Carnegie Mellon University

Marcy Held

Marcy Held

Class of 2013, Major- Global Studies; Minors- Environmental Studies; Photography


Marcy Held spent the second semester of her junior year, spring of 2012, in Ecuador with the Institute for International Education of Students (IES). She began the semester living in Cumbayá, a suburb of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, studying at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) for one month. During her time in Quito, she completed field research at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) in the Amazon rainforest and with the Maquipucuna Foundation located in the cloud forests of the Chocó-Andean region of Ecuador. She spent the last three months of the semester at the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), which is a satellite campus of USFQ located on the island of San Cristóbal. Between spending time taking classes, getting to know her host family, and simply enjoying the opportunity to integrate herself into the island's culture, Marcy enjoys SCUBA diving and eating ice cream.

Study Abroad Perspective

Since I've moved to Ecuador, I've come to realize that this is a country that is steeped in contrast: the bitter climate of the peaks of the Andes mountains and the steamy heat of the Amazon rainforest, the richness of the country's natural resources and the poverty of many of its people, the fact that some of the highest areas of biodiversity are also areas in which some of the most heavily exploited oil deposits can be found. These are complex issues whose solutions involve politics and environmental science, and they do not have immediate or clear resolutions.

My first class in Quito focused on wildlife conservation and management strategies, and I learned some basic formulas for counting animal populations and predicting their future numbers given certain factors. We traveled around to the rainforest, conducted some field research, and implemented these formulas, but what I really learned was the enormous amount of complexity that is encompassed within these animal populations and the ecosystems of which they are a part.

Not even the island on which I am currently living, located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is completely isolated. These ecological and political systems that I am studying not only include San Cristóbal, but are even growing around it. A stark contradiction exists here as the island becomes more intensely integrated into the global economy. Many of the local residents believe that tourism brings cosmopolitanism and modernity, but the tourists themselves come to Galápagos from all over the world seeking experiences with a remote and uninhabited wilderness. As Galápagos becomes a center of interaction between globalizing forces, these forces are what will ultimately determine the islands' future as a home to the people, animals, and plants that live here.

All in all, my time here has really made me reconsider the ways in which I think about how people live in and relate to their surrounding environment. What type of role does the environment, or do perceptions of the environment, shape ways of life? How do day-to-day lifestyles shape the environment? Though these may seem like simple questions, their answers are anything but straightforward. Conservation efforts in Galápagos, as in other parts of the world, will need to recognize this fact and incorporate perspectives from many sources, including various professionals and local residents of the islands if they are to be effective in the midst of the transforming conditions of this world.

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San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos- view from balcony
of university
San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos- Blue Footed Boobie
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Chocó-Andean Cloud Forest, Ecuador (mainland) Isabela Island, Galápagos- Volcán Chico
(view from the top of the volcano)
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Santa Fé Island, Galápagos- sea lions Isabela Island, Galápagos- land iguana
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Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Amazon Rainforest,
Ecuador (mainland)
Isabela Island, Galápagos- bananas