As our group travels back to Toronto tonight, there is much to say about these last few weeks together.

We spent our first days in Quito, and for most students, these days were an introduction to group travel. The group bonded quickly (even at the airport before, we took off from Toronto). Those days in Ecuador’s capital were a whirlwind of historical streets and foreign delicacies. At the same time, the students dove headfirst into the rigorous schedule of their classes.

Our bus ride through the mountains took us to the market town of Otavalo. The open air and relaxed pace of life in this region were a welcome change for our group. Students were able to focus full days on their Biology and English courses. Each day, they read, analyzed, discussed, wrote, and explored all sorts of new topics, from Shakespearean drama to mitosis and meiosis. The days were long, but their learning and memories will last much, much longer.

We moved on to the Galapagos relaxed and refreshed. With 10 full days in which to explore some of the most remote islands on Earth, we balanced assignments and lab studies with hiking through lava fields, visiting bird nesting sites, surfing with sea lions, and snorkeling in the open ocean with giant sea turtles and rays.

In the Amazon forest, students learned about species protection from local guides, clung to balsa rafts in the mighty Napo River, and faced their fears on the zip line high in the trees.

Every night during our 25 nights together, we have begun our dinner with a toast. Each student and staff member has taken at least one turn to stand up and say a few words to the group, to give recognition to something memorable or something they appreciated from the day. Now, looking back on our time together, I want to raise a glass to our team. To all the students who made friends, showed patience with each other, and encouraged each other when challenges arose. To the teachers, who got up extra-early to hold study sessions with students, and then marked assignments late into the night. To all the members of Team Alpaca, here’s to us!

As we return to Canada, back to our homes, our loved ones, and our daily lives, our students might take some time to re-adjust. In these weeks away, they have gained much academically, but I think they have learned even more than the English and Biology they studied. They have learned to be more adaptable in new settings and have seen more about the value of patience in trying situations. They have become more curious about other people, foods, communities, and traditions. They know the value of looking out for one another and supporting new friends. They have seen first-hand that experiential learning is an amazing opportunity — one they will not forget.

On behalf of Kelsey, Ryan, and myself, I want to thank each of our students for helping to make this our Amazon/Galapagos program wonderful, and I wish all of you a very happy welcome home. I hope you start planning your next journey soon!

Happy travels,

Diane Vaughan

Program Manager

students in front of Amazing view of Quito