GoAbroad Interview

Amanda Marie Lyons - Assistant Director of International Programs Galapagos

Amanda Marie Lyons

Amanda grew up on Long Island, and went to University at the New York Institute of Technology, where she studied communication arts and TV production. After working for Disney, WESH 2 News, and on the set of the CW show One Tree Hill, she decided to take a break from the TV world and found herself teaching English in the Galapagos. Amanda started with IOI Adventures in 2011and she is now in charge of coordinating all aspects of IOI Adventures’ work in the Galapagos.

How did you get connected with IOI Galapagos Adventures? 

I was on a family vacation traveling around Galapagos in 2010 when I met IOI volunteers who raved about volunteering here. Their exact words were, “If you have the time and you’re looking for an amazing, life changing experience, come volunteer in Galapagos!” When I got back to the states, I immediately emailed the IOI Coordinator; she was actually looking for an English teacher. It was like fate! Within a few months I was back in paradise and working in the lovely community of Puerto Villamil. I started as an English teacher for a year and later accepted the international coordinator position for Galapagos programs.  

Girl hiking in Alaska
Switching it up from “Island life” and traveling around Alaska

Tell us a bit about your “travel history” and how it has shaped your career.

I always loved the ocean! I got my open water dive certification when I was 13 years old. Every year after that, my parents and I would vacation to different islands for a week or two to go diving. A few weeks a year just never seemed enough to me. I’m a beach girl, so living on an island was always a dream of mine. Although my passion was the water, I went to university for communication arts with a specialization in TV and Film productions. I would have never guessed that my life and career would have ended up here.

How do you use your past professional experiences, from Disney to NBC, in your current role?

I worked for Disney as a host for one of the shows in Hollywood Studios and for WESH 2 news, a NBC affiliate, as an associate producer in Orlando. Disney’s customer service is superb! Plus, it’s the happiest place on earth! I use those customer service skills and a smiling happy attitude with everyone who comes through IOI. Working on a news set requires you to be organized, work in a fast pace environment, and work well under pressure. While being organized and working under pressure has helped me in my current role, it took me awhile to get used to the not so fast pace setting and what’s known here as “island time.” It’s definitely completely different from what I’m used to, but I must admit, I really love the laid back lifestyle!

IOI Adventures Staff celebrating Christmas
Amanda (on the right) celebrating Christmas and her daughter's 1st birthday with the IOI family.

What makes IOI Adventures unique?

Our program allows each participant to have an intercultural exchange not only by working with the local community, but having the opportunity to live with a local family. By living with a host family you really get to step into their shoes and immerse yourself in their culture and daily life activities. You also get to learn and/or practice Spanish through immersion. 

How do you ensure each participant has “an amazing adventure”?

Galapagos is a pretty amazing place in itself. There are not too many places in the world you can step outside your door and see sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, giant tortoises, flamingos, and tons more! I think the key to any wonderful adventure is being prepared. Here at IOI Adventures we make sure our participants are fully prepared for all aspects of their trip before arrival and onsite. Whether it’s what to pack, how to get here, or what exciting tours to do while here, we always keep our volunteers informed.

IOI Adventures volunteers with certificate of appreciation in Ecuador
Amanda (middle) saying “hasta luego” to volunteers and giving them their certificate of appreciation

What does IOI Adventures’ on the ground support and orientation look like?

We are very hands on and thorough, making sure that all our participants are properly prepared and taken care of. All volunteers arrive on Mondays. We send an IOI staff member to pick you up at the dock in Isabela and take you to either your host family’s house or our volunteer house.

We provide each volunteer with a welcome packet that consists of a map with all the key locations, emergency contacts, list of restaurants to receive their meals, national park rules, and an ID card. Upon arrival, they get a town tour to get to know all the ins and outs of our little island.

Tuesday morning is the project orientation. Our onsite project coordinator takes you to your volunteer project to meet the local staff and to see how you will be spending your next few weeks. That afternoon, we give our IOI orientation, which is an array of topics that include IOI’s history, what we do in the community, culture, health, activities and tours to do in your free time, etc. We also provide 24/7 on the ground support in case of an emergency.

Of all the IOI Adventures programs you coordinate, if you could participate in one program, which one would it be and why?

I would have to say being an English teaching assistant. I love the kids! It’s such a rewarding experience working with children and helping them further their education. When you see them on the street and they come running up to you and give you a hug, you get the feeling that you are doing something right.  

IOI Adventures students in Ecuador
Amanda (middle front) teaching a bachata and salsa dance class to students and volunteers

What do you love most about your job?

I love seeing the bonds made between our host families and participants. Seeing how they connect in such a short period of time is amazing. Everyone leaves Galapagos knowing that they will always have a second home to come back to and will forever carry in their hearts a part of Isabela and these beautiful people.

Do you have any exciting program changes or additions on the horizon for 2017 that we should keep an eye out for?

We always have exciting new adventures going on, so follow us on social media to get updates about new developments and new positions!