Winter Break usually means a time to relax and de-stress from the fall semester; but this year, I had other plans for my break. Going into my senior year, I knew I was interested in taking one of Penn’s Global Seminars, that offer the opportunity to learn about a subject and then take an international trip related to course themes. While I was looking through the list of Global Seminars that were offered, there was one that immediately jumped out at me: Philosophy of Biology: The Laboratory of Evolution! The course description talked about understanding the history of evolution through the eyes of famous philosophers and naturalists such as Charles Darwin and interdisciplinary studies from biology and chemistry to social sciences and history. Not only did the course fit in perfectly with my biotechnology and biomedicine concentration, it was also related to my minor in cognitive science. Additionally, a part of the class would include a trip over winter break to the famous Galápagos Islands, where Darwin made some of his first discoveries. During the Spring of my junior year, I applied for the course and got in!
During the class-based portion of the course we had the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the Galápagos islands, including their history, their geological change over time and their current state. My professor had an immense amount of experience with the islands as he had several projects that he was working on and was eager to get us involved. The small seminar-sized class allowed the students in our class to get to know each other and have in-depth conversations during class. I had always heard about the Galápagos in other classes talked about as “the place that Darwin made his discoveries” or “the place with the finches”; but taking this course gave me a much better insight into how much of a unique jewel these islands are and how rare the opportunity to visit them is.
Hopping on a plane with my fellow classmates and professor headed to Ecuador was by far one of the best New Years that I’ve ever had. We flew from Philadelphia to Miami and then from Miami to Ecuador, where we would spend the night before heading to the islands. As soon as we arrived on the islands we met up with Ernesto, who would be our tour guide and expert on all things Galápagos during our trip. This trip entailed many firsts for me: from small planes and chartered boats to deep-sea snorkeling and hiking volcanoes. I was both excited and nervous about many of the experiences that I had; but over time I became more comfortable with living on water and began to love it! Swimming with sea lions, sea turtles and penguins and walking through miles of volcanic rock is not something that many people get to say they do in their entire lifetime, but I was lucky enough to have these experiences while in college. This experience challenged me in many ways and opened my eyes up to a completely new world that I will never forget.