Byram Hills High School Takes On Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands!

By Hayley Croke

When planning a winter vacation, many are looking for an exotic destination to explore, different from the environment that is typical of their daily lives. However, a handful of Byram Hills High School students interpreted the idea of a change in scenery to a whole new level.

Maggie Croke(7)
Image courtesy of Hayley Croke

Over winter break, a group of seniors, accompanied by a group of teachers, took an educational trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. The foreign language department has a lot of experience with these types of tours. Two years ago this program was spontaneously revived by Señor Odynocki and Madame McCarthy. When deciding how to bring the program back to life, Señor Odynocki and Madame McCarthy turned to Mr. DiMartino, who had organized trips through Education First, or EF, for a number of years. Señor Odynocki commented that the special thing about EF was that “their itineraries are made for students who have an open mind and are interested in coming into contact with things they are not comfortable with… they specialize in creating itineraries for high school students, with 50 years of experience.” Mr. Clark was one of the school chaperones on the trip. He is a firm believer that these trips provide great benefits to students. “The culture and the places really bring the language to life. Experiencing the language in real life can be more impactful and more meaningful than in a classroom environment,” explains Mr. Clark.

Maggie Croke(8)

Students first learned about the trip in their foreign language classes. For seniors Alexa Jacobson and Lauren Berman, they could not wait to take advantage of this awesome opportunity. Lauren Berman commented that she was looking to shake things up from the normal family vacation and further explained, “It sounded like a great chance to see all of the science but also learn the language and culture while being with a group of people you know.” Her desire to go beyond her comfort zone made her the perfect candidate for the trip.

Alexa Jacobson was not only excited about the group of people going but the activities they had lined up as well, “I thought it was a really good group of people going, I heard that the teachers were really cool and the itinerary was fully stacked.” The typical day for these students was jam packed from start to finish. A single day on the trip usually entailed a 5:00 am wake up and 6:00 am breakfast to hop on a 7:00 am boat to travel to a different island. Once they arrived at the day’s designated island, they would participate in an activity ranging from hiking to scuba diving. They typically took a break around 2:30-3:00 pm for lunch. Afterward, they would head back to the hotel by 5:00 pm to get ready for a 6:30 pm dinner. After dinner, students would hang out and reflect on the day until lights out around 11:00 pm.

Maggie Croke(3)
Image courtesy of Hayley Croke

However, all this fun did come with a lot of planning. Mr. Clark and Señor Odyonocki agreed that having everything in order was vital for the success of the trip. The biggest challenge with the organization came with keeping all of the paperwork intact. “You have to make sure all of your ducks are in order. You can’t be very laissez-faire about it; you really have to know what you’re getting into and what’s going on at all times” commented Señor Odyonocki. The teachers, however, want to give credit to the students who came on the trip for being extremely self-sufficient and responsible, making the job easier for the them. After speaking to both students and teachers who were involved in the trip, it is clear that each and every individual worked together to create the unforgettable experience they shared.

This type of teamwork and cooperation was needed especially with all the traveling. While the girls loved the activities, they did admit that the amount of travel was straining at times. Lauren Berman noted, “By the end of the trip we had taken six trains and four boats which was pretty crazy. We could never really unpack because we were constantly going to different hotels. I guess that’s what you have to do though because you’re only there for a short period of time, and there is just so much to see.” However, the students did not allow the traveling to tire them out and were always ready to take on what was planned for the day upon arrival at a new site. The teachers felt the strain of the crazy amount of traveling they did as well, agreeing that a lot of energy was needed to complete everything on the itinerary.

Maggie Croke(12)
Image courtesy of Hayley Croke

This trip shocked both the students and teachers alike. Both teachers and students remarked that one of the most fascinating aspects of the trip was seeing how different the culture of the Galapagos is from ours. Alexa Jacobson commented that the most shocking part of the trip was observing the relationship between the people and animals. She recalled, “I would be lying on the beach and I would look over and see an iguana right next to me. The animals there have no reason to be afraid of humans which is why they are so comfortable around people.” Lauren agreed, noting that overall there was an understood respect for the nature and wildlife of the island. Mr. Clark had a different reaction to the wildlife at the Galapagos and remarked, “In history, many people have taken advantage of the island. Pirates and whalers used the islands as “stopping off” points. Even up to current day, the residents and tourists have put immense pressure on the islands, resulting in the extinction of species and destruction of the environment.”

These girls can speak for the entire group when they say they really do miss it: everything from the people to the weather. It seemed at times as if they were in an alternative universe; their worries and concerns at home seeming so foreign. Students really enjoyed the ease of going day to day with an uncertainty of what the day would entail. “You don’t really have any idea of what you’re going into until you’re doing the activity, which was such a different experience than the way things are set up at home,” commented Jacobson.

Now that this trip has proven a success, the same teachers are already planning next year’s trip to Cuba! This trip is open to both seniors and juniors and has a lot of potential to be something extremely memorable. The teachers feel Cuba will be extremely interesting due to how sheltered it has been. “It’s been in its own bubble for the past 50 years, or at least America hasn’t been able to be in that bubble. As a result, Americanization and globalization have not influenced Cuba’s culture. It should be interesting to see how life has developed under these circumstances,” says Señor Odynocki. As for next year’s trip, both senior Alexa Jacobs and senior Lauren Berman have one thing to say, “Do it!” They loved their experience and believe others would too!