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Grace Hodges ’26 is a Biology major who participated in the Galapagos Study Abroad program in Summer 2023.

Grace Hodges in wetsuit What made you decide to study abroad in the Galapagos?

I decided to study abroad in the Galapagos for several reasons. I have always heard about Charles Darwin throughout my entire educational career: his groundbreaking work in the Galapagos and his theory of evolution by natural selection has been mentioned in almost every biology course I have taken. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to go to the same islands he traveled and study the same species he did. When I found out that I could, I decided it would be an unforgettable, once-in-a lifetime opportunity…and it was! I also considered the personal growth aspect of the trip; I knew that traveling internationally for the first time would help me build intercultural communication skills, self-confidence, and independence.

What did a typical day in the Galapagos look like for you?

I woke up at 7:30 am and got ready for class, ate breakfast with my host family at 8, and then hung out with my host family until 8:50 when I had to leave to walk to class. We had class from 9-11:30 with a 10-15 minute break in the middle. After class, we went as a group to get lunch and then had the rest of the day to ourselves. There are many beaches great for snorkeling and tanning to choose from; one is even right across the street from the university! The town is also nice to walk around, with great shops, bakeries, and restaurants. We often got $1 ice cream cones from our favorite ice cream cart, which parks at the beach across from the university. There are adorable sea lions everywhere that are interesting to observe and always pose for photos. I would return home around 6 pm to shower before dinner at 7 with my host family. After dinner I played games or watched movies with my host family. A lot of the time all of the adventures of the day tire me out and I’d go to sleep around 9.

What is one experience you had in the Galapagos that is going to stick with you for a while?

Taking a trip to Kicker Rock will stick with me for a while! Going snorkeling and getting to see sea turtles, sharks, and stingrays in their natural habitat was an unreal experience. We started the day with a fun boat ride to a beautiful white sand beach, Cerro Brujo, where we snorkeled, swam, and hung out on the beach. Then we took the boat to Kicker Rock, which is home to many endemic species of the Galapagos, and took pictures and snorkeled around the rock. The excursion ended with a boat ride back to the white sand beach where we had a delicious lunch and then headed home. It’s a “must-see” if you ever travel to the Galapagos!

What did this trip teach you about yourself?

I learned that I enjoy trying new things! In particular, trying new foods was one of my favorite parts of the trip! My host family made delicious meals, many of them traditional Ecuadorian dishes such as patacones, a fried plantain dish.

Grace Hodges with her host family, two adults and three kids. What new experiences or mindsets are you taking from your trip back to UNC?

One mindset I am taking from my trip is that it is good to step outside your comfort zone! This was my first time traveling outside of North America. Additionally, prior to this trip I knew almost no Spanish. However, living with a Spanish-speaking host family in a Spanish-speaking country immersed me in the language and enabled me to pick up on some terms and phrases. I’ve enjoyed learning about the language and unique culture of the Galapagos.

What advice would you give to other students interested in studying abroad in the Galapagos?

Do it! It was one of the best trips I have ever been on, and I made so many new friends! The Galapagos Islands are gorgeous and so fun to explore. The pictures truly do not do the breath-taking views justice. It was extremely interesting to learn about ecology and be able to apply it to observations we were making on our daily adventures. Meeting new people was also really great. If you don’t already speak Spanish, I’d encourage you to start some Duolingo lessons to practice Spanish before you arrive!