What made you choose these four Student Expeditions trips?
I first chose Ecuador because it seemed like something that was most familiar. I’m Mexican-American, so the fact that I could understand and speak the native language of the country made me feel more comfortable and close to home. Also, the opportunity to visit the Galapagos and get an up-close experience with the amazing nature there through learning about animal conservation really excited me.
India was a leap of faith. It was the farthest I had ever traveled and a culture I had never experienced. I wanted something different though, something out of my comfort zone. The chance to be immersed fully into the colorful and spiritual culture of India while also learning photography seemed like a great adventure and learning opportunity.
I chose Iceland because of its natural beauty and the opportunity to learn more about landscape photography. I was also intrigued by the opportunity to learn more about climate change since it’s become such an important topic for society.
What were your favorite moments from Ecuador, India and Iceland?
This is a very difficult question that I’ve often failed to give a short answer to, but I’ll try!
One of my favorite moments from Ecuador was driving to the top of a mountain to help local school children plant trees. Also, climbing 15,000 feet up the volcano Cotopaxi and seeing the view around us from what seemed like the top of the world. Waking up early in Mindo to go birdwatching. And finally, snorkeling in the Galapagos with sea lions and sharks, getting up close with nature.
In India, my ultimate favorite moment was seeing the Dalai Lama speak to hundreds of people during the Kalachakra Festival in Ladakh. We were surrounded by people from around the world and hundreds of Buddhist monks. I also loved talking with the students at SECMOL and living at the school. Seeing the Taj Mahal was unforgettable as well. Flying over the Himalayas is a sight that I will never forget. And meeting our expert, Ashima Narain was a big highlight. She taught me so much and is a big inspiration to me.
In Iceland, one of my favorite moments has to be hiking and ice climbing on the massive Svínafellsjökull Glacier and learning how it will all melt in about 50 years. It was this experience that made me realize just how crucial it is to improve our current climate situation and the steps we need to take to do that. Also, climbing through a lava tube ice cave and seeing ice stalagmites that took hundreds of years to form, camping and seeing the Dettifoss waterfall, and talking to trip leader M Jackson about her experiences and about climate change were highlights. Getting to meet National Geographic expert Ford Cochran was a big honor.
What are you most looking forward to in Namibia?
I am most looking forward to traveling to the Himba and Herero villages to learn about their culture and how the modern world has affected that culture. I am also excited to learn about wildlife photography from my leaders along with meeting Luke Dollar, the director of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.
What is the most important lesson you learned while in the field with National Geographic?
“With knowledge comes care, and with care comes hope.” My Iceland trip leader M Jackson said this and I think it really encompassed what I had learned throughout all my trips. I learned that traveling forces you to be aware of the world around you and to truly care about what is happening. I know that this care must be translated into action in any way possible in order to conserve and bring hope to others.
Do you still study or practice any of the subjects or skills you learned during your trips?
Yes, I definitely do! I have learned a lot about photography and have put those skills to use anytime I travel. I also have used the passion I gained for conservation to write articles in my school newspaper that bring awareness to certain current events across the globe. I strive to make people more aware of what is happening and how it affects them.
You must be pretty passionate about travel- why have you made it a priority every summer to get out into the field?
I definitely am! My parents really inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and learn about the world. They really encourage my siblings and me to gain experience and knowledge through travel. I also live in a place where you can get caught living in a bubble of sameness, so seeing places that are completely different from what I know and learning about their culture is something I really wanted. And once I started, I wanted to immediately go on another trip. Having the chance to not only immerse yourself into another country, but also learn from people at National Geographic is something truly amazing and unforgettable.
Where is the next destination on your travel wish list?
Everywhere! But if I had to be more specific, it would be Australia. The wildlife and indigenous culture has always been something I would love to learn about and experience.
What have you been up to since your expedition?
Recently, I have been busy with college applications and decisions. I also have been busy at school. As Student Body president, I have been planning many events including a Unity Day that included multiple speakers that were invited to speak on various social justice issues. I have also been practicing my photography, working as the Managing Editor of my school newspaper, and am also part of the Nat Geo Student Collective on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, which is managed by National Geographic Student Expeditions alumni and includes their photographic work.
How do you think your National Geographic trip prepared you for college and beyond?
It prepared me in many ways. I learned to be unafraid of new people, new places, and new challenges. As I prepare for college, I really am grateful that my trips filled me with the confidence to leave my comfort zone and take on this new step in my life. It also filled me with a passion for learning about the world that I know will never leave me and will always take me on different adventures. And nothing could have prepared me for these adventures more than my experience with National Geographic.
Where do you hope to be ten years from now?
I hope to have a fulfilling career in the art world as a curator or gallery director, making art more diverse in participation and representation. I would also love to work with National Geographic at some point as a writer and photojournalist, working towards bringing important stories from around the world to people everywhere.