Growing up, everyone learns about how Charles Darwin observed the finches in the Galápagos Islands and how that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection. However, not many people think that they would be one day able to visit this revolutionary locale in person. Amazingly, in the Spring of 2019, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal Islands in the Galápagos and study the wildlife with my honors class: Charles Darwin and the Science of the Galápagos.

I chose to go on this trip because I have always loved Biology and I wanted to study at a place that transformed the way humans think about the evolution of species. The journey lasted eleven days during Spring Break and it changed my life. From the very first moment I stepped off the plane, I was immediately blown away by the beauty and serenity of the islands. I was surrounded by gorgeous blue tides with creatures and animals around me that are found nowhere else in the world. Our class was split into groups and our assignment was to observe a specific species during our time on the island to write a research paper about. My group was assigned the giant tortoises, the oldest living reptile in the world. We were able to get up close with the giant tortoises and observe them in action.

Along with our group projects, we were also able to learn about the geology, marine life, and plants of the islands. Tour guides taught us about the islands’ volcanic origins and led us through a lava tunnel, which is an underground tunnel that was once carved out by flowing lava. Other days, we were able to snorkel at different beaches and observe a vast amount of sea creatures. In one day alone, I swam right next to a shark, a ray, a puffer fish, and even a large sea turtle. We also observed the impacts of introduced species to the islands. When humans started settling the islands, new species of plants were brought over to farm. One such species was the wild blackberry bush, which is now spreading around the islands at a rapid rate, out-competing many native plant species. We learned about the many ways in which the Galápagos park rangers are combating this invasive species and others like it.

Overall, I learned so much while on this study abroad trip and I have really grown as a person because of it. I now have a deeper understanding of the process of evolution and I feel a stronger connection with not only the wildlife coexisting with humans on earth, but also the planet as a whole. Additionally, I gained valuable research and observational skills that will aid me in my future professional goals. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn about my subject of interest outside of the typical classroom setting.

Garrett Allen is majoring in Biology (pre-professional) and spent Spring Break 2019 in the Galapagos, Ecuador as part of a faculty-led trip through the Honors College. Garrett  had the following to say about studying abroad, “As a result of my study abroad experience, I now feel a deeper connection with this beautiful planet we all call home. The world has so much to offer and I urge you to explore as much of it as you can through study abroad.”

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