Alumni Spotlight: Jackson Whitfield


From mountaintop to ocean deep, Jackson joyfully explores the wonders of nature, and can often be found in the company of good people, food, and music.

Why did you choose this program?

Galapagos has always been a 'bucket-list' type destination. A friend of a friend recommended IOI to me, and after some phone conversations and internet research, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.

I traveled to exotic places before, but mainly just as a tourist. With IOI, I had the opportunity to be so much more. The program helped add purpose to my trip, and it was really nice being instantly plugged into the local and volunteer community.

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

Lodging, meals, and volunteering schedule was all organized by IOI. All I had to organize was getting myself there and how to spend my free time!

The island life was pretty carefree, laid back, and easy, but when questions did arise from time to time the program coordinator was consistently available to answer them.

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

General travel wisdom I've gathered is to pack light as possible while being ready for as many types of weather as possible. Miscellaneous clothing items can be purchased along the way while toiletries, meds/vitamins, or a simple first aid kit when in need shouldn't be taken for granted. Always bring a good attitude and be willing to go with the flow. A good book and headphones help too.

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

Fresh coffee and fruit in the mornings, and once or twice a day walking a stretch of pristine beach collecting data on green sea turtle nesting. Surfing, biking, and siestas on most days. Enough free time here and there for excursions, self-enjoyment, and to get to know the people and animals of the island.

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

It's natural to fear what's foreign, at least initially.

After several trips abroad, I've found that whenever I go to a beautiful place, it's full of beautiful people, so I didn't really have any fears. I was concerned that my volunteer work would have a meaningful impact, and while it's tough to say for certain that it did, it was a very positive feeling to at least try to be a force for good and a part of collective actions that do make a difference.

Looking back, what do you miss most about the time in your program?

The way of life. To live simply, peacefully, with purpose. To love yourself and those around you. Easy to do on an island paradise, a little tougher in the hustle and bustle of the 'real world.'