Once I received the notification from BioAdvise that USF is offering a study abroad opportunity to the Galápagos Islands, I had to do a double take on what I was reading. Around the time when I was considering attending the University of South Florida for college, I heard about this specific destination, but then the Coronavirus hit. I accepted admission into this college regardless, as I knew this was where I belonged. I never heard anything about it again…until that day.
My name is Jessie Dalheim and I’m a junior earning my Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Animal Biology Concentration. My expected graduation date is May of 2024. During Summer Session B, and starting late in July, I will be traveling from the Tampa Airport; to the Miami Airport; to Quito, Ecuador; and then to the Galápagos Islands. The course along with this trip is Island Ecology and Biology, which is split up into two different teaching methods. The first portion involves a few weeks of meeting online to discuss different topics such as more on the conservation of the islands, the geology, the historical background, and the animals there. The second half is where we get to experience the Galápagos! While we are there, we are scheduled to do many exciting activities such as: Conduct fieldwork monitoring and collecting data on wild Giant Tortoises (individuals on this trip are given an exception to the Galápagos National Park visiting rules stating all visitors must stay 6 feet away and no touching of the tortoises); aid conservationist(s) in removing as much as we can of an invasive species there, restoring the natural ecosystem; hike Tortuga Bay and Santa Cruz; visit the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Lonesome George’s Monument, the El Chato Reserve, and a tortoise breeding center; develop a field-based research project; and meet with other students that call the islands their home!
At first, I wasn’t too worried about gathering all the items and clothing I would need for this trip. I figured a lot of it I would already have at the house or I could borrow specific things from my family/friends. As I started to really look into the packing list…I realized some things were going to be harder to get than others. For instance, medications… which I had a majority of those in the bathroom already. Although once I checked their expiration dates, I didn’t want to take a chance as some were over a year expired. We have all been there, done that when it comes to medications: out of sight, out of mind. Similarly, thinking about the days that I would be out of the country, I ended up having to get a refill on one of my medications as well. I’m so happy I remembered that because obtaining specific pills would definitely be harder in another country, especially one I’ve never been to. Another one… sunscreen, which I knew my family had piles of. It is summer and we like to take advantage of those rays next to a pool and all. However, I never knew specific chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene are chemicals present in the majority of sunscreens, and are considered not “reef safe.” In fact, some sunscreens even labeled as “reef safe” had one or more of those three chemicals in them, which shocked me as well. With that being said, you better believe I plan to inspect all the ingredients of any new sunscreens I may choose to buy in the future. If you are considering studying abroad, don’t let these little things you may not have at your house, or that you may need to visit Amazon to buy, stop you from going. I know even before going on this trip that the hours of sunscreen research and Amazon buying will all be worth it.
It’s both funny and a little nerve-racking that very soon I’ll be meeting a group of individuals I’ve never met in person before, only online. I’ll then proceed to travel to another country with them, taking both plane and boat to get to our destination. I’ll eat foods I’ve never eaten before, and see things I’ve never seen before. Then I remember that throughout the course I’ve gotten to get a sense of all their personalities. From the way they present themselves and how they speak, to even their responses when jokes are thrown around during the meetings. I have a feeling these people will be more like me than different. Outside of class, we have communicated by texting about hiking shoes, travel insurance, cameras, you know, the basics of getting to know each other. After all, we all are Bulls.
I’m a homebody, so taking this step is a big one for me. Besides a cruise, I’ve only ever been out of the country once, and that was to Canada to view Niagara Falls. The cruise I remember a little bit more of, but when it came to the Falls, that was when I was very young. I was so young I can recall the Falls, but my memory of that consists of a lot of water and mist. I know this trip will be good for me though. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I learned that this group of islands existed.
As it got down to my last few days before leaving, I knew I needed to spend time with my close friends and family. Ironically and in my favor, the time I got to spend with them was more than usual as earlier in the month it was my birthday. Besides that, mentally I’m preparing myself as I know there will be times on this trip when I’ll be unsure of things. While keeping that in mind, I know I’m wholeheartedly ready to fully immerse myself in this trip.
With that being said, I’ll see you guys on the other side!