It’s been a full three weeks since my program in Ecuador ended and I’m officially back in snowy Minnesota. The Christmas lights are hung up along the streets, the cold air has resumed its favorite hobby of biting my fingertips, and I have rediscovered my closet of warm, winter sweaters.
Looking back, I am extremely grateful for the past four months. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would spend a semester on the Galapagos Islands and in the Amazon. Every single day was full of new experiences. I went from never having snorkeled in my life, to becoming an after-school-snorkel-pro. I learned how to surf and scuba dive. I ate delicious new food (ceviche, encebollado, and plantain in every form imaginable) and made friends from all around the world.
At our final program dinner together, we had the opportunity to go around the table and each say something we learned from the past semester. While we all learned a lot academically, the academic points were not the huge take-aways that my classmates had. Instead, people listed things like how they learned to be confident and speak up for themselves or learned to take their time to slow down and enjoy the little moments. As each of us shared our personal takeaways, you could tell that they weren’t just cheesy, fluff answers. We all genuinely grew a lot and felt grateful for our time. I know that for me, it was hard to just pick only one thing to share!
We discovered what it means to lean on others, get out of our comfort zones and live in the moment, and I think that really represents why studying abroad can be so important. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my classes, but it was the real life, out-of-the-classroom experiences that were truly significant. One of the most impactful things for me was meeting so many people who are working to make the world a better place.
An example of this was when I met a couple that runs one of the local scuba shops on the island. I ended up getting my PADI open water certification through their company, and it introduced me to an unbelievably kind group of locals. On one of our last nights in town, the couple invited us over to their apartment for dinner (fresh ceviche - my favorite, of course). When I arrived, a bunch of smiles and hugs greeted us; a giant chunk of fresh tuna sat diced up on the kitchen cutting board, ready to be dipped into a bowl of lime juice; a huge pot of plantains was midst cooking to perfection on the stove; and the sun was setting over Puerto Baquerizo Moreno’s bay. As I talked with our hosts, I was struck by how generous it was of them to welcome us in (both to their island and their home). I asked them more about how they started managing a dive shop, and as they told their story it became clear that it’s not only their business, but also a way they choose to reach out and care for their community. I won’t go into the details of it in this blog, but just learning about their involvement and perspective on community was humbling.
It’s people like that who are making a difference in the world, and I got to meet so many while I was travelling. While I’m sad that I had to leave Ecuador, I know it changed me for the better and I can’t wait to go back as soon as possible!
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<p>Hello everyone! My name is Catherine Putzier and I’m a senior at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), where I am studying Environmental Science with a concentration in Biology. While on my home turf, you can find me rock climbing at a local crag, playing a game of pickup soccer, or gushing about my three adorable nephews and one adorable niece. I love a good adventure and can’t wait to share about the Galapagos semester program!</p>