I spent Fall of 2016 studying abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). Through this experience, I had the opportunity to further explore my interests in conservation biology and tropical biodiversity, while also completing five courses in USFQ’s Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation program. To say that was the gist of it would be a complete understatement, however.
From the get-go, I contacted many Ecuadorian herpetologists from different agencies and universities to develop relationships and seek out opportunities for research. Within two weeks, I had the proper permits to collect amphibians and reptiles needed for the preparation of various scientific publications. These explorations corresponded well with the country-wide travels in the first module of the program, and I could easily collect distribution data and assist agencies like Tropical Herping complete different projects concurrently.
Upon leaving the mainland for Galápagos, I had to begin networking all over again, which proved rather daunting given the limited numbers of researchers permitted there. Despite this, I participated in two conservation research projects with affiliates of USFQ, the University of Miami, and Massey University (New Zealand). One project was geared toward marine iguana recruitment and correlating environmental factors, and the other focused on the demography of Galápagos colubrid snakes. In retrospect, it seems that research is the way to go with regards to experiencing the true splendor of Galápagos — there’s just something intrinsically dreamlike about stepping foot somewhere so withdrawn from the ills of humanity.
Even after the semester ended, I continued to make new contacts in various parts of the country as I journeyed cross-county for 17 days from the Amazon basin to the Andean montane forests to the Chocoan lowlands near Colombia. All in all, these networking efforts and travels procured over 150 species of reptiles and amphibians during my time abroad, enlightening me to sheer breadth of Earth’s biodiversity.
Certainly, studying abroad put my problem-solving skills to the test. To achieve the experience for which I had hoped, I was forced to adapt to situations as they arose, whether that involved communicating with innumerable people, working collaboratively, making quick and precise decisions, or simply planning around everything else. All of this proved my ability to take initiative, self-motivate, and persist through difficult situations to achieve a desired goal. Undoubtedly, my experience has modified my future trajectory, which will now likely incorporate tropical research into my forthcoming doctoral endeavors.
An experience abroad may be the quintessential experience for future conservationists. Henry David Thoreau suggested that humans effectively capture all that is “sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us.” Ultimately, our imaginations must be able to recognize, encapsulate, and value the blank spaces, the undiscovered, and the unknown that we have the potential to contact in this existence.
Indeed, the realization of the bounds of reality is much more attainable and solidified with an extended reach—experiences and knowledge of the complex intricacies of life on Earth from somewhere previously unknown. After all, reality does not originate in one single source. That is the basis of discovering that we, ourselves, are not separate from the rest. That we are consequently forged by our world, and therefore, by saving the Earth, we are saving ourselves.