Chloe traveled with Putney on our Service Ecuador & the Galápagos program last summer, and wrote her college essay about the experience. This fall she’ll be attending the University of Arizona’s Honors College, majoring in Africana Studies on the pre-law track.

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My heart raced as I stared at the dark, eerie, endlessly deep water. Well, it was actually 200 feet deep, but knowing the depth did nothing to ease my immense fears. “Jump in,” the tour guide patiently said. My eyes widened in disbelief and panic as I perched on the boat’s edge. But how often would I be in the middle of the ocean off the Galapagos Islands sporting an impressively tight wet suit and ridiculously large fins with a bunch of teenagers I met maybe 36 hours before? Never. So despite my almost irrational fear of the ocean, I clumsily slid off the boat into the icy water. Staring into nothing but cobalt blue with no bottom in sight, I grasped the neon orange lifesaver and subdued the urge to hyperventilate.

Ecuador pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I’m notorious for my fear of the ocean and not being an outdoorsy person in general. Signing up for the trip, I was nervous: snorkeling with the potential of sharks, mountains, hiking, high altitudes, horseback riding, and biking all sounded ominous to me. While I spent the trip doing things I would’ve usually groaned and scrunched my nose at, I dove into everything head first (sometimes literally) and had never been happier.

I couldn’t help but ramble about the abundance of sea lions laying around the islands, the massive spiders I saw, how bright the stars were, the sight of clouds on the mountains, or the windy, gravelly, nippy hike I took up Cotopaxi Mountain when I came home. All this while living and rooming with 17 people I had never met for an entire month. I learned so much about everyone, myself, and Ecuador in a span of weeks.

Somehow doing things I absolutely dread with a bunch of strangers turned out to be the most meaningful experience I’ve ever undergone.

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