Alumni Spotlight: Gail Schwieterman


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.

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 entrée 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.