Sayville graduate Nick Mancuso had the rare opportunity to spend a semester studying in the Galapagos Islands as part of the International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership and attending the Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences.
Patch caught up with the junior at Siena College in Albany, who grew up in Sayville, to find out about the experience, how he got involved and what he would advise peers contemplating such a study experience.
Mancuso, who graduated Sayville High School in 2010, hopea to move in to the field of wildlife photography and cinematography once he graduates Siena in 2014.
How did you first hear about the program?
I got the info about a number of different programs from the study abroad office here wound up coming to two choices: the Galapagos and Tanzania. I knew another student in my major (Environmental Studies) had just spent the Fall Semester (2011) in the Galapagos when I was trying to narrow down my decision early on in the Spring Semester (2012). I spoke with him a bit about the program and it couldn’t have sounded better.
Why were you interested?
As an Environmental Studies Major, and having always had a distinct appreciation of nature, I knew I wanted to go somewhere to do field work and experience the environment firsthand rather than in a classroom. Not only did GAIAS allow me to do that, but how could I pass up a trip to the Enchanted Islands while they are still intact? IPSL was the only program offered through Siena for me to go to the Galapagos and as the name shows, part of the program required me to do volunteer hours and take a class in service-learning. I have always been interested in helping others and in all of my extracurriculars throughout high school, especially Boy Scouts, there was a significant service component. It was something I was familiar with that I know would have turned some people away from the program, and I am glad I was able to volunteer abroad.
Why the Galapagos Islands?
I wanted to learn about and experience the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos and being able to go there and take classes I wouldn’t be able to take at home was more than enticing. The Islands are an ecological hotspot given their unique characteristics and high endemism and it is every scientist’s dream to do research there. I knew I wanted to be outside and have hands-on field experience instead of learning solely in a classroom; I wanted to experience the incredible ecosystems and the one of a kind wildlife.
What did you have to do to prepare for the visit?
There was little preparation required for the semester really. Nothing noteworthy besides what every student preparing to study in a new country has to go through.
What's one thing about the region you didn't expect to see or experience?
I went down to the Galapagos knowing very little besides its hype in the scientific community. I thought I was going to this tropical island and in fact it didn’t even occur to me that I would be on the beach every day after class. I stayed on San Cristobal during the dry season (lasts from June-December) and there was very little greenery. Everything was dry and barren until it got later on in the semester and neared the rainy season, only then did it begin to look the way I had imagined. Another thing I hadn’t expected to see significant civilization. When you think about the Galapagos, you don’t even consider that any people live on the islands. I didn’t expect the town I lived in to be as big as it was, though it was still small enough to know everybody and I loved the all locals and even the tourists I met.
What advice do you have for other students considering this kind of program?
In thinking about studying in the Galapagos, GAIAS is an incredible, up and coming institution. I had no complaints throughout the semester – I loved every minute of it… and yes I’m talking about school here. The academics were more lax than a regular semester in college because I only took one class at a time, three weeks each, but the firsthand experience in each and every class I took can’t even be compared to a normal college course. The program that took me down to the Islands, IPSL, is a very unique study abroad experience. Through service-learning, I became more in tune with my surroundings and gained cultural knowledge that I would otherwise have not batted an eyelash at. My main service, among a number of other agencies, was assisting on sea lion research with the Galapagos National Park. Doing something with animals that connected to my major and interests was an amazing experience and I would not have had the opportunity to do so if it wasn’t for IPSL.
I can’t say enough for the experience I had in the Galapagos – from the other 35 students in my program who I spent four months with, to the locals, to the island life, to the beautiful weather and environment, to the schoolwork – I have traveled through Europe, but no family vacation to any other location can compare to the experience I had studying abroad in the Galapagos Islands.