Alumni Spotlight: Katy Blackburn


Katy Blackburn is 19 and currently lives in California. She went on the 2012 Ambue Ari Bolivia Gap trip. She is studying environmental studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. She enjoys taking pictures, being outdoors, and planning her next adventure.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Quest Overseas in Peru/Bolivia?

When I decided to take a gap year, I was more or less a stranger to all of the programs, and I really did not know what I was doing. I knew I wanted to go to South America to work on my Spanish and experience new countries, and I had always dreamed of working with animals. I was also interested in trying some backpacking, and had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu. So basically I had a lot of half-baked ideas and no real plan, which made my mom exceedingly nervous.

When I found Quest though, I stopped looking for programs. It seemed like, and it turned out to be, the perfect mix of language study, volunteer work, and outdoor activities, everything I wanted in my year off . On top of that, it put some of mine and my mom's worries at ease that I would be going abroad with a group, a good idea for a novice traveler like myself.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Day to day activities differed greatly during each phase of the trip. During the language phase in Sucre a day would go more or less like this. During the week we would wake up and eat breakfast together at the hostel. Then we would all go to our Spanish classes. My class usually consisted off grammar, and then watching a bit of a spanish movie. Often we would go out to eat with our teacher and practice speaking or she would bring us to some sort of museum where we could learn about the culture in Spanish.

We would come back to the hostel for lunch and then do something as group, like go site seeing in the city, or go on a day hike. We went out to dinner a lot as a group which I really enjoyed. We also had a lot of free time, which allowed me to really get to know the city. I would go out with others in my group to the market, to the grocery store, to cafes, etc. On weekends, we went on some really nice trips as well.

As for our volunteer phase in the jungle, that was much different. For the first week, when we were working at Jac Cuisi, we slept in a cabin together, ate breakfast with all the other volunteers, and then worked in groups on some sort of construction related task like mixing concrete, putting up fencing, or painting. At Ambue Ari we slept in rooms with other volunteers and met a lot of new people that way During the day, we each worked with different animals every day, be it a Puma, Tapir, monkeys, toucans, or a Jaguar and everyone had a really unique, but incredible experience.

It's hard to really summarize a normal day during expedition. One day you might wake up in a tent before the sun is up, and cook breakfast on a camp stove, in preparation for a day of hiking. A different day you could wake up at a nice hostel, have a big breakfast, and head out for a surfing lesson. Every day was different, but I loved that about expedition.

What made this experience unique and special?

I think what really set my year abroad apart form others is the wide breadth of activities that I got to do. When I walked away from this trip I was a better Spanish speaker, I had some construction experience, I had walked a puma through the jungle, I had backpacked, rock climbed, and surfed. And, on top of that I learned some invaluable people skills, through getting to know people from around the world. I also walked away a more confident traveler in general.

How has this experience impacted your future?

My experience with Quest has impacted my future in many ways. Studying Spanish in Sucre made me realize that I want to study abroad in South America in a couple years. My experience working with animals and learning about conservation has been really applicable to my studies in environmental science and has lead toward a job at my university's marine center.

Because of all the outdoor experience I got, I was inspired to do a 5 month outdoor leadership training course, and was recently hired as a trip leader for my school. Personally I plan on traveling a lot more, and Quest Overseas really opened a door for me when it comes to going abroad and especially adventure travel.