I will certainly never be as independent as now, as a student, which drives me to explore the world.
Further, nowadays it is easy to go on an exchange with a huge variety of different programmes. Even on one’s own initiative you can go to the most remote places. That’s what I did in order to study in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean half way between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. There, in the town of Longyearbyen, 25 years ago, the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) was founded – a branch institution of Tromsø University. Needless to say, UNIS is the northernmost institution of higher education. So, what made me to go to this hostile place?
It is the novelty, the curiosity, the unknown, the harshness, the emptiness, and the exceptionally well-adapted organisms dwelling this extreme environment. I took a course called “The Fossils of Svalbard and the Evolution of Life”, where I learned that there are some unique and well preserved fossils from the Pre-Cambrian onward, especially interesting in the light of Svalbard’s translocation from equatorial palaeo-latitudes to nowadays at 78°N, reflecting changes of a variety of ecosystems. Specialists from Oslo Natural History Museum made school very interesting and mind-broadening. There was sufficient time for outdoor activities, such as hiking, exploring abandoned coal mines, ice caving, ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and dog-sledging. The strenuous hikes to the mountain tops in particular provided stunning insights into this rugged land. In order to be able to safely leave town, we got rifle shooting training, which was a memorable experience. Luckily, I did not come across a polar bear on my one-month stay, which stretched into polar night – perfect conditions for the mind-blowing view of the clear starry sky and – for sure – northern lights!
The prolific cooperation of professors, young scientists, and students from all over the world – Norwegians, Russians, US-Americans, Germans, Australians, Peruvians, Italians (amongst others) – who worked peacefully and successfully hand in hand, left a deep impression on me, showing that a common (scientific) aim can bring together and unify people in an otherwise politically quarrelling world.
From this icy, harsh environment we go to a completely different world, where you do not stare at expensive fruits being freely presented in a company’s lobby: Ecuador. On the contrary, life is bustling there. This is one reason why I wanted to study for a year in this extraordinary country. Further, geology is literally at work with some of the most active volcanoes in the world being situated within this relatively small country. Not to forget about the largest open-air evolutionary lab in the world: the Galápagos. Due to the large altitudinal gradient at the equator from sea level to 6268 m above sea level, you can find all the world’s climate zones within Ecuador and hence various ecosystems.
I got placed at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) via an exchange programme with University of Tübingen. At USFQ, course variation is vast in a lot of fields of study. I take an ecology class (“Tropical Rainforest Ecology”) and a class in geology (“Volcanology”) and also two Spanish courses. It is the perfect place for studying geoecology. On weekends, I usually leave Quito in order to hike in the Andes (there’s a course at school offering trips) or organize trips with friends to destinations in Ecuador. So far, I explored humid tropical rainforests, cloud forests with heavy bromeliad-, orchid-, and liana-load in the treetops, the steppe-like páramo (unique to Ecuador, Peru, and Columbia), and the glaciers of Ecuador’s highest volcanoes. On my “expeditions” I came across beautiful colonial style historic city centres, exotic food such as cuy (guinea pig), volcanic hot springs, and the erupting volcano Tungurahua (5023 m) which certainly was one of the most impressive experiences in my life so far.
My stays abroad not only satisfy my hunger for adventure, but they are also great opportunities to establish an international network. Last but not least, you incredibly broaden your mind when travelling. There’s a whole world out there!
About me: Bachelor studies in biology at Dresden University of Technology and University of Cape Town, South Africa, between 2008 and 2012. Since 2012 Master studies in geoecology at University of Tübingen with exchanges to University Centre in Svalbard, Norway, and Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador. Stay tuned about my Ecuadorian activities here: http://ecuventure.wordpress.com/.
Written by: Franz Schröter