Alumni Spotlight: Chelsea Braithwaite

Chelsea is a senior in high school at The Hun School of Princeton and loves learning about Biology and Environmental Science. She has been to the National Congress of Future Scientists and Technologists and aspires to major in Biology in college. She plays varsity tennis and builds set pieces for the school plays.

Why did you choose this program?

canoeing the Amazon at sunset

The Peru trip appealed to me because of the hands-on investigative research aspect. The other experiential trips that my school offered did not have science-based programs, and that is what I wanted.

I want to major in Biology so going to the Amazon and learning about the environment and the animals that live there gave me an impression of a career in investigative research.

Also, the Amazon is such a unique and amazing place that I could not pass up the opportunity to go there while working in a field I love.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I went with about ten other students from my high school and two teachers. My school's traveling abroad program and the two teachers that came with my group truly did everything for us on this trip. My school organized the whole trip, put us in contact with someone who had worked on the Peru surveys before, and gave us general information about Peru.

The other students and I researched Peru, the local culture, and the animals that we might see in the forest. We were all very prepared to travel and have an amazing time.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I recommend this trip to everyone, even if you don't like science that much, or don't know that much about biology or ecology.

You will learn about biology and ecology in the seminars on the boat, and the research isn't difficult. It's just fun!

You hike in the forest and float down the river to count animals and track their behavior. I'd advise others to take lots of pictures and keep a journal. You will never want to forget this trip or the beautiful views of the Amazon!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

A typical day along the Amazon river, or in the forest, includes three research surveys and lots of free time to enjoy your vacation and spend time with new friends. The earliest surveys start at 5:45 in the morning, while the latest end at 11:00 at night. Some of the days are long, but it is worth seeing all of the wading birds, macaws, terrestrial animals, caimans, and frogs.

Sometimes there will be a lecture in the afternoon about conservation of the Amazon, or the research that is currently being conducted in the area. These are interesting, help you learn more about biology and ecology, and teach you information that you can use during your surveys.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going into my experience abroad was with the dangerous animals that live in the Amazon. There are countless animals that could've hurt anyone at any time, like bullet ants, but the guides and local biologists are used to seeing all of these animals and caution everyone to stay away from certain dangerous areas.

No one got hurt on my trip, and I never at all felt as though I was in danger. All of the animals are interesting and fun to learn about, even the dangerous ones.

What is your favorite story from your time abroad?

My favorite story to share happened when I was fishing on a survey. A guide and I left the group in a little canoe to go set up a fish net. The river was beautiful and calm, but then we went into this creepy part of the forest with spiky trees where we had to set up the net.

After we had set it up, we starting paddling our way back to the main boat where everyone was fishing with rods. On the way back we saw a sloth high up in a tree. The guide told me to wave to it, and if it waved back, it was good luck. I thought there was no way that the sloth would wave back, but I waved to it anyway to satisfy the guide, and the sloth actually waved back!

It was funny and surprising. I will never forget this experience in the Amazon.