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IES Abroad - GAIAS Study Abroad Program
My name is Nina Finley. I'm a student, urban farmer, naturalist, and ultimate-frisbee player from Seattle, Washington. I'm 19 years old and a sophomore at The Ohio State University. I'm majoring in Animal Sciences and Evolution & Ecology. Right now I'm studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands from August til December.
What made this study abroad experience unique?
Nina: I spent three months in the Galapagos Islands!!!!! I have never heard of another program which would allow me to study in the Galapagos for more than a couple of weeks. I also spent a month on the mainland, in which I climbed a volcano, hiked through the Andes, lived in the historic city of Quito, rode horseback through the alpine plains above the city, took a field trip to the cloud forest, rode a night bus to the coast, shopped in Otovalo, and so much more. Most notably, I spent a week at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon, an incredible privilege that few humans will ever get.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Nina: Personally, this has been the best year of my life. I've met great, lifetime friends research mentors. Academically, I fulfilled a full semester of credits for my major in Evolution and Ecology, and secured an opportunity to do independent, publishable research on green sea turtles when I return to South America in the spring.
Professionally, I have been inspired to pursue a career in evolutionary or ecological research. My classes and experiences here are helping me decide on my goals for undergraduate research, graduate school and beyond.
What did IES do for you and what did you need to do on your own?
Nina: IES told me when to arrive and depart, but I had to buy the plane tickets. IES gave me instructions on how to apply for a visa, but I had to do all the applying (which is a HUGE struggle, so start the process months ahead of time!) IES gave me an extra two-day orientation before the University orientation in Ecuador. IES helped me buy a cell phone and plan. They also provided great support, responding to my e-mails and phone calls when I needed them to.
Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?
Nina: The best photo I took was of the Amazon rainforest from the canopy tower. This photo means a lot to me because I have a huge fear of heights, and just getting to the top of the 150 foot tall canopy tower was the scariest thing I've ever done. Then I found calmed down enough to stop shaking and take a photo. The view was exactly what I had always imagined the Amazon Rainforest to be. I felt immeasurably older that night, having already seen the Amazon from above in my life.
Gail Schwieterman is from Ohio, USA and studies Biology at Oberlin College. She is very interested in marine science, loves traveling, and adores all things chocolate.
When: Fall of 2011
Highlights: Since I was on the Marine Ecology track, it comes as no surprise that the most memorable moment of my trip occurred underwater. The program includes several field trips, one of which is a week-long stay on Santa Cruz Island. My class wanted to scuba dive there, so we took a boat out to Gordon Rocks, a world-famous dive site. Although the currents are notoriously difficult, we had warm calm water the entire dive. As we rounded the inside of the caldera, 30+ scalloped hammer head sharks cruised by. It was absolutely incredible to see so many majestic creatures so closely. I will never forget the feeling of complete awe these beautiful animals inspired.
Besides all of the wonderful experiences I had while abroad, the aspect that continues to influences me the most is the community of fellow students I found there. I was worried that I wouldn't have as much interaction with local students with this program as I would with other programs, and I do wish there had been more mixing with locals. However, I would not trade my program-mates for anything. I cannot describe the bonds we made with any word other than "family."
Academically, this trip was truly life changing. I went into that semester as a biology major, with no true interests within the sciences. I came away inspired to pursue a career in marine research, and with the experience to get internships. Having research experience in mangrove restoration, invertebrate abundance studies, and sea lion population monitoring allowed me to get prestigious internships the January and Summer following my program.
Morning: I would wake up at 5:20 am, and then walk to the Uni where I would meet up with my friend and we would walk the beaches counting sea lions for the national park. We'd finish the census at the top of a lighthouse watching the sun rise. After that, we'd head back to the uni where a breakfast of fruit, eggs, granola, yogurt, juice, toast, and coffee was provided. After breakfast, we had class for three hours, usually broken up with a few breaks. Classes were lecture based, but because our class had only ten students, we also had a lot of discussion and were able to tailor the classes to match our interests. During breaks, we'd hang out on the beach and watch baby sea lions playing in the surf.
Afternoon: After class, we would head to a restaurant for lunch, which typically consisted of a bowl of soup; an entree with rice, salad, and fish or chicken; and a piece of fruit for dessert. In Ecuador, lunch is the main meal of the day and most stores close from noon till two while everyone eats. After lunch, we would head back to the uni to work on homework for a few hours. We also went swimming every day. Sometimes we would jump off the old pier and swim around, other days we'd take a short walk over to a more secluded bay and snorkel with sea turtles, morey eels, rays, and tons of fish. There was a local who had an ice cream cart, and he made an appearance at the uni almost every day, and when he didn't, there was a snack stand on the beach across the street from the school.
Evening: In the evenings, we would walk home to our host families. I would usually take a cold shower, then play dolls or watch movies with my 6-year-old host sister. My host mom made dinner, huge portions for me although the rest of the family ate little in the evenings. After dinner, I would either read or walk two blocks to the local bar where we would shoot pool and hang out for a while before going to bed. Some days we took salsa-dancing lessons. A few times we walked out to the beach at night to look at the stars and mingle in the inter-tidal zone looking for invertebrates.
About IES Abroad
Their Roots: IES Abroad was co-founded by Paul Koutny, an Austrian student who had moved to the US on a Fulbright scholarship in 1950. While there, he envisioned a future built on a peace that grew from the lessons learned while studying abroad. He rallied 21 other friends and the crew hopped on the SS Volendam headed for a year of studies in Vienna. Feeling inspired by their own experience in Austria, IES Abroad alums Clarence and Alberta Giese immediately began helping send future groups of students abroad. Before they knew it, 60 years had passed, and IES Abroad remains a longstanding and exemplary study abroad option for students today.
Their Quest: "IES Abroad strives to provide premier study abroad programs for U.S. students that deliver the highest quality education while simultaneously promoting development of intercultural competence."