I was inspired to go abroad after I realized how much I enjoyed traveling the world with my family. We had been to Asia and Europe together, so I had the travel experience and confidence in my abilities to be independent. Geography and travel itself have always been areas of study that I particularly enjoy, and I wanted to expand my knowledge of the world.
Why did you choose Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)?
I chose Global Leadership Adventures because of the content that it offered. It was a perfect balance between service projects and adventuring. On a typical day, we would serve from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., and then explore until dinner. There was enough repetition to make it feel meaningful, but not enough to make it redundant and boring.
What was your favorite part about Ecuador?
My favorite part about Ecuador as a whole was the overall happiness and hospitality of the people. Wherever I went, there was always a smile, a "Hola", or a helping hand to make me feel at home. On the service site, we often got to work alongside locals whom we became good friends with. They were always so grateful for even the slightest of things.
On the other hand, the architecture and structure of Quito was stunning, and it was incredibly fascinating to be privileged enough to witness all the ancient churches and intricately constructed buildings.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Getting to know Ecuador and the Galapagos was the best thing I've ever done, and I will not undermine that, but I really think the people are what made it particularly special. GLA did an exceptional job of attracting students from all walks of life, and all ends of the earth. My group had 20 students as well as two mentors; by the end of the program, we truly were a family. As cliche as it sounds, we all appreciated each other and were a really great support system for one another.
I got to learn so much about different cultures, backgrounds from the people I was surrounded with. Most notably, there was one night where we all had to share the story of our lives, and how life led us to this moment. For me, that was the most meaningful and heartfelt part of our bonding journey, because it really broke us all down to our rudimentary parts, and made us all realize just how far we've come. The environment created by the mentors was perfect, and I wouldn't change anything.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff were such an understanding group of people, and it made all the difference. The mentors felt like older siblings to me, and it was similar to my life back home, which was awesome. Although they were ultimately there for your safety, they ended up really meshing into our group and hanging with us like equals.
They knew the perfect way to connect with each student individually, and they made my experience fantastic.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could go back, I would change the way I presented myself. At home, I have always been pretty shy and self-contained, and unfortunately, that is also how I portrayed myself on the start of the trip. In reminiscing, I would be more outgoing to the others instead of letting the other people open conversation. That would have started me on a better foot and carried more momentum throughout the program for me.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of your program.
7 a.m. - Wakeup
7:15 a.m. - 7:45 a.m. - Breakfast and prep for the day
8 a.m. - Depart home base for service
8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Service work
1 p.m. - 1:45 p.m. - Lunchtime
2 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. - Go back to base and gear up for afternoon
3 p.m. - Depart for afternoon excursion
3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. - Excursion time (hike, bike, swim, snorkel, surf, kayak, explore, museum walk, etc.)
6:30 p.m. - Return to base (and shower, hopefully)
7 p.m. - 8 p.m. - A long-awaited dinner!
8 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. - Free time around base
9:45 p.m. - Meeting time with mentors (i.e. reflection on the day, info for the next day, any announcements, etc.)
10:15 p.m. - Mentor group discussion and activity
11 p.m. - Bedtime!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Often times the group would organize a mass game, or activity among ourselves. Equally as often, I would be wiped out from service, and I would nap for a couple of hours.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
In Quito, it was a regular hotel, with two to three beds in a room and private bathrooms with hot water showers, and the first place we stayed, which was a perfect transition between the States and a new country.
On Isabela Island, it was "hotel-esque" accommodation, with two to three beds per room and private bathrooms with cold water showers, and a bit more rustic than the first, but we enjoyed the rooftop hammock area where we could hang out, nap, and play games.
On San Cristobal Island, it was a rustic lodge/cabin type building, with two to three sets of bunk beds per room and shared bathrooms with cold water showers, and the most rustic place we stayed, which made some people a little uneasy. But, we liked the fact that it was family-run, so we got to know and play with the local family. We held arm wrestling tournaments and soccer games on the daily. In addition, it was on a farm, so we got to see all the animals and rituals that normal Ecuadorian families go through.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
My most important tip would be to let loose and have fun. Indulge in every moment and never pass up an opportunity to immerse yourself in the new culture. Take advantage of every minute you get to spend in the Galapagos, because it's a truly mystical place. Appreciate the people around you and be kind to all.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
Aside from the fact that I try to bring my trip into every conversation I have (oops), I am much more aware of my surroundings. First off, we worked in a school on our trip, for a short time, so at home I am much more conscious about how lucky I am to receive the education I do, in the town that I do, with the people that I do. Also, I am much more interested in additional travel - so much so that I am returning with GLA to Asia this summer!
Would you recommend Global Leadership Adventures to others? Why?
I would without a doubt recommend Global Leadership Adventures to any prospective student. The combination of meaningful service, exciting adventures, and knowledgeable mentors made my experience fabulous.
Kate is currently a sophomore in high school who is always eager to travel. She is a year-round competitive swimmer and enjoys all types of watersports and adventures. Kate is an alumni of the 2016 Global Leadership Adventures program in Ecuador and the Galapagos. She is also continuing her travels on the 2017 Global Leadership Adventures program in Bali, Indonesia.