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Gillian Munro ’20 is an Exercise and Sports Science major who participated in the Galapagos Study Abroad program in Summer 2018.

Gillian Munro stands at the top of a grassy hill, her surroundings shrouded by fog.

Why did you choose to study abroad in the Galapagos?

One of the reasons I chose to study at UNC was because of the Galapagos program. I knew I wanted study abroad to be part of my college experience and I have been a huge science nerd ever since I was little. As someone who loves ecology, genetics, and marine environments, there isn’t a more historically significant location than the Galapagos Islands.

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

One thing unique to San Cristobal is that the locals go all out to celebrate every holiday, even those that are considered minor in the US. For the summer solstice the whole town got together and created a party like I had never seen before. Children performed cultural dances, husbands set off fireworks, clowns dotted the crowd, and everywhere you looked there was delicious street food. While some friends and I were watching the dances, a man approached us while wildly dancing with a live chicken. He enthusiastically encouraged us to all take turns dancing with the chicken; it is one of the strangest and memorable things that has ever happened to me to date.

How did your summer experience impact the way you view the world?

One aspect of my summer that has impacted my world view the most was learning about the everyday realities of life from my host family’s perspective. I experienced the hardships that they and their entire community face on a day to day basis for things that I had never thought of before. For example, a bad storm could mean that the entire island must endure a food shortage since all food to the island is transported by ship. I realized that things I had taken for granted – such as reliable food, warm running water, and accessible medical care – are actually privileges for many families in the Galapagos.

What piece of advice would you give a fellow student who is considering studying abroad in the Galapagos?

If you speak any Spanish at all, talk to everyone you can! The locals are a wealth of knowledge and appreciate you making any sort of effort to speak to them in their native language. You will often get to know people better, and no one will care when you inevitably mess up sometimes. If you do not speak Spanish, start learning now! Almost everyone in the Galapagos speaks some English due to the enormous prevalence of tourism, but not everyone does. It will increase the experience of your summer tenfold if you can understand basic conversations and are willing to learn.

What classes did you take while in the Galapagos?

I took “Environmental Chemistry Processes” with Dr. William Vizuete and “The Blue Planet: Earth Systems” with Diego Riveros-Iregui.

Describe a typical day for you in the Galapagos.

I would wake up around 6 am, eat a breakfast of fried eggs and tostones prepared by my host mom, and walk to school. I lived in the very outskirts of town, so my walk was about 45 minutes. Each morning, I walked through the town, said hello to the shopkeepers at they opened shop, and meandered along the boardwalk to see all of the animals. I usually arrived to class early, so I would lay out a towel on the beach in front of the school and read. Depending on the day, we might be doing an in-class lecture or taking a field trip into the interior of the island. On lecture days we would all congregate at the little shops across the street from the school for lunch and eat delicious meals of soup, rice, plantains, and the best juice in the whole world. On field trip days we would be hiking through the jungle and taking samples of the soil, humidity, or air quality. After class it was not uncommon to head to one of the various beaches or bays to snorkel, tan, or just hang out. Most of us returned home for dinner and then would meet up afterwards in town at various coffee shops to study and do homework.

Gillian Munro stands in the street next to a giant banner announcing the "IIIer Simposio" in Galapagos. If you could only pack 3 things in your suitcase to prepare you for the Galapagos, what would they be?

  1. Dive Equipment – if you don’t dive, get certified now and you will not regret it.
  2. Sunscreen – the sun at the equator is no joke! Seriously, it costs a fortune on the islands, so bring as much as you can carry.
  3. A good attitude – things will be wholly and wonderfully different than you could ever expect them to be at every turn. Be open to the changes and be willing to learn. Never forget that you are in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world.