My winter experience travelling all throughout the country of Ecuador and the Galapagos islands was truly one unlike any other; it was a trip which expanded my knowledge of travelling, the world and environment, Latin American culture, and ancient history. Although I have a good amount of experience being immersed in different cultures and countries, I had never been to South America and been surrounded by a country whose first language is Spanish. Drawing back upon my high school Spanish education, I believe this allowed me to interact more thoroughly and in depth with the people and environment there, lending me what I believe was my most rewarding experience travelling thus far. My two main experience goals were to develop practical travel skills that promote safe, stimulating, and productive travel as well as summarize the interconnectedness of geography, history, cultural traits and world issues. I felt as though these motivations set me up to constantly reflect throughout the trip on what I am gaining, whereas I am used to thinking about this as a whole afterward. The most challenging part of my two weeks in was adjusting to the rapidly changing environment as well as communication with the environment around me. Unknown to me, Ecuador actually has an incredibly diverse biosphere as its climate. It has the highlands; at an average elevation of 9,000ft, has thin, moderate air constant and unchanging. Additionally, there are the lowlands, which at sea level offer more humid, warm air. This unique diversity in elevation surprised me. While I knew a country lying on the equator doesn’t signify extreme warmth, rather a constant temperate climate year round, I did not expect the temperate and humidity different between the low lands and the highlands. I learned that this is very common in South and Central America due to the vast mountain ranges spanning completely north and south of the continent. While the temperature ws not an issue, the altitude was—it made it difficult to do every day easy tasks. Hiking, walking, even staying awake was more difficult because the difference in oxygen from Cincinnati. I had to consciously take efforts to breathe more, and monitor my health; if I started to feel sick I would need to try and lie down or drink special tea to combat the altitude sickness. While I was not expecting this change, I was fortunate enough to still have the tools to take care of myself when needed, with help from my family being prepared as well. This challenge taught me to definitely do a bit more research into the environment you will be stepping into and any unique medications you may need to bring that can help, as well as mentally preparing. The second challenged I faced was language, which I have fortunately faced in every foreign country I have visited, so I had plenty of experience on how to deal with this roadblocks. One incredible facet about travelling is experiencing other cultures, which often means you are stepping into a country which is not predominately English speaking. For me, and probably most people, this is an extreme push out of the regular comfort zone. I am used to speaking English and being surrounded by people who speak the same language as me, so it is always an adjustment to step into another language. There are different nuances, body languages, intonation, and even speeds that people speak the same languages. I found that in Quito, the capital city in the highlands, people were much easier to understand because they spoke slower than in other places, making it easier for me to listen and communicate with the locals. However in Guayaquil, the city on the coast, people spoke much faster, so I would have to listen even more carefully and sometimes ask people to repeat themselves. I am fortunate enough to have had three years of Spanish education, however with it being over five years ago, I know I would have liked to remember more than I did. I would find myself looking up 20 or so words each night on things and phrases I wish I knew how to say in the moment. With this experience, I know for travelling purposes, it helps immensely to brush up on common phrases to know to ask the right questions if you ever need it, which also shows respect to the culture that you are trying to communicate using their language. Additionally, my sister had an app on her phone which was a language database that could look up words/phrases online and also translate signage in real time through AR and a camera—something I will definitely use from here on out. Each time I go to a country which speaks another language, I get more and more comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone into a different audio/visual world, which I know only comes with time and experience doing so. It has given me more and more confidence each time trying to master the basics of each language so I can learn and use that each new place I go. I think this experience was incredibly fulfilling. Each day, we would travel to a new city in Ecuador, offering new sights and natural beauty, new people, different food, and a variety of little daily experiences and practices. My favorite part of the trip though had to be the Galapagos island tour. The beauty of these untouched islands was immaculate; I believe it is the most clear, blue beaches, with the cleanest sand. The wildlife was unlike anything I had ever expected; I was inches away from sea lions, sea turtles, dozens and dozens of species of fish and coral. I swam alongside sharks and manta rays, and watched a baby sea lion nurse from its mother while the alpha male sea lion protected the waters. I saw Darwin’s finches perched on a rock while the blue footed booby was on the rock next to it. For the first time ever I was surrounded by more wildlife than people, and it was very eye opening and cleansing. It was surreal to step foot on sand that I could only dream of visiting; I distinctly remember learning about the theory of evolution and in depth of Darwin’s exploration and findings on the Galapagos Islands. This place existed merely as a myth in my mind, and I still almost cannot believe all I was able to do on these secluded pacific islands. By greatest take away was realizing how much we all need to start caring about our planet and taking care of it— which is something I think people often talk a lot about yet only do a little to help. The way the islands have been protected and preserved is so beautiful, and if we took care of the rest of the world and it species like that, we would not be in so much trouble with climate change today and endangered species. It made me realize I want to somehow focus external hobbies and passion toward this effort in the future, whether it’s with an NGO or working on sustainability and renewable resources with my job, I feel like because I was blessed with the ability to go on this trip, I need to bring it back to my everyday life and start to make an impact. Prior to this travel experience, I would describe myself as a more lax and “laisse fare” traveler. I do not think that this is a bad thing, in fact I think flexibility is one of the most important travelling characteristic to possess. However, I think this experience developed me to think more ahead and plan my daily goals and plans for excursions. I am used to letting other people plan for me, however I have learned greater preparation for this trip could have yielded more out of this experience for me, which I realized solely through reflection throughout the weeks. I am so elated with the trip I was able to experience, and it has only solidified by passion for global studies and strengthened my arsenal of knowledge for future travels.