Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Libby - Spring 2009 - Galapagos Islands

Hola amigos!

I’m studying at the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences with the International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership. There are about 10 of us in IPSL and

Jan. 4th: city tour of Quito. We visited Old Town Quito, the middle of the world museum, a few churches and el virgen (a statue of the Virgin Mary that watches over the city)
Jan. 7th: our first day of classes at la Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I'm currently taking two classes; one is called "Tourism, the community and the environment" and the other is called "Organizations, development, volunteerism and the environment." The latter is academic-based discussions related to our volunteer assignments.
Jan. 9-11: quite possible the best weekend of my life. A group of 15 of us took a bus for 4 hours to an area called Baños. It is called that because there are many pools in the area that are naturally heated by hot springs. The scenery of this area was absolutely breathtaking. The town was settled in between mountains and everywhere we looked there was another waterfall. On Saturday the 10th myself and two of my friends rented mountain bikes and went riding for three hours amongst the scenery. Then we visited the hot pools and in the evening we went canyoning. Canyoning was amazing. Basically we repelled ourselves down waterfalls. One of them was around a 30 ft. fall and the other was at least twice that size. The other amazing thing about the second, larger waterfall was it was more of a free fall than repelling; it was also in the dark. After the second, we rock climbed back up (without any safety equipment) and had to army crawl under barbed wire. It was an incredible experience.

Jan 19-23: Tiputinin Biodiversity Station in the Amazon Jungle
This was an incredible week. We went to TBS which is supported through USFQ (my university in Ecuador) and Boston University. It is there for students to come and study and for graduate/phd students and professionals to do research. For the last couple of years, National Geographic has been doing a project with infrared technology and cameras. They use the infrared to detect animals once they've stepped in front of the camera. They've captured tons of stuff on the cameras: various monkeys, deer, giant armadillo, tapiers, panthers and most impressively: panthers. It was a really intese process getting there. We first took a 30 minute plane ride to Coca which is where a lot of businessmen go. There are quite a few oil drilling sites in Ecuador's amazon area which seemed a little ironic to me. From Coca we took a 2 hour boat ride on the Napo river which feeds into the Amazon, then an hour long bus ride and another 2 hour boat ride on the Tiputini river.

On our first day, Tuesday the 20th, we split into two groups. In the morning we went on a long hike (around 3 hours) on a couple of the various trails based at the station. We had an extremely knowledgeable guide, Meyer. He was a hunter in the area when he was growing up and really knows the plants/animals of the jungle. We went up to one of the station's observation towers that I believe is around 45 meters up. From the top we were able to see on top of the canopy including a whole group of howler monkeys and various birds. We also took a canoe out to a lagoon where we saw a black cayman (like a crocodile), more birds and giant moths. In the afternoon we went to another observation tower, but by that time much of the wildlife was no longer out. We also did a canopy walk. The station has constructed rope/wooden bridges between trees in one area so we clipped a harness onto a cable above the bridge and walked between the trees, literally in the canopy.

On Wednesday my class worked on a project for most of the day. I won't bore you too much, but basically we discussed a real-life issue of the area. There is an idigenous group called the Huaroni. These are a traditionally migrant people, but because of the oil in the area, they have been forced to settle in houses. This has caused a lot of violence amongst the group and has given a lot of power to the oil companies.

On Thursday some of us took a hike in the morning. Toward the end of our hike we heard a group of spider monkeys making their alarm sound. Our guide led us much closer to them (you can see them in the facebook pictures). He told us that because of the specific sound they were making, there was most likely a jaguar or harpy eagle in the area. I'm going with jaguar just because it sounds more intense. We also went on a night hike that night. We saw a ton of frogs, various insects, lizzards, a huge very poisonous spider. It was pretty cool.

Friday was another travel day back to Quito.

Jan 25-27: Cotopaxi, Chimboraza and Riobamba
Just a day and a half after getting back from the jungle we were on the road again. We drove a few hours to Cotopaxi volcano. We climbed to the first base camp which was really really hard because we were at such a high altitude. I was able to take about 20 steps until I would have to stop and catch my breath and let my heart beat slow down a bit. When we got to base camp we had the best hot chocolate of my life at 4800 meters above sea level (almost 15,000 feet or half as high as an airplane flies!!).

We then drove to Chimboraza where we stayed with an indigenous community in a large houses (it was called Casa Condor). It was without heat so we all slept in like three layers. At one point my friend Aubrey and I had to cuddle a little to share some body heat. It was coooold.

On Monday one of the women of the indigenous community took us on a hike in the area. It was a beautiful walk looking at all of the mountain ranges, vegetation and at one point we walked through an extremely rare, endangered forest. It really was magical (again, you can check photos on facebook in a couple days). After our hike we drove to Riobamba where we went to ISQ--another university through USFQ. There we did a cultural exchange with some of the advanced English speakers at the school. It was a great way to practice my Spanish. The students spoke to me in English and I spoke to them in Spanish.

On Tuesday we had a short class at the university and then drove back to Quito.
I flew into Galapagos on Feb. 1st, and I'm probably never going to leave. It's even better than it looks in all the pictures. The town is small and extremely friendly. My family is awesome. My host mom works at GAIAS (my school here) as a coordinator for international students. She's also taking English classes in her spare time but prefers to speak Spanish with me--which I prefer as well. Her husband works as a finance/business guy for Parque Nacional de Galapagos. They have two kids: a four year old son and an eight year old daughter. They're pretty awesome and they're on summer break right now so they're around all the time. I'm actually living with another girl in my program, which is ok. I'd kind of prefer to be either on my own or with one of my closer friends, but we'll be fine. We each have our own room and bathroom, which is nice.

The school is really nice and really laid back. We can wear bathing suits and sandals (or no shoes, if we prefer) to class. A lot of times we have class on the beach that is right outside the school. I’ve taken one class here so far, and I’m in the middle of my second. The first was called “Health and the Environment,” the one I’m in now is called “Political ecology.” So far all of the professors have been really laid back. We’ve mostly only had presentations, essays and readings for each class. Compared to Elmhurst I’d say it’s around the same, maybe even less, of a workload.

I'm now a certified scuba diver! The whole process was pretty fast. We had a few classes where we watched some videos and had basic instruction from Victor (the owner of the dive shop), then we did a half day in the pool to get used to the equipment and then 4 open water dives (2 at a time). The open water dives were obviously the coolest things: we saw sea turtles, tons of fish and rays all over the place. I think I'm going to go diving this upcoming weekend or next weekend. There's a place not too far from here where we'll most likely swim with some hammerhead sharks. Should be pretty cool.

I started my service (for IPSL) the second week here. I'm working as a teacher assistant/tutor in the English as a Second Language classes. Also, with the help of one of the ESL professors, we have started a language exchange program. For this, we have paired up the visiting English-speaking students with the local Spanish-speaking students. The goal is that they do different conversational activities, spending half the time in English and the other half in Spanish, so that they improve their skills of the language they're learning in a realistic way. It's been really successful, thus far. I’ve also been tutoring a couple of students one-on-one a few times a week because they just need extra reinforcement. Tutoring has definitely been my favorite part of service thus far. I got another assignment today for my service. I’m going to be translating a brochure for the Parque Nacional Galapagos from Spanish to English. My service has been really important to me so far. In fact, it's made me re-think what I want to do with my life: teaching...maybe...?

Other than all of that I’ve just been island life: lying on the beach after class, swimming with sea lions and enjoying the well-above freezing sunshine. Of course I've had my days where I miss things about home (certain food and loved ones), but then I remind myself where I am, and how lucky I am to be here, and I'm fine. This Saturday is my halfway point of my study abroad. I’ll be coming back to the States 9 weeks from Monday, which is so bittersweet. Of course I can’t wait for my first meal back (the food here has been really difficult to get used to: lots of fried fish, white rice and beans) and to see all of my loved ones. But I cannot believe how fast this trip is going; I kind of wish it would slow down a bit so that I can enjoy it a little longer.

Please feel free to send me any and all questions you have! I’m so excited for all of you!!!!


Anonymous Danielle L said...

Hey Libby,

My name is Danielle. I'm going to Guayaquil, Ecuador this summer for the first term and I'm in the preparation course for the study abroad. I know we "have" to post on here, but I have tons of questions to ask you. I won't overload you with all of them now, but I do have a few for you.

First, it's no doubt you are having fun and don't want to leave, but have you adjusted well to life in Ecuador as opposed to life here in the U.S.?

Second, I know you mentioned the food, but what are some of those most exotic foods you have tried?

And Third, Is it hard communicating sometimes with your host family?



8:20 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Hola Libby,

Well it sure sounds like you don't miss those long nights in the Leader office! :) Sounds like you are having a wonderful experience out there. Your blog makes me want to go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Anyways, I'm preparing to go abroad to Granada, Spain over the summer. I was just wondering if you had any tips for anyone getting ready to go abroad?

Michelle L.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danielle: Life in Ecuador is definitely different than the States. For example, time is not a big deal here. People are often late and it is not considered a big deal. The joke is that if you're having a party and want people to come at 7 you should tell them the party starts at 6. That's been kind of difficult to adjust to just because I hate being late, in fact I'm always early. At the same time though, it's been kind of nice. You should also know that life on the islands is much different than on the mainland. First of all, the quality of life is much higher on the islands. The poverty here does not even compare to mainland. Everyone lives much more comfortably and securely on the islands. This brings up another issue: safety. The islands are very safe. I walk home at night by myself and it's not a problem at all. You absolutely cannot do that on mainland, especially in Quito and Guayaquil. The cities are a lot more dangerous, but don't let that scare you. Don't be afraid to go out and explore, just don't go alone. In regard to food, the most exotic thing I've eaten is cuy (guinea pig) and it was just because I wanted to try it. A standard meal is soup, rice, beans, and some sort of meat: fried fish, chicken or beef stew. Be prepared for a lot of fried foods. Finally, host family. My host family is great. I mostly talk with the kids (who are 4 and 8) and my host mother. And it's actually quite easy. I've gained a lot of confidence in my Spanish skills so far. Unfortunately, I don't spend a ton of time with them. My host mother takes classes and works all day and the only meals we have together are dinner on Tuesday and Thursday. I don't know what kind of program you're doing this summer, but if you have any options to travel I urge you to take advantage of them. The coolest thing about Ecuador are the 4 geographic zones: coast, Andes, Amazon and Galapagos. If you can, take a weekend trip to Baños for sure. If you can go, stay at Hostal Plantas y Blancos (it's like $5 a night per person if you go in a group and they have GREAT breakfast). Just to warn you, you're going to fall in love with this country and you're going to want to come back!! It's amazing. Let me know if you have any more questions.

Michelle: Wow, that's a hard question actually. First of all, relax. I was more stressed and nervous than I needed to be. As soon as I stepped on the airplane I was fine, but the weeks leading up to my trip were really nerve-racking. Make sure you have a decent camera and a journal. Pack light. Travel around Spain as much as you can. Be confident with your language skills, you'll be amazed at how much you know already and your confidence will build from there. Try all types of foods and try not to get down if/when you get sick. Bring pictures of friends/family and some of your favorite American snacks. That's the best I can do for now. Let me know if you have any more specific questions.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Danielle L said...

Thanks for getting back to me. I cannot wait to go. I read your blog and looked at pictures and it makes me that much more excited to go!! And I always am a early person too, and I hate being late, so that will definitely be an adjustment.

I am doing IPSL as well. I'm hoping to work in a hospital setting, although I wouldn't mind teaching or coaching sports as well.

I definitely will go to the Galapagos and the Banos.

How is your homework load? I was reading over some of the syllabi for classes I am taking, and it seems like there is a lot of work - but then again, I'm cramming a semesters worth into a month of a summer session.


- Danielle

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Bethany said...

Hi Libby,

My name is Bethany. I am going to Quito in the fall through IPSL. I am very excited to go, and your blog really helped ease some of my worries. I am mostly concerned with social interaction and getting to know people. Was it very difficult to connect with other students there? It sounds like a wonderful experience.

Thanks so much for your advice!


11:24 PM  
Blogger Libby said...


The homework load on the islands is a breeze. It's set up like block scheduling so I've had one class each month. Tomorrow is my last day of the third class. For my first class I had one 8-page research paper. For the second class I had readings everyday, two short (30 minute) presentations and a research essay/presentation. For this class I've had a lot of reading everyday, a midterm in-class essay and we present a final group project tomorrow. It's definitely manageable and I've had plenty of time to go to the beach and do my service. Of course there are days where I don't feel like I can get anything done, but I have.

You're going to LOVE USFQ. It's a beautiful campus and the professors are all really really intelligent. It's a great school. I was nervous about having connections with people, too. But remember, you're going through IPSL and there are probably at least a half dozen people there with IPSL so you all have that in common. We are actually a group of 11 for IPSL and are part of a larger group that totals around 28, I think. I've made some great friends so far that I'm sure I'll stay in touch with after this. In fact, I already have plans to visit a couple of them at their home universities. One thing you have that I don't, is you'll get to connect with local students. Definitely take advantage of that! Let me know if you have any more questions about Quito/Ecuador in general.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Alexina said...


I am so ridiculously jealous of all the AMAZINGGGG things you have done so far. Certified scuba diver?? Canyoning over waterfalls?? Night hikes and seeing poisonous spiders?? Seemingly walking between the trees??

Best of all, I love that you are participating in an ESL teaching program. How do you like it?? Do you help plan lessons or do you just walk around and help whoever it is that needs help? Would you recommend an experience like this to other people?

I will be going to Salamanca, Spain during Fall '09 and I am applying for a teaching internship out there as well. I eventually want to teach Bilingual education or, even, move abroad for a couple of years to teach ESL.

Well, I have much more to say but it is, indeed, time for class so I best be going! I still have a couple of other questions to ask you.

ps. You need to go white water rafting if you get the chance. I went to Costa Rica during Jay Term '07 and we got the chance to do that. It was AWESOME!! I bet you would love it!!

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Jelena S said...

Holla, Libby,

I enjoyed reading about your experiences in Ecuador. Your blog has made me so much more excited about my upcoming study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay to its fullest!

Muchisimas gracias,

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Danielle L said...

Hey Libby,

What classes are you taking? I have two set classes I have to take while I'm there, but I get to choose the third.


8:06 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...


Hope things are going well. I was just wondering if you were taking classes in Spanish and if so, how difficult are they compared to 300 level classes at EC?


12:04 PM  
Anonymous Bethany said...


Thanks for your advice! I know choosing classes is different in the Galapagos program than in the Quito program, but do you have any suggestions for what kind of elective classes to take? Do you recommend more fun/artsy type classes or more academic/history kind of classes?



5:25 PM  
Blogger Libby said...

I would definitely recommend helping out in a classroom like this. I absolutely love it. I have done a couple of teaching sessions--teaching new vocabulary and leading a review session. But my favorite part by far has been tutoring. I've done one-on-one tutoring with 2 students. It's been a great way for me to help them and improve my Spanish. Also, I can see visible, immediate change with their progress.

So far I have taken: "Tourism, the Community and the Environment" "Health and the Environment" and "Political Ecology." I finish "Conservation Biology" a week from today. Then I have a two week vacation, we're going to a few other islands. My last class is the IPSL-related class called "Organizations, Development and Volunteerism." This class started in Quito, we had a midterm essay there, we've got another midterm essay coming up, and then we have a final paper/presentation related to our service.

Unfortunately none of my classes are taught in Spanish because they are so topic-specific and Spanish is not a requirement for my program. I wish one of them were offered in Spanish.

Personally, I'd take something fun if you can. You've got plenty of time to take academic/history classes at EC; take advantage of something unique to USFQ for sure.

Let me know if any of you have more questions!!


11:31 PM  
Anonymous Alexina said...

Hey Libby,

I know you pretty much already answered this (I AM required to ask you) but how did you decide which classes to take? Did you need to take certain classes to fulfill an EC requirement at all? Did someone help you choose your classes when you got out there? I'm guessing that an orientation director of some sort may have helped with the process. Is it similar to picking classes at EC?

How are the islands treating you as of lately?? Any new experiences/adventures to tell of??

Take care!!


4:51 PM  
Anonymous Jelena said...

Hola, Libby,

I have some questions about class selection for study abroad:

1. Are all of your credits transferring to Elmhurst?

2. Were you able to find all the course information on the school website? If not, who helped you find the information that was missing?

Your response would be greatly appreciated.


2:12 PM  
Anonymous Danielle L said...

Hey Libby,

Another question of the week. How did you handle your culture shock? After arriving there, was the environment/culture what you expected.



11:13 AM  
Anonymous Bethany said...

Hi Libby,

Another question for you about culture shock. Have you had any issues with nonverbal communication? When I was in India, I discovered that people there don't nod and shake their heads the same way we do in the US. It was very disorienting! Please share any tips you have.

Thanks for all your advice!

6:12 PM  
Blogger Libby said...

Alexina and Jelena,

In terms of classes I have a set program of classes that I take here. I did not have any option of picking and choosing, they were already set for me. This program is also a little different in that we have block scheduling, so I have one class for three weeks at a time. It's like 4 consecutive J-terms. I had a tourism class in Quito, then a health and the environment class, a political ecology class, a conservation biology class and my final class in Galapagos is called human ecology & maritime communities. Since I'm also doing IPSL I started a class in Quito called "Organizations, Development and Volunteerism" that all IPSL students take. I'm getting a gen-ed credit for the political ecology class, an upper level elective credit toward my Spanish major for the IPSL class and elective credit for everything else.

Danielle and Bethany,
Culture shock has not been a huge issue for me. The biggest thing is that Ecuadorians in general, particularly Galapagueños, don't put a priority on being on time. That's been so hard to adjust to because I like to be early and I like things to be finished when they're supposed to be finished. The other thing that's been difficult getting used to is the food: it's all very fried and a lot of white rice, which is not how I eat at home at all. In terms of non-verbal, there really isn't much. I went to India as well so I know exactly what you're talking about, haha. Here, it's just really chill. I absolutely love it. I can't believe I have to leave in 4 weeks. It's true what they say about the culture shock process, there comes a time when you just don't want to leave and I'm certainly at that point.

I'm going to be traveling next week so I won't have any internet access, but I'll be back at GAIAS on the 19th. Last week I went to Isla Isabela, snorkeled with penguins and sea turtles and eagle rays; went on a 5-hour hike of a volcano; it was incredible. I loved it. Let me know if you have more questions and I'll get back to you after the 19th!!


12:56 PM  
Anonymous Alexina said...

you snorkeled with penguins and sea turtles??!!!! ahhhh!! too cool!!


12:16 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Wow Libby the work sounds amazing! My name is Cynthia and I am a sophomore at Elmhurst. I read your blog and was just intrigued. This J-term I took a class on indigenous literature. My question is have you encountered any writings? and also did you have major culture shock?

7:09 PM  

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