Olivia Kapell is a musician and English Literature student at Columbia University-Juilliard School Exchange. She participated in the Music Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands program.
Upon signing up to be a music volunteer in the Galápagos Islands, I had no idea what to expect. Of course I thought of Darwin, as most people do when referring to these islands, but I did not know much more than that.
From the moment that landed, I knew that I had never been anywhere as beautiful as the Galápagos Islands, and now I will forever be a spoiled traveler because I do not think that anywhere else in the world compares. I lived on San Cristobal, which had a much more residential feel to it, unlike the most populated island of Santa Cruz. On San Cristobal there were countless beaches, such as Lobería, Playa Man, and Punta Carola which all boasted fantastic snorkeling. All I needed to do was to swim off the shore with my mask and my flippers, and I was instantly immersed in some of the richest biodiversity in the world, playing with sea lions, and swimming along side giant sea turtles.
But perhaps more impressionable than the outstanding natural scenery on the Galápagos, are the people who inhabit this island. Everyone I met was genuinely kind hearted and generous with their time. My students’ parents, my host family, and other young people on the island were not hesitant to engage with me and show me their island. They all wanted to know how I liked the Galápagos and my response was always that I think it is the best place in the world.
In terms of my actual volunteer work, this is perhaps where I was challenged the most. I taught at the only after-school music center, teaching students ages 3-16 depending on the hour and the day, and all one hundred percent in Spanish. I taught group music lessons on how to read and write music, as well as group piano lessons, which was especially challenging in learning how to divide up the attention. I also taught private instrumental lessons on piano and violin. I realized after my first day that I would need to learn how to play these instruments at a basic level, and I came out of my program learning how to do that. Thankfully another volunteer played guitar and could teach me the chords, and through my knowledge of string instruments in general, I could teach myself enough violin to get by. On my last day at the music school, all of my students sang a song for me and wrapped their arms around me, asking why I was leaving and wanting to know when I would return. I was even offered a job, as the main professor told me that she would be waiting for me until I decided to come back.
I want to return to the sea lions that lined the beaches, the beautiful, luminescent starry nights, the 2am merengue dancing, sitting with my host family on their hammock, meeting so many interesting and friendly volunteers from all over the world, and mostly I miss the sense of peace and tranquil energy that permeates these truly unique islands. I am determined to find a way back one day, but until then, these moments will just be memories that have left me with a new sense of wonder in which I now view the world.