Jul 31st, 2014

Summer in the Southern Hemisphere

by Kara
Benkovich

You could call it the summer of a lifetime.

For me, this summer is sure to be one I won’t soon forget, as I will be embarking on not one, but two dynamic international Study Abroad trips to the Amazon of South America and the ancient splendor of Athens, Greece.

As I unpack from my three weeks in Ecuador, I am also reopening all of the intangible things I brought home from the trip: the unexpected forged friendships and the unforgettable memories that cannot be duplicated.

My first trip began shortly after a successful round of finals at HPU. In early May, I boarded my first study abroad trip with ten strangers, five close friends and professors Dr. Campbell and Dr. Crater, headed to explore Ecuador and the Galapagos for 21 days. Although the purpose of the trip is education, we students also learned much about our professors’ lives outside of the classroom, and also forged some fabulous friendships with people we would otherwise never have the privilege of knowing. With all of the hilarious, uncontrollable laughter and other amazing memories, three weeks passed so quickly without the threat of homesickness.IMG_0806

We first arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and spent an entire day exploring local produce markets and other cultural norms, and even journeyed to the Equator Museum, where we were first exposed to the “Coriolis Effect,”which is an explanation of why objects curve on the Earth when they should move straight. We also had the opportunity to watch a local demonstrate the Festival Dance, a cultural dance style that my classmate and I presented on just months before. We traveled to the Andes Mountains, Antisana more specifically, and enjoyed hiking around the terrain. We were able to learn about geothermal pools, which we even got to enjoy at our hotel!

IMG_7026Next came the Amazon, where we saw real cacao beans, where chocolate comes from. Later, we also toured a chocolate factory picture in the Cloud Forest and learned how the beans are processed into chocolate, which was rewarding. I also saw beautiful and extremely rare (due to poaching) animals on a wildlife reserve. Other fun activities in the small Amazonian village of Tena included participating in a blow dart competition, receiving “hats” made out of indigenous plants from the local girls in the forest, and drinking “chicha” in a native’s home. While in the Amazon, we traveled by motorized canoes, and were shocked to find surprisingly great Wifi quality in such a remote area! And you would never guess that I ate a fried beetle larva, right? I did! Apparently it cures strep throat, which I unfortunately have been getting pretty frequently!

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Another incredible experience for me was going scuba diving off the coast of Floreiana in the Galapagos. You wouldn’t believe all of the wildlife I saw: hammerhead sharks, black and white tip sharks, starfish, sea turtles, manta rays, piranhas, dolphins, starfish, and so much more. My favorite was the sea lions – they would come right up to me and play with my hair! There were many more places we visited (my hotel in Ayampe was my absolute favorite) but the BEST part of the trip was spending time talking, laughing and bonding with my new friends.

Check out my GoPro video from our scuba dive!

 

We returned to the States on May 29, just in time for an important deadline for me. Between star-gazing from the top deck of our boat and full days of building relationships with my fellow travelers, I was also in the midst of applying to the University of Buffalo’s Early Assurance program. With a deadline of June 1, it was quite a challenge to complete my application for such a rigorous program while out of the country.

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Arriving home to Buffalo for the first time since winter break was bittersweet. I spent my month at home doing normal teenager summer activities: I attended local hotspots, went to a few concerts, spent downtime with my friends and family and even celebrated my 20th birthday. I was also lucky to log in a ton of shadowing hours with local dentists, which will prepare me for furthering my education in dentistry. I spent time in pediatric dentistry with Dr. Foley, general dentistry with Dr. Carlo and Dr. Starkey, and orthodontics with Dr. Tyska. I also has the opportunity to reconnect with Dr. Sullivan-Nasca at Erie County Medical Center, who I worker under in the summer of 2011. During my break, I heard the exciting news that I was selected to interview for the University of Buffalo’s Early Assurance program!! Just this morning, I interviewed – cross your fingers it went well, guys!

IMG_5645Following my interview I returned home to quickly pack, weigh, repack and reweigh my suitcases until it was time for me to head to the airport and embark on my 14 hour travel to Athens, Greece, for my second educational journey of the summer. Which brings me to this moment, when I am currently sitting on an airplane 30,000 feet above the ground, en route to Chicago. From there, I will take a connecting flight to London, then Athens. I feel so lucky to have my cousin and best friend, Ali, joining me to take in all the culture and beauty of Greece. I have prepared a bucket list and am ready to tackle another continent! I look forward to sharing my Grecian travels with you all.

As you can see, there’s never a dull moment for me! If you guys have any questions for me about my travels, career path experiences or the amazing opportunities High Point University has lead me to, please ask me! I would love to hear how your summer is going!

Xx Kara Benkovich