Nikki van Noord - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I've always had a deep passion for traveling; I've done quite a lot of it and I'm only 17. I aspire to spend a good amount of my life going abroad (whether it be for work, school, adventure, etc.), because I find it is the best way of educating yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, and finding out more about yourself and other cultures.

Why did you choose GoEco’s marine research program in italy?

I chose to go do a dolphin and marine conservation project in Ischia, Italy because it was something completely out of my comfort zone. I had never sailed a day in my life, and for the project I lived on a sailboat for two weeks. I had never really learnt much about oceanography or dolphins, so I was eager to try something new and dive into a new adventure. I think I was mostly interested by it because I love the water, and I thought, “hey, I'm a swimmer I'll love sailing!”

I couldn't have been more right. I absolutely loved my experience and wouldn't change it for the world. That's the thing about picking a specific program, you're going to love it no matter what if you have a natural pull and interest towards the project.

Bottlenose Dolphin in the ocean
Bottlenose Dolphin

What was your favorite part about Ischia?

The island of Ischia, off the gulf of Naples, was the most magical island I'd ever been to. It was straight out of the 1950s, as if nothing had changed on the island in over 60 years. The people were amazingly welcoming, the food was to die for, and the lasting friendships and Italian lifestyle will forever hold a special place in my heart. The captains of the sailboat were locals, so I got to learn a lot of history about the island, which was also fascinating.

What made your experience abroad unique? 

What made it unique was that I knew that at that moment, no one in the world was experiencing something quite like this, which was a great feeling. I became very close with the crew, which made it very easy to become attached to the lifestyle and the boat. It was extremely hard leaving such a different experience, but I will be returning next year and I know that it will also be as unique, but in a new different way. I couldn't be more excited. I will also most likely do another project, but in a different country, to live a new unique experience.

Sailboat at sunset
Sunset Sailing

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They were amazing the entire time, always willing to help me adapt to their lifestyle and try new things.

Staying with locals is the best way of travelling because it lets you see things in a truly different, but amazing, perspective.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wouldn't have changed a thing. The experience would not have been the same and I wouldn't want it to be any different than it was. Except I probably would have brought a windbreaker, because it was extremely windy out at sea sometimes!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

We would wake up, have coffee and breakfast, and then prep the boat for departure. Around 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. we would set sail, and that was when the fun started. We would sight between fifteen and eighty dolphins a day and we would spend two to three hours photographing their beauty, observing their habits, recording their acoustical data, and filming them underwater. Whenever there was a sighting, everyone on board had a special task to do, whether it was sailing the boat, filming, photographing, recording sounds, or just simply observing. There was also written work that went with all that, which we would usually get done towards the end of the day on our way back to the port, such a photo identifying the dolphins with previous sightings, analyzing the data from the day, etc. It was amazing because everyone on board had a different task to do and everyone helped out.

We would come back to the harbour around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., and go into town to get some gelato and ingredients for dinner. Then we would drink, laugh, dance, cook, sing, eat. We would just have fun and enjoy each others company; we were all a bit crazy so it worked out pretty nicely.

Girls lounging on a sailboat
Working Hard or Hardly Working?

What did you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Whenever we had a moment of free time, we would usually do yoga on the port. I would also go running, or simply for a walk around the island. Exploring foreign places is a lot more interesting by foot, undoubtedly. On my day off I took a ferry back to Naples and visited Pompeii, which was also pretty spectacular!

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I slept in a small common cabin in the sailboat. At first I could not believe I had to sleep somewhere so small because I am so tall, but I quickly learnt to live with it and it became quite cozy and comfortable. The boat wasn't too big, but it was very homey, which I loved about it by the end of the first week I called the boat home which definitely says something about how comfortable I already was on the ship.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Definitely leave room for the unexpected, it's a new adventure everyday with new people and new things happening, so soak it all in and take whatever comes your way. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Go into the project with an open mind, a windbreaker, and a lot of sunscreen, you'll definitely have the time of your life.
Girlfriends on a street in Italy
The Crazy Girls

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

That's a difficult question because it has changed me so much as a person in the little time I was there. It was truly an eye-opening experience and I definitely discovered that I am passionate about dolphins, whales, and the ocean in general.

Every single time I go abroad, I feel like a different person. My goal, whenever I get back, is to hold on to the person I was and remember to be a little more like her in my everyday life by remembering all the amazing memories and holding on to them.

Would you recommend GoEco’s program to others? Why?

I would 100 percent recommend this project. If you're looking for something new and exciting, you should definitely do this project. It's a unique experience for everyone, but I can guarantee that you'll make it your own and get as much out of it that I did.