Alexandra Lee Yingst - 2014 Program Participant

Sea lions on a beach in the Galapagos Islands

The University in the Galapagos is right across from a beach where sea lions like to hang out!

What inspired you to study abroad?

I wanted to study abroad so that I could experience another culture. I knew that the experience would make me a global citizen and would help me appreciate my own culture more, and I was right about both things.

Why did you choose study in the Galapagos Islands in particular?

I chose to study abroad in the Galapagos Islands because of the unique wildlife there. Also, I wanted a place where I could improve my Spanish language skills, and the Galapagos Islands were the perfect place to learn about biology and about South American life.

What did you like about working with IES Abroad?

IES Abroad is a reliable organization that helped me with the process of applying for visas, finding my way in a new country, and making sure I fit in with my host family. I could have applied directly to the university where I studied abroad, but IES Abroad gave me a sense of security that my parents and I appreciated. 

Hiking in Quito near the Cotopaxi Volcano

While Alexandra was in Quito, she hiked up the Cotopaxi Volcano with friends. There was the pre-hike when we still had lots of energy!

What were your housing arrangements like in Ecuador?

I lived with a host family in Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. My families spoke very little English, but it was a great way to learn Spanish. They were both fantastic families with whom I still keep in touch.

What was a normal day like as a student in the Galapagos Islands?

In the Galapagos Islands, we would go to class from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then we would grab lunch at a restaurant for $3.50, go swimming or scuba diving, hang out with our host families, take salsa lessons, and explore the island.

What experience during your time in Ecuador will stay with you forever?

I saw a pod of orca whales, and the memory of seeing one jump out of the water will be forever etched in my mind.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while studying in Ecuador?

I struggled with feeling homesick at times, but this was rare because there was hardly ever a moment when I was not having a good time.

Diving in the Galapagos islands near San Cristobal

Diving in the Galapagos is spectacular. Here's a picture of Alexandra ascending to the surface on a wreck dive off of her host island, San Cristobal. She remembers seeing a sunset just as she broke the surface of the water. 

Why would you go back to the Galapagos Islands if you had the chance?

Even though I spent three months in the Galapagos Islands, there is still so much more to see there. Also, the increase in tourism is rapidly changing the location. Since I left the islands less than a year ago, an entirely new airport has been built on the island I lived on. I want to see how this development is changing the environment there, and I would also like to visit my host family. 

How has your experience studying abroad impacted your life?

My experience studying abroad has given me a hunger to travel more. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied if I have to spend the rest of my life in one location!

Would you recommend your IES Abroad program to other students?

I would highly recommend my IES Abroad program to others. The Galapagos Islands are an amazing place, and there is no better way to experience a location than to live there.

What is one thing you wish you would have done during your program that you didn’t?

I would have liked to spend more time on the other islands because even though I got to know my host island well, I felt like I was a tourist in the other locations.

Cliff Jumping in Santa Cruz

In Santa Cruz, you can jump off of cliffs that are 50 feet tall! Here’s Alexandra’s brave attempt.

What important tip can you give to future students studying in Ecuador?

Future participants should learn as much Spanish as they can before going to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands so that they can meet as many new people as possible!

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

I would go to Iceland if I could study abroad again. I know that Iceland is nothing like the Galapagos Islands, but I am extremely interested in fisheries management. Since I’ve already experienced a country near the equator, I would like to learn about life in a country that is different in many ways.

Did you feel like you had “reverse culture shock” when you returned to the U.S. after your time in Ecuador?

Yes! I still long for the life of the Galapagos Islands, where everyone slows down to say hello and life is never too busy to stop exploring.

If you could go on another IES Abroad program which one would you choose?

I would go to Cape Town with IES Abroad because it is a place where I would like to spend an extended period of time due to the interesting environmental and social history there.