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In summer ’22, UNC undergraduate Sahil Sethi was finally able to fulfill his goal of studying abroad in Galapagos. Sahil, a senior studying Biomedical and Health Sciences Engineering with minors in Spanish for the Medical Professions and Chemistry, went to the Galapagos with the goal of becoming conversational in Spanish. He will attend medical school after graduation, and hopes this new skill will help him reduce language barriers in his future medical practice.
Sahil fully immersed himself not only in his three classes but in the daily life and traditions of his host family during this unforgettable summer. Here is a behind the scenes look at Sahil’s summer study abroad Galapagos adventure.

I love scuba diving, so I went on a total of five dives over my time in San Cristóbal. Here, I am posing by an enormous school of fish (a “bait ball”) roughly 50 feet underwater at the “León Dormido” dive site. Swimming through millions of fish while sharks and sea lions circled the perimeter was a surreal experience. We even saw a school of hammerhead sharks at the end of this dive! 

This is an example of a typical meal I was served while abroad. It consisted of stir-fried shrimp, rice, and fried plantain, with beans on the side. Every meal was also accompanied by fresh fruit juice. The fruits in San Cristóbal were one of my favorite parts, and I discovered that I really like maracuya (passion fruit)!

The photo here was taken at one of the local beaches called Playa Mann. San Cristóbal is absolutely full of sea lions—not just on the beaches, but sometimes on the roads and sidewalks too. The sea lions love to bark, so I captured this shot of a pair of them singing their hearts out.  

On one of our weekends, we took a field trip to a local farm in the San Cristóbal highlands. There, farmer Milton Aguas led us on a hike through the jungle to a waterfall, then gave us a tour of his farm. After leading us through his sugarcane fields, we arrived at a contraption that was used to extract sugarcane juice. It was a mechanical press that was powered by turning a massive wooden bar, so after a little teamwork, we were rewarded with the juice shown in the photo. We also enjoyed fresh coconut, passion fruit, and homemade jellies that his farm produces. 

The Galápagos Islands are full of wildlife. One of the many animals I encountered daily was the Sally Lightfoot crab (G. Grapsus). These crabs start life either dark brown or black, allowing them to blend in easily with the volcanic rocks they inhabit. As they mature, they tend to lose this camouflage as many of them turn deep red with beautiful bright blue accents. The image above depicts such adults clining onto a lava rock as a wave crashes into them. 

Located just a 10 minute drive from ​​USFQ is La Lobería, a long sandy beach with a cove perfect for snorkeling. Prior to taking the picture above, I spent some time in the water and a sea turtle actually ran into me! In that swim, I saw at least six different turtles, dozens of fish, and several marine iguanas. 

After drying off, my friends and I hiked to the large cliffs that immediately flank the beach because they are full of birds. Along the way, we found our path blocked by several stubborn iguanas. One of them had a small bird grooming it, so I captured this shot of the bird perched atop its leg.

My four weeks in San Cristóbal were full of adventure, but by far my favorite part was living with a local host family. My host parents, Marleni and Máximo Bustos, were the absolute sweetest and really made me feel welcome. They both worked in the kitchen at USFQ, so I got this photo with them there in between my classes. A goal of mine while abroad was to finally become conversational in Spanish. This is because I will be attending medical school next year, and hope to prevent language from being a barrier to healthcare. Due to this, I sat with Marleni every night and watched telenovelas, which improved my Spanish far more than any class I have ever taken.

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