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Studying Abroad: Arina Favilla, BSBME ‘17 (Galapagos Islands)

Name: Arina Favilla
Class/Graduation Year:
Class of 2017
Biomedical Engineering with double major in Marine Science

What semester/months and year did you study abroad?
I studied abroad spring semester of my junior year (Spring 2016).

How and when did you begin preparing for studying abroad?
I began preparing to study abroad starting freshman year. I had to carefully plan how I would complete all of my engineering credits so that I could take a semester off to study abroad.

How did you financially plan for study abroad?
I had the Isaac Bashevis Singer scholarship that covered my tuition. I had to pay the normal room and board costs and airfare.

Why Galapagos?
I wanted a full-immersion study abroad experience that brought the teaching outdoors, rather than sitting in classrooms at a different university all day. While we still had classroom lectures as well, all of our courses were field-intensive.

What University did you attend?
Since UGalapagos is a University of Miami program, we did not attend a university but instead had UM professors rotate flying out to teach two-week long courses.

What courses did you take?
MSC 420 – Galapagos Political Ecology
MSC 421 – Galapagos Terrestrial Biology
MSC 422 – Galapagos Marine Ecology
MSC 423 – Galapagos Conservation Biology
MSC 424 – Galapagos Geology
MSC 425 – Galapagos Community Service Project

Which course was your favorite?
Galapagos Marine Ecology was my favorite course because the course involved snorkeling almost every day to collect data for our projects.

How did the courses fit into your academic path?
They mainly fulfilled my electives requirement for my marine science double major.

There is an assumption that engineers can’t study abroad because their academic schedules are just too intense. What can you say about this? Is it a ‘myth’? How difficult is it, truly?
It is difficult, but it’s possible. You must plan for it early to make sure you can fit everything in. You must also be willing to do on average 18-credit semesters. The hardest part for me was accommodating the three-semester senior design course because I studied abroad spring of my junior year.

What skill-sets have or did you learned at UMCoE that allowed you to excel/succeed in your college career – and study abroad?
Through UMCoE, I developed an engineer’s mindset, learning how to work efficiently and pay attention to details, and persevere through problems and challenges by approaching them from different perspectives. These skills were applicable to my courses during my study abroad because we had to complete several research projects during a short time frame that required finding effective methods, problem-solving, and working diligently.

What did you do during your free time?
I spent a lot of time with my host family on the weekends – either going up to the fincas (farms in the highlands), fishing with my host dad, or cooking with my host mom. I lived walking distance from the beach so I loved going for a run on the beach. During our spring break, we each planned our own trips with a few friends to go to other islands and do different excursions.

Was it easy to meet local residents?
Through our host families, community service projects, and a project for our political ecology course that involved interviewing locals, it was fairly easy to meet people. In doing so, I learned a lot about the local culture and way of life.

What were your favorite local places?
I loved going to the farmers market on weekend mornings to buy exotic tropical fruits, like guanabana. I also loved going to snorkel at Concha de Perla – the bioluminescence there at night is gorgeous!

What were your living accommodations?
I lived with a host family. Each student in my study abroad was paired with a different host family based on preferences (language, children, pets, social interactions, diet, etc.).

What was your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge during my study abroad experience was keeping up with the fast-paced courses and getting used to the quick turnaround deadlines for essays and projects.

How did living in Galapagos improve your language skills?
Living with a host family who only spoke Spanish did help me improve my Spanish. With the basic foundation I had from taking a few years of Spanish during high school, and the fact that I speak Portuguese, I was able to get by just fine.

What was your fondest memory?
It’s impossible to just pick one, so I’ll have to name a few. My host dad was a local fisherman and one of my fondest memories is going out fishing with him and catching some of the largest fish I’ve ever caught. We went camping on top of one of the volcanoes on Isabela, and that night was the first time I saw the Milky Way Galaxy and more stars (and shooting stars) in the night sky than I ever have before. I also have several favorite memories of snorkeling – sighting and trying to keep up with two huge manta rays, watching a much smaller eagle ray feast on an urchin, swimming with playful sea lions, and snorkeling at night to see bioluminescent life (just to mention a few).

Has study abroad influenced how you perceive yourself?
Definitely. I have gained a deeper appreciation of nature and admire how a simple life can be enjoyable and have the potential to profoundly impact other people. My study abroad experience also taught me that I am capable of reaching beyond my comfort zone and doing so can be a very rewarding experience.

How did you apply the skills you developed by studying abroad?
I apply the time-management skills I learned while studying abroad to my everyday life. The skills I gained while doing fieldwork for the field-intensive courses (e.g. always being aware of your surroundings in the field, paying attention to detail, being organized, multi-tasking, communicating clearly) have also been very useful for my graduate fieldwork.

Has study abroad influenced your career path?
My study abroad experience solidified my love of doing fieldwork and my desire to be able to observe and develop a connection with my study system. So, when searching for graduate school options, labs that have a substantial field component to their work really interested me the most.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to incoming students?
I really recommend studying abroad and experiencing a different place/culture. If you know you want to study abroad as an engineering student, start planning for it as early as you can.

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