty easy to adjust to island life and the small town. I think this was so easy for me because my university, Juniata College, is a small campus located in a small town. My high school also had a small number of students and was in a town where everyone knew each other. Therefore, being here just reminds me of being in those environments, which I think is very different for some people in my program who are from cities or larger universities.

Before I get into the details of island life, let me tell you a story about my journey from the mainland to here.

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Quito -> Galapagos

I was supposed to leave on Sunday, February 3rd. I was excited because I was sick of the city and was just ready to be at the beach. However, I woke up that morning and vomited. A lot. I was so nauseated. A lot of thoughts went through my head, “Is my Crohn’s flaring? What did I eat? What do I do?”. I did what I do best and pulled myself together the best I could. I was able to take a taxi to the university where we were going to board the bus for the airport. Long story short, I vomited a lot more and ended up having to miss my flight. I went to the clinic and was treated for a stomach infection, which is common in travelers because the food is so different. My program coordinator here helped me through every step at the doctor, getting medicine, and changing my flight. I spent 2 extra days in Quito recovering so that I would be at my best when I arrive for the islands. I watched a lot of Netflix.

When the plane was approaching San Cristobal, I looked out the window with the elderly Ecuadorian men I was sitting with in awe. The beautiful blue waters and green landscapes were unbelievable. As we descended from the air to land, I could not help but tear up a little. It was finally happening. My dream was coming true. I was going to LIVE in the Galapagos.

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Finalmente

Photo By: Ethan Letourneau

When I got off the airplane, it was my first time directly walking down the steps onto the landing strip. My program coordinator for the island picked me up from the airport and took me first to the campus to put my medication in the fridge since my Humira is so temperature sensitive. We then went to my host family’s house.

My host family situation is just my host mom currently, but I really enjoy it because I get a lot of attention. My host mom’s nick name is Bachita and she is very happy to have me here. She enjoys hosting people, cooking, and cleaning. We are able to communicate in Spanish because I was able to practice my speaking skills so much in Quito with my taxi drivers. I am really glad I took Spanish all throughout high school and in college so far. Even though there is a lot of tourism here, not everyone speaks English. I have really enjoyed being able to practice so much and learn new vocabulary and geographical differences in the language. Overall, I love living with Bachita and she takes good care of me!

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But wait, aren’t you taking classes?

The JC Banner in the office at the GAIAS campus

Yes! I have just finished two modules, which was the past 6 weeks of classes (each course was 3 weeks).

My first course was Marine Life. This course was focused on studying specific groups in the marine ecosystem. We had lecture from 9am to 12pm on days when we did not have field trips. We took advantage of our surrounding environment during the class. We snorkeled at Playa Mann, the beach right outside of campus, and Cerro Tijeretas, to study the fish species there. In addition, we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido due to the shape of the rock looking like a “sleeping lion”. While there, we saw many shark species and birds.

My class also visited La Loberia to study both the terrestrial and aquatic species that can be found there. Unfortunately, this is when stomach plague number two hit me. The night before, I began vomiting multiple times. There is one public hospital on the island and it is the same place you go for a minor issue such as a bad cough. My host mom took me there for rehydration and anti nausea medication. I spent about 12 hours there. Thankfully, I did feel a lot better after receiving treatment. In these situations, knowing Spanish has been very helpful. Although treatment is free there, it is important to remember that as a “Gringo” or just a white person, you will get treated differently. It is difficult to get tests to help figure out what is actually wrong with you unless you specifically request and pester them about it. In addition, it is just not as common to figure out exactly what is wrong, their focus is to treat and get you on your way. However, this definitely varies based on person, symptoms, and who came with you to the hospital. For example, when one of my program coordinators came, she managed to get me all sorts of tests and medications.

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Scuba Certified

Before my next course began, my goal was to get my scuba diving certification for Open Water. We began on a Saturday afternoon with watching the videos. It was a hot room where; it was hard to stay awake. Afterwards, some of us treated ourselves to some pizza. You do not realize how much you miss food from the United States until you have it. The next day we did our pool dive. We learned how to put together the gear and practiced safety skills in the pool. It was definitely a very different experience that I have never had before. Overall, it was really fun though.

The next weekend, we dived right off the shore from Playa Mann in a shallow area so we could get used to the gear in an open environment. We had to expedite the processes of getting our certifications so that we would have it in time to dive in our next course, so the next day we dived again. We dived at Cerro Tijeretas, which was amazing! We saw sea turtles, sea stars, and amazing fish. It was also really great practice in an area with some currents. After returning from our dive, we took our exams to get certified and by the next day, we were officially PADI Open Water scuba divers!

Thank you Wreck Bay Diving Center!!!
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Back to Business

My next class, Marine Ecology, began that Monday. This class was taught by the same professor from my Techniques of Marine Research 1 class from Quito. I was excited to see her again because I learned a lot from her in the previous class and she has a well-structured course. She packed a lot of things into a 3-week course. In addition, we had a 2nd professor who was doing research here on a Fullbright. We assisted her in part of her project in the lab doing a heat stress and a cold stress experiment on corals here. I knew nothing about the coral communities in the Galapagos until now and she brought a lot of knowledge to our lectures in class. Our field trips included snorkeling at Rosa Blana, which is a mangrove site, snorkeling and hiking at Punta Pitt, and scuba diving at Kicker Rock/León Dormido.

At Punta Pitt, we hiked to see nesting blue footed boobies!

Now cue me getting sick….AGAIN. This time was the worst. Non-stop diarrhea and vomiting. However, the next day I was supposed to go scuba diving at Kicker Rock. This field trip was the whole reason I expedited my scuba class. So, I did what I do best and pulled myself together. I probably should not have, but I do not regret it one bit. I was not able to do the first dive, but I felt better after vomiting on the boat (my 4th time vomiting in 20 hours) and joined the second dive. I saw sharks and felt great underwater (thanks adrenaline)…you only live once!! I went to the hospital immediately after getting off the boat because I was very dehydrated. I spent the next few days feeling awful. I went back to the hospital a second time because I was still so sick. I finally felt better after a week. I promise, I am taking care of myself! Many other students are also very sick. There is a lot of new and different bacteria here.

Scuba Diving at Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock after vomiting 4 times
After the dive…
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Returning to the good stuff.

In both of my courses, my professors tasked us with creating and performing a small research project here. My first project was an observational study on the sea lion populations here and how they react to human presence. This is a hot topic here because the sea lions are EVERYWHERE. You will be walking down the sidewalk and all the sudden almost step on a sea lion. They also really enjoy hanging out on benches. However, tourists often do not respect the boundaries and attempt to get close to the animals. We were curious as to how the sea lions reacted to these attempts at various locations. Some sea lions are very reactive, but most are used to human presence.

In my Marine Ecology course, my group studied the interactions between fish and sea turtles. We filmed sea turtles and observed the cleaning symbiosis. Algae and sessile organisms gather on sea turtle bodies and fish will come feed on these organisms cleaning off the sea turtles. In addition, some fish will follow sea turtles as they feed to take advantage of the nutrients being uncovered when they forage in benthic sediment. It was really neat to see these interactions here.

I am going to end this post here, but I will be focusing more in my next post on the everyday life here and the ins and outs of the Galapagos. I promise I am actually having fun and living! I just had Spring Break and did some island hopping.

Enjoy some photos below of my island exploration!

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Here’s to less stress and more health!

Puerto Chino

Middle of the World, Coast of Ecuador, Baños, and Quilotoa!

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.


¡Hola amigos!

I am officially done with my first class! I know what some of you are thinking…already?! My classes are three week modules, so I am only taking one course at a time.

My first course was Techniques of Marine Research I, which was a great introduction to marine science. At Juniata, most of my classes are freshwater based and I have not had much experience studying marine environments. The course included two weeks in Quito and one week on the coast of Ecuador.

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El Mitad Del Mundo

The week before I went to the coast, I went on a day trip after class with some friends to the middle of the world. Ecuador is right on the equator and just right outside of Quito is home to latitude 00° 00’ 00’’.

There are two ways to visit The Middle of the World City or in Spanish, “Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo”:

  1. Monument to the Equator (Monumento del Ecuador)

This monument was built around 1980 to replace an older monument built in 1936. The older one was set by geographer Luis Tufiño. However, they did not realize until it was checked with GPS that the actual center of the earth was less than 100 meters away. The monument is still beautiful and contains great history. However, we opted for the second option…

2. Itiñan Solar Museum

This museum is home to the middle of the world calculated with GPS. Admission is cheap and it includes a guided tour in English, which provided the history of Ecuador and its indigenous people. Our guide was very funny and entertaining. There are also a series of activities to do on the middle line, including a sun dial and viewing the water flowing down a drain in different directions on both sides of the middle line. The most popular activity is balancing an egg on a nail, in which you can receive a certificate naming you an “egg master”. This was a beautiful museum!

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Class Trip

For the second week of class, we got up super early one Saturday morning to drive 12+ hours to the coast of Ecuador. During the trip we went to many beaches and stayed at 3 different hostels, Muyuyo Lodge, Finca Punta Ayampe, and Hosteria Canoa.

The first day, we were at Ayangue and went out by boat to the El Pelado Marine Reserve. We were two different groups, snorkelers and divers. I was part of the snorkelers because I do not have my scuba certification yet. Our job was to count species richness during our swim. The scuba divers did transect videos and photos of species lower in the water.

El Pelado Marine Reserve

This was my first time snorkeling and I loved it so much. It was such a beautiful place. I also am glad I wore tons of sun screen. The sun is STRONG on the equator.

The next few days, we traveled to many beaches to study rocky intertidal zones, including La Chocolatera, La Rinconada, La Playita, Machalilla, and Cabo Pasado. It was not all fun and games though. We were not just hanging out on the beach. Every morning we woke up to make it there for low tide. We had different roles for field research there.

Some groups were using a quadrant and transect method to record the algal and sessile species. My role was every other day collecting whelk species, measuring, and weighing them. The other days I took pictures of the species found in the rocky shore for species identification guides.

Identifying, weighing, and measuring whelks

We were outside working for 3-4 hours. Wearing sunscreen was very necessary and some days a long sleeve SPF shirt was best suited.

My partner Sara Heine

However, I had a lot of fun and enjoyed seeing the different shores that the coast provides. I also saw species that I have never seen before and practiced marine research methods for the first time. I also made amazing friends during the trip.

The only downside is that my phone was stolen right out of my pocket at a beach bar the last night we were in Canoa. I lost a lot of my contacts and photos, so I lost my most my photos from this trip and the middle of the world. However, luckily I had taken pictures with my Go Pro and nice camera so I did not lose those pictures. Long story short, always leave your phone at home or in the pocket of your guy friends (where mine was until I decided to take it out). Pick pocketing is very real abroad, especially on buses! Just because your things are below your feet does not mean they are safe. Hold everything.

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Weekend Trip

We returned from our trip to Quito the following Saturday. Since we did work last weekend, our professor let us have Monday off. So being the crazy tourists we are, my friends and I went to Baños de Agua Santa (many people just call it Baños).

Crazy Tourists/Gringas

We took a bus from Quito for sooo cheap (I think $4.50?) and the drive was roughly 3 hours. After getting there, we found Honey Coffee & Tea and got some late breakfast. It was so delicious.

We then found our hotel, Selina Baños. It was a very nice place to stay and we were treated very well. They had everything you need at the hotel and the helped us schedule and plan our day to make sure we could do everything we wanted to do.

During all of our trips, we took a chiva, which allowed us to view the landscape during the whole ride.

The first thing we did was tour waterfalls on Ruta de Las Cascadas (route of the waterfalls). We went to the big one, La Cascada del Diablo. It was so beautiful, but it was a hike to get there! However, we enjoyed playing in the water and being so close to the waterfall.

After that trip, we set off to La Casa del Arbol (the treehouse) to swing at the “edge of the world”. The swing is a popular photo opportunity and it was definitely for the adventurous. There are people working to push you and if you want they also spin you. You are strapped in, don’t worry. Definitely worth the wait in line for this amazing experience. If you are lucky, you can see Tungurahua volcano from the view.

All of these were taken by my amazing friends

We also stopped at an amusement park like swing that you could pay to ride. The view there was amazing.

Our way home was not as easy. There was a road blocked, so we had to take a dirt road that changed elevations a lot back. Then when we got to Cotopaxi, we saw burning tires on the road. I was very confused and texted our study abroad coordinator. She told us we had approached an indigenous protest. The bus turned around and we thought we were going to have to spend the night and wait for the protest to be over. Thankfully, it ended or something (not really sure what happened) but we were able to make it through. Our trip home took 6 hours!!! We had to study for our final the next day on the bus.

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Last Week on the Mainland

The last week in Quito was filled with paper writing. We had a field report and a larger research report due by the end of the week. Luckily, we were working in groups, but we don’t have many grades so we all needed to do well.

My last day in Quito, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to go to Quilotoa in a private van. The benefit of a private van is that there is less risk of having your bags stolen. Also, it is a direct route there and back.

We even stopped at the Toachi River Canyon nearby.

By: Olivia Burleigh
By: Olivia Burleigh
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Quilotoa is home to a lake created by volcano that erupted in 1280 and left a caldera, which is now filled with beautiful water. There is a trail around the rim and also one that takes you down the waterfront.

By: Hannah Robertson
By: Olivia Burleigh

We did that hike and went kayaking on the water.

By: Olivia Burleigh
By: Olivia Burleigh

 And saw a lot of dogs. That is one thing about Ecuador is that there are stray dogs everywhere.

By: Olivia Burleigh

However, we were not looking forward to the hike back up. The view was amazing every step you took while walking down…but it was also very steep and zig zagged. This means it will also be very steep and zig zaggy on the way up.

And oh boy, it was. We had to stop multiple times to catch our breath, mostly due to the high altitude making it hard to breath in general. The worst part was that there were horses that you could pay to take you back up to the top. These horses would run you over if you did not move out of the way. But the worst part…was…the manure. EVERYWHERE. It was so hard to breathe already and then we were inhaling horse feces!!! Definitely not glamorous but definitely worth it.

Taking a break on the way up
By: Olivia Burleigh
Barely made it back up
By: AJ Pearre
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So that is kind of where my story in Quito ends. My next post will be all about my beginning of being in the Galapagos and traveling.

Until then, start planning your trip to visit me because you will be jealous.

I’m serious, Bachita (my new host mom) wants guests.

¡Hasta luego!

By: Olivia Burleigh

 

Orientation Week: ¿hablo español?

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Saludos de Ecuador!

I have had my first few weeks here in Ecuador and I am finally starting to feel more comfortable. The first week was very difficult. It was definitely over stimulation at its finest and I want to give a shout out to the people who watched me cry when it was too much…

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I had to:

  • Take a week long Spanish boot camp (or you could call it class)
  • Learn more about the program and what to expect
  • Sit through multiple orientations
  • Maintain my medicine’s temperature
  • Make new friends
  • Get used a new family dynamic
  • Master the art of Uber and talking to Taxi drivers
  • Sleep
  • and last but not least, getting used to being in a totally different country!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to be here and excited for the adventures to come, but it is just very difficult to adapt and learn so many new things at once. If you planning on studying abroad or this is your first time also, just remember that you are not alone. Everyone is in the same position and dealing with something extra that could make it more difficult to adapt.

The best thing to do is communicate with those who are trying to help you and let them know what you need. I am someone who gets pretty stressed out and anxious often, so this is not everyone’s experience and mine is probably more extreme. However, if you are feeling slightly how I felt, do not worry, it will get better!!!!

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Monday

The first day, I went to the campus in the morning with the my host cousin because he also attends USFQ and was working on his thesis. He showed me around campus a little before dropping me off at the main entrance to meet everyone else. At the entrance, I saw more people who looked like me – lost students who do not look like everyone else.

We started mingling and talking about where we were from, what school we go to, and what we are studying. I met people who live near me in Maryland, go to school near me in Pennsylvania, and I even found one of my friend’s roommates from freshman year of college. It is a SMALL WORLD.

We split into groups and toured the campus, which is quite beautiful. Almost more beautiful than Juniata, in a very Ecuadorian way. I mean Juniata has nice grass and all, but here there’s a pond, waterfall, quad, AND palm trees.

The “lagoon”
A professor painted/designed this on campus
View of the town from the bridge that connects the mall and campus

One thing I love about the stable weather here is that no one is worried about keeping their air conditioning or heat in their homes. Windows and doors are always open and the campus has a lot of outdoor places. I love it so much.

After receiving our SIM cards for our Ecuadorian phone numbers, we had lunch and then went to our Spanish classes, which we had from 2:00pm to 5:00pm every day the first week.

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Tuesday

We sat through many orientations and one of them was in the morning this day. We heard about the Galapagos Islands history and society and about culture shock in general. It is definitely helpful to hear about what to expect to be different here in Quito and in the Galapagos. Apparently, the hardest part is coming back to the United States. Stay tuned for that craziness since this is my first time in another country.

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Wednesday

This was a beautiful morning. Our program scheduled a tour Old Town Quito. Cumbayá is a 30 minute drive from downtown Quito area. We got on a bus early in the morning so that we could complete the tour in time to make it to our Spanish class. Our first stop was El Panecillo, a very steep hill, home to “Virgen de Quito” or the “Madonna of Quito”. The Madonna is an aluminum, 148 foot sculpture that can be seen from many places in the city.

She also has a beautiful view of Quito and Cotopaxi, a volcano in the Andes Mountains.

We walked around the town, Plaza De La Independencia, and toured some cool places. First we went into “La Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus”, in English: “The Church of the Society of Jesus”. It was so beautiful inside, laced with gold, statues, and story telling pictures.

Next, we went to The Church and Convent of San Francisco. There was a beautiful open courtyard, with birds and gorgeous trees.

We had the opportunity to go to the top of the church, which had a great view!

Due to time, we were only able to view the outside of “Basílica del Voto Nacional”. I definitely want to go inside and go up to the top of the church before I leave.

Lastly, we had a beautiful lunch at a local restaurant.

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Thursday

This day was far from exciting. Many students had to go to Quito to get our bank statements notarized for our visa applications. I attempted to get my visa before leaving the United States, but it is a very very very long process and I just did not have time. I then of course went to my Spanish class and then studied for my final and worked with my group on our final presentation.

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Friday

We had a large international student orientation this day, which just consisted of more orientation presentation. Then we had our last day of Spanish class and final! It was a long class and I was glad it was over. Although I love practicing my Spanish, I do not enjoy sitting in a 3 hour class about it.

We celebrated after class and enjoyed Friday night in Cumbayá.

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Saturday

Early Saturday morning, a few of us got on a bus in Quito to go to Mindo. The 2 hour bus ride was so cheap compared to the United States, only $3!!

Taken by a stranger who did not realize we were missing the “O”

We arrived late morning and booked a tour through the cloud forest. After lunch, we went into the forest with our guide and saw all sorts of beautiful plants and insects. We got to one part on the path where we had to cross the river. The trip we paid for included a trek across a rope bridge. I do not know how to explain it so just take a look for yourself at the trauma I put myself through:

By Jintong Wu
By Jintong Wu

Our hike after the bridge included many uphill climbs but we did get to see 3 small waterfalls and beautiful views.

On the way back across the river, we able to take a cable car thankfully so I did not have to put myself through that pain again.

After our hike, we wanted to see more waterfalls. We went up to the Nambilla Cascadas to hike to a big waterfall that you can swim in apparently. However, we got the wrong instructions and ended up not having enough time before the park closed to make it there. I have never hiked so hard in my life. My FitBit said we hiked 10 miles that day.

Not sure who took this…

My friend and I ate dinner and then took a taxi home to Cumbayá. Many people spent the night but I was ready to sleep in my “own” bed.

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Sunday

Although I slept in my own bed, I got up early to go to Teleférico Quito with some friends. Sleep is for the weak! Teleférico is a gondola ride up the side of the Pichincha Volcano to view the city of Quito from one of its highest points. At the top of the long ride, there is more hiking paths available to the volcano’s summit. There is also snack shops and a flavored oxygen bar. Quito is already at such a high altitude, which causes a lot of pressure and fatigue on your body, but this experience takes that even higher.

Flavored oxygen bar

The view up the gondola was absolutely gorgeous.

Unfortunately, although we went early in the morning, it was too cloudy to get some of the views.

By Ellie Mendelson

However, we still walked around the path at the top and enjoyed the swings! We even had a little break in the clouds to see some of below. If you go to Teleferico in Quito, make sure you have good weather to get the best view.

By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson

After, we all went to my friend’s host family’s house and made lunch with my friend’s host sister. It was delicious.

And that was my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

I have a bunch of Go Pro footage but this site does not seem to support videos. Will be figuring out how to share it best soon!

P.S. I miss having ranch dressing in restaurants…but the food is pretty good.

Ecuador: ¡Estoy Aqui!

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hola!

I am beginning my journey abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

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This semester, I will be participating in the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) program with Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). I will be taking five courses that are divided into 3-week modules: Techniques of Marine Research 1, Marine Life, Marine Ecology, Marine Ecosystem Based Management, and Techniques of Marine Research 2. I will be spending my first month living with a family in Quito. During that time, I will be taking a week long Spanish intensive course and will complete my first module, which includes an 7 day trip to the coast of Ecuador.

After my first module is complete, I will travel to the Galapagos Islands on February 3rd. I will be on San Cristobal, where I will be living with another host family and taking my courses at the remote campus there. I will spend all of my time on the islands until May 5th.

I am so excited for this opportunity and would like to thank the Juniata College study abroad office for helping me prepare and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for making this financially possible. The support of the Gilman not only has helped financially, but they also have provided me with many resources I can utilize while abroad.

Hope you enjoy the recap of the beginnings of my adventure to Ecuador.

¡Hasta luego!

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Flight Woes

On January 5th, I arrived to the airport in Washington, DC. At the airport, a family friend, Janet Ady, brought me a filtering water bottle and came to say goodbye! It was nice to talk to a seasoned traveler right before leaving.

Saying goodbye was far from easy. My mom and I cried a lot. My brother and I hugged for awhile. I am so lucky to have their support and I will miss them immensely. I appreciate them so much and love them more than anything!

Unfortunately, my first flight was delayed and it was supposed to cause me to arrive too late in Houston to get on my next scheduled flight to Ecuador. I was landing at the time my flight to Quito was departing. The next flight out would have been 6:00pm the next day. I was fully prepared to spend the night in Houston once I arrived. When I landed, I asked an agent about my hotel voucher and my new flight assignment. He told me it would be quicker if I went to a different gate agent, until he was done with his duties helping the plane unload.

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So I started walking towards the gate he suggested and I realized it was near the gate my original Quito flight was departing from. So I figured I would check the gate just in case because when I landed, the United app still did not report that the flight departed yet, as it typically does. As I walked there, I opened the app and refreshed my flight page again (I did it a million time due to numerous updates). The app indicated that my original flight to Quito was delayed…I took a double take. “Is this real life??”, I thought to myself. I jogged to the gate to find out if this was true.

As I was approaching, I sized up the scene: an official looking man on the phone, an agent, and an empty gate. I thought I was too late and then the man says to me, “Are you flying to Quito?”. I nodded and he sighed, “Well today is your lucky day”. He was so right. It certainly was.

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He explained that there was an alleged mouse on the plane and they were going to switch planes. I was worried my seat might have already been given away, but they got a larger plane and I was able to make it on. I even got the whole row to myself!

Everyone who heard my story was impressed and cheered me on. Well, they were not clapping or anything, but they shared in my excitement and surprise that it worked out in the end.

Traveling With A Chronic Illness

Throwback to my Crohn’s flare in Tennessee

As many of you know, I have Crohn’s Disease and was diagnosed in 2013. I take Humira, an injection medication, every week to manage my symptoms. As a biologic medicine, Humira must be kept between 36-46 degrees F.

I will be studying abroad for a whole semester. That means, I needed to bring 17 weeks worth of medication and that meant 17 Humira pens. So how the heck did I manage to keep that many injectable pens in that temperature range for so long?!

I did it thanks to Polar Bear Coolers. I found this cooler when I was researching about taking biologic medicine abroad and I found someone’s chronic illness blog mentioning their success. I then went to the website and found a recommendation for the product from a rheumatoid arthritis patient with a high ambition for travelling. This seemed promising. I also bought the suggested wireless thermometer to track the temperature. After some trials at home, we found the product to work great and that it should be able to handle my flights!

The best part about the cooler is that I can even add loose ice to it without it leaking. This was very beneficial on the plane. I had to let TSA open my cooler to make sure the ice was solid and the equilibrium got little out of whack. However, with the added ice from the fight attendant, I was able to get it back to the correct temperature. They have many different sizes and it does not have to be a backpack, but that was most convenient for me.

I highly recommend this product to anyone with an ambition to travel and a temperature sensitive medicine. Chronic illness has tried to stop me many times in my life and I refused to let it stop me from exploring the world and pursuing my dreams.

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“Welcome to Ecuador, my dear”

That’s what the worker in customs said to me at 7 a.m. when I finally landed in Quito. I was exhausted, nervous, and excited all at once. I watched the mountains fly by me as I rode in the taxi to Cumbayá, a parish in Quito where USFQ campus is located and my host family lives. I breathed in the new air as best as I could…because the altitude change is so drastic that was a little hard.

My host family’s house is beautiful. They have a nice yard with many plants and a garden. There are hammocks hung up and dogs running around the yard. My room is right off of the glass patio, which allows in the beautiful rays of the strong sun. Natural wood makes up a majority of the interior of the house.

One of the biggest differences I have noticed about Ecuador so far is that leaving the door open or the windows open is normal. The climate here is fairly stable and people are not worried about keeping in their heat or air conditioning because they do not need it.

I will be sharing details from my first few weeks in Quito, Ecuador soon. I am just so busy doing the things I am going to write about right now that I do not have much time.

Sneak Peek
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Taken by: Ellie Mendelson

Until then…

Don’t forget to follow my Instagram: @Stephs.logbook

To the students following my blog, feel free to message me questions!!!

“A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given a chance.”

Stanislaw Lem

Farewell Field Station & More

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Happy almost New Year!!!

2018 has certainly been a year of ambition, learning, success, and new experiences. From earning the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship to my DOE summer internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), I have had career advancing opportunities and personal development experiences. I am beyond blessed to have earned many scholarships this year that are assisting with my tuition and study abroad costs.

I have worked hard, battling the obstacles of my Crohn’s Disease, to pursue my passions. I am proud to say I have made Juniata’s Dean’s list both semesters in 2018. I look forward to continuing this work next semester in a warmer climate….see you soon Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands!

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Finals

After returning from Thanksgiving Break, the field station had our last few classes. Final exams were just around the corner. We had 2 exams, our nature photography portfolios, a GIS project, a research paper from our semester long projects, and an group presentation of our research results. Needless to say, our plates were full and we were feeling the stress.

Before the stress really hit, many of us participated in one of Juniata’s many traditions on campus by attending the Madrigal Dinner and Dance on December 1st! During dinner, our faculty and professors are our servers and we end the evening by singing holiday carols. You really have to be there to understand the full experience, it is quite unique. Afterwards, there is a dance in the gym. It is a fun night to dress up with friends.

Also, I visited the Terrace Mountain Alpacas farm to pet some alpacas.

As a stress buster, our awesome Resident Director planned a white elephant gift exchange and we made cookies!

I am going to miss the field station a lot, especially the people I had the opportunity to meet and get to know. People often ask me if I like living at the field station, especially since it is so far from campus. I tell them, “Yes! I love it because of the location, but mostly because of the people”. Being on Raystown Lake in the middle of the woods was beautiful and relaxing.

However, I think the people made the biggest difference. I learned so much about myself and who I want to be personally and professionally. I was able to get to know people who I never would have on campus. I made new friends, created memories with genuine and beautiful people, and had a lot of fun being me. I cannot thank everyone enough for all their support, acceptance, and knowledge they have shared.

So long Raystown Field Station!

Raystown Lake

If any current or prospective Juniata students are interested in studying at the field station, I highly suggest it. It is a great immersion opportunity, like study abroad, but less culture changes and still near campus (I also suggest you study abroad but you will be hearing about that for the next few months).

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American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting

Day One

The day after I had my final presentation and moved out of the Raystown Lake Station, I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting. I used Metro from the Shady Grove station to get downtown on both days I attended the conference. When I first entered the convention center, I was overwhelmed. There were people everywhere and it was a huge facility. I quickly located the registration desk, which was also massive.

After getting my official badge, I connected with my mentor from Oak Ridge National Lab. It was nice to see a familiar face in a sea of strangers in heels and blazers. I met many of her colleagues and connections, which was very exciting. Together, we went to the oral presentation titled, “Centennial: Transformational Contributions over the Past 100 Years in the Biogeosciences I”. It was an interesting series of presentations because it encompassed my knowledge from my internship over the summer and new aquatic concepts from the classes I had just completed.

After I grabbed lunch, I explored the exhibit booths and talked to a few graduate school programs. It was a great experience to practice asking questions and to start thinking about what is important for me about graduate school.

Before I knew it, it was time to present my poster. I was in the session titled, “Plant-Soil Interactions Under Global Warming: Learning Mechanisms from Multiyear Field Experiments and Natural Gradients”. I had practiced talking about my research at the end of summer at the ORNL intern’s poster session, but this was my first time presenting at a larger conference and completely alone. I was pretty nervous.

However, time flew by during the presentation time frame. I stayed at my poster for a majority of the time during the 1:40pm to 6:00pm time frame. I continuously had researchers approach me to discuss my project. I was able to reconnect with and discuss future interests with many scientists that I knew from working at ORNL. Also, I had a Juniata alum, Liz Cushman, come to my poster to network with me. I am excited to have more professionals in my circle of connections.

I ended the evening in DC with a delicious dinner at Tiger Fork with a former coworker from my internship at Audubon Naturalist Society.

My inspirational fortune at dinner
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Day Two

I arrived to the conference later on the second day due to a doctor’s appointment, but I was just in time for the oral presentation, “Building Stronger Communities in Academia for Effective Education and Outreach II”. I was particularly interested in this series because one of my future mentors for my Hollings internship with NOAA this summer was presenting. It was a great way to learn more about the goals of their projects and gain inspiration for my future work. I also learned a lot about programs that encourage scientists to be educators of their own work.

After the presentation, I went to view the ocean sciences, hydrology, and biogeosciences posters being presented that day. I was able to talk to graduate students about their work and their academic journey. It was great to gain insight on different paths to take and opportunities available. I ended the day by joining my mentor from ORNL in an oral presentation session and hopping around to a few others. My experience at AGU was eye opening and inspiring. I made many connections, and had meaningful conversations about my career and my interests.

I would like to thank the Environmental Science and Studies Department at Juniata for funding my conference experience through the Environmental Fellowship. I look forward to more experiences like these!

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NOAA Site Visit

A few days after the conference in DC, I traveled to Williamsburg, VA for my official site visit for my internship this summer. I stayed at a hotel in Williamsburg and my mentors provided transportation to the site in Gloucester Point. As previously mentioned, I will be interning with the stewardship and education coordinators at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. My focus will be assisting with monitoring in different sites on the York River and translating these projects into educational pieces, such as a story map and a lesson plan.

During my visit, I toured the campus, met other staff members during their holiday party, and discussed details of what my project specifically will be.

I was also lucky to be able to visit one of the reserve monitoring sites. I went to Taskinas Creek reserve, which is part of York River State Park. I got to visit the marsh and see the established weather station. They have meteorological, biological, and water quality monitoring programs established there.

It was beautiful, even for being the middle of December. I have already learned a lot about coastal environments and marshes. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge more this summer about these ecosystems.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and exploring Williamsburg. I am very excited to spend the summer there!  

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Study Abroad

As many of you know, I am study abroad next semester in the Galapagos Islands. I will first stay in Quito for the first weeks before going to the islands. I leave for my semester on January 5th and I am currently preparing for the transition. I want to give my study abroad it’s own section on my site, so I will be creating another post later with more details about what is upcoming.

However, I did want to share some excitement with you. I have received the
Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to help pay for my semester abroad! I am grateful for this financial assistance especially since there are thousands of dollars of extra fees associated with my program due to transportation, field trips, and entrance fees. To read more about this opportunity, see Juniata’s article.

Also, Juniata awarded me with one of The Thomas R. Kepple, Jr. International Opportunities Endowment awards to help with the cost of this trip. I am very lucky to have this support!

As part of the Gilman scholarship, I am required to complete a Follow-On Service Project to promote study abroad experiences and the Gilman program. I will be using my blog as my promotion platform and will be connecting with specific groups. My goal is to have students (high school and college) follow my blog while I am abroad and then I will talk to them in person when I come back about the experience.

See you next year!