Las Islas Galapagos. There hasn’t been a day since my return to the USA last December that I haven’t thought about those amazing islands in one way or another. It seemed like even on the days when I wasn’t talking about my trip, or looking at pictures, it somehow came up – either in classes at school or even in the news.
It’s hard to believe that exactly a year ago my new best friends were boarding a plane on San Cristobal to return to the mainland, while I watched it fly overhead and awaited the arrival of my parents. The empty feeling I had when they left lingers with me, as I recall the great times we had together exploring along the equator.
This past year has flown by, and every day this fall I thought about what I was doing the previous year – from class fieldtrips to the Amazon, meeting my host family for the first time, snorkeling at Playa Mann, salsa lessons, celebrating friends birthdays the Ecuadorian way, and much more. I’m sure my friends at school are getting annoyed with my flashbacks and exclamations of “oh my gosh, I can’t believe a year ago I was…,” but I love reliving every moment of the incredible four months I spent abroad.
If you were to ask me last July what I was expecting from my study abroad experience in the Galapagos, I’m not really sure what I would have said. But little did I know that, this experience would be one to help me grow, learn, and see the world in a way I didn’t even think was possible. I have a connection with those islands. The community. The animals. The land. I felt their sadness when Lonesome George (the solitary giant land tortoise) passed away. I felt their excitement of the discovery of hybrid tortoise species similar to George on another island. I even felt the craziness of the recent rat eradication program. I keep up with the local happenings from my local Facebook friends, and even find myself frequently browsing through photos of friends who studied and traveled there after I left. The Galapagos changed me – for the better – and I am forever grateful for my experience abroad.
Being the only student from Santa Clara to study in the Galapagos last fall, it was difficult transitioning back to “normal” school in January. The experiences I had in the Galapagos were so different than the experiences of my peers in Europe, but telling our stories of the various programs has been great – and I love how we all have something different to share. Although my Galapagos community wasn’t able to join me back in Santa Clara, I have kept in touch with my friends from my program. We text and chat online frequently, and one even visited me in California! Although most of us haven’t seen each other since we left the islands, we will always have the connection of our time together on San Cristobal, and I am truly thankful I was able to share it with all 44 of them.
Since my return I have shared the Ecuadorian culture with my friends and family. Cooking empanadas and chifles, practicing Spanish, and sharing photos, videos and stories. Although nothing will ever be the same as when I lived there, even if I were to visit, it is nice to have these keepsakes to remind myself of my time there last fall. The islands will forever been in my heart, and I am grateful to be able to say I lived and studied in such an incredible location.
For those of you who are abroad right now, or thinking about going abroad soon – I highly suggest taking it all in, and enjoying the experience to the fullest. Say yes to opportunities that come your way, and remember that a year from now you will be looking back thinking about your journey. Keep a journal, notebook or blog, to remind yourself of all the silly little things you did and jokes you laughed at, so you can look back and remember the details when they start to slip from your memory.
Thank you IES Galapagos and GAIAs for helping me experience the most amazing fall of my life.
Also, here’s an awesome article from National Geographic I saw today about the research station we stayed at in the Amazon. Like I said… it’s hard to live a day without seeing something that reminds me of the amazing time I had last year.