The Fifth Week of Adventures in Paradise

As my time at CEI nears it’s end, I can’t help but feel quite sentimental about it. I only have one more week of waking up and seeing the ocean as I open my eyes. Only one more week of being able to see the most astonishing things I have ever seen. Never before in my life have I been so immersed in adventure.

I also got a special opportunity this week. This Tuesda,y the stingray team took a subset of CEI’s Bahamian staff out to catch rays. This is a particularly extraordinary opportunity because it not only gives the ray team a chance to collect data, but it gives the staff a unique research-oriented experience.

Rays were around the Schooner Keys, a beautiful set of very small islands just offshore of campus, as well as in Deep Creek, an intertidal creek system located not far from CEI. Surprisingly, almost none of the staff had ever been to the keys, despite their geographical proximity. Catching rays was an incredible introduction into the world of research, since the capture process is incredibly active and exciting. To catch a ray, the staff, along with CEI’s stingray interns and researchers rode around on boats or trudged through the water looking for rays. When one was spotted, the team would surround the ray as fast as possible, being careful not to let it get through the circle. Once the ray was herded into a giant net, it was scooped out with a smaller net and led to shallow water to be measured and tagged. The ray’s barb was secured, and the staff got a chance to feel and to interact with the ray, as well as to  measure and tag it. Throughout the day, we caught two southern stingrays (D. americana) and two Caribbean whiptail (H. schmardae) stingrays.

The capture and tagging of these rays is invaluable to the research being done at CEI because each ray caught is data towards the hypothesis that there is significant habitat separation between the two stingray species mentioned above. The four rays we caught contribute to this hypothesis. The two Caribbean whiptails were caught in Deep Creek, while the southerns were caught on the small offshore Schooner Keys.

Stingrays were a particularly special species to be able to research because all too often they are associated with an unfortunate stigma of fear and are a vastly under-researched creature. As meso-predators, and under their role as habitat engineers, they’re importance in an ecosystem cannot be understated. One day in the field with the stingray team at CEI and that fear had dissipated and was replaced with loads of curiosities and questions.

Science is, at it’s core, the exploration of curiosities. By providing an opportunity for the staff to get out in the field, curiosities were both created and satisfied.

In my final week at CEI, I am excited to continue field work, strengthen the relationships I’ve made so they’ll last after we all part to our respective homes, and to continue to be as adventurous as possible!



EI Purpan summer program – the internship


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After studying in Toulouse for a month, most of us students in EI Purpan were packed and shipped to our individual internship locations for another month of practical work. Being in the viticulture & enology program, we were matched to wine-related facilities, most commonly vineyards. In my case, my internship location was a chai, a vineyard, as well as a pépenière. north of Bordeaux, in a small village called Générac. Wines produced here belong to the côtes-de-blaye or the blaye-côtes-de-bordeaux appellation, part of the appellations system of Bordeaux. The vineyard is large compared to most and fully mechanized, but the pépenière relies on manual labor, so that was where I worked most of the time. Later when it became too hot to work in greenhouses we went to the chai (the brewing and labeling facility) to label bottles from previous years. In the two greenhouses, I worked with the host madame’s niece to sort through grafted vines based on their sizes and health, picked away off shoots growing from the root stem, watered them and loaded the plants onto vans. The greenhouses are full of interesting critters like orange slugs, toads, and once we saw a green salamander.

Everyday my work starts at 8 am, at noon we have lunch and siesta, then resume back to work from 2 pm to 5 or 6 pm depending on how much work is to be done on that day. For every meal (breakfast excluded) it was usually the madame, her husband and me at the table, sometimes a relative or two would come over for lunch; no mater how many people ate together, the food was always brought out in courses: aperitif, starters (usually melons, pretzel snacks, or a slice or country ham), main course, salad (which became synonymous with lettuce), cheeses and dessert. I liked how it is mandatory to “make the table” before the start of every meal — having the plate, silverware, water glass, napkin all ready to use really makes eating a more serious business. There are certain patterns in foods too. For example, every Saturday the couple’s youngest daughter comes over to make steak and fries, every Sunday is a family gathering of 10 people or more.

While interning here, the madame and her in-law’s family showed nothing but hospitality and inclusion. Together we went to the Citadel of Blaye, Saint-Emilion (a famed Bordeaux wine producing region and appellation), Plassac at the bank of the Gironde river with its historical buildings and yellow stone houses, we also biked to a lake and watched the music festival there; one Saturday the in-law broke out her horse riding gadgets and let me ride with their ponies.

On the 14th of July, instead of going to the jumping show at the Citadel with the family, I asked for a day-off on Friday and went hiking in Cantal. Le Cantal is known for its mountain range and great cheeses, and soon after I told them my plan the madame and the in-law’s family decided to join me as well — the hike later turned into a family road-trip in a snuggly camping car.

I can only be grateful for the good hearts of these hard-working people, knowing how many different jobs it involves to make a bottle of wine, and understanding what family unity means to the château, when every child who comes to visit, 35 or 20 years old, would help out in the greenhouses or the chai.


Morocco, College, and Religion

January 6, 2017

Even though this was a horticulture trip, the cool part was that we learned many more of Morocco’s identities, like its religion and educational systems. We visited Al Akhawayn University. On the way to the university, we visited an apple farm where we learned the importance of how the crop is grown to have optimal success. Once at the university, we met a U of I alum, Naim, who currently works at Al Akhawayn University. We learned about the the difference between school systems using the traditional Moroccan system and schools that use the American system and how economics plays a major role in which school students can attend. Al Akhawayn University was made, because it was desired to clean up the community and the king at that time wanted to make a school using the American system. The American name of Al Akhawayn means Two Brothers. Students that want to attend this university have to submit their high school records, portfolio, entrance exam, and get an interview. To graduate, seniors must complete a capstone project incorporating their knowledge gained throughout their years at the university. Students also have to do an internship for two months and complete 60 hours of community service working with people in underserved communities before they graduate.

While at the university, we visited their mosque. This was a very unique experience for me, because my knowledge about Muslim religion is very slim and I had never visited a mosque. As we entered with our shoes off and our minds open, I was astonished by the intricate designs of the mosque which included cedar carvings and Jewish designed chandeliers. It was beautiful and so peaceful! Naim and Mosbah (or faculty leader) gave us a miniature insught into how services are held and answered all of our questions regarding Muslim religion and services. We discussed topics ranging from how students at the university lead prayer sessions to the extensive training required to be recognized as a scholar and religious leader to how Osama Bin Laden helped create a false an image of Islamic culture and beliefs. The conversation wrapped up with discussing the relationship between Islam and Catholicism and how Moses, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary are highly respected in the Quran. I found so much value in learning about the Muslim religion, contextual history, and found myself having a desire to learn more about the religion.

Since Morocco is a Muslim country, it is important to discuss religion and how it has had an impact on the country. I truly appreciated Naim and Mosbah being willing to share their experiences and their religious house of worship with us. Even though religious views may vary from person to person, I believe everyone on the trip gained new knowledge, respect, and perspective on the Muslim religion.





Fun in the Sahara Desert in Morocco

January 16, 2017

As we pulled up to a hotel in the middle of the desert, we saw camels lined up outside along with the guides. It was so exciting seeing our camels all lined up waiting for us. Riding the camels were definitely not what I expected. As the camel raised from the ground, it felt like I was rising to the sky and I was going to fall off (which did not happen). It was a long way down, but hopefully the sand would cushion my fall was what I thought to myself. The camel ride was not as comfortable as it seemed, and this made me wonder if people that use camels for transportation experience similar discomfort. Once we arrived at our destination, we climbed sanddomes and on the other side of the sanddomes awaited a night that we would never forget. We danced the night away with Berber men, enjoyed their berber music, ate well, and watched the sunrise and sunset in the Sahara. On the ride back to the hotel, I tried to talk to the two men that were guiding us. Turns out they were in my age group. One man was 20 and the other one was 22. I asked them some questions but sometimes they could not understand what I was asking due to the language barrier. One question I asked was had they ever left Morocco, and their answer was no. They have the desire to, but cannot afford it. In that moment, like many times in this trip, I realized my privilege. I wish I could have talked to them more, but it was difficult since I did not speak Arabic or French. This was a great learning experience that a classroom could not teach us. Camel rides make beautiful pictures too!


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Costa Rica

VIDA Pre-Vet Costa Rica 2017 – Haley Evans

At the beginning of the year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel abroad to Costa Rica where I helped assist local veterinarians with spaying/castrating dogs and cats. Going into this trip, I had no expectations. New country, new culture, new experiences. I would make the most of it. Being hands on with every patient, assisting with surgery, and monitoring the anesthesia was incredibly rewarding. It allowed all of us to get a taste of what life was like for a vet. Learning new skills, both technical and social, was the theme for this trip. Everything we did required effective communication. By the end of the tour, we were more in sync with how surgeries and consultations went. I can honestly say my decision to take the vet career path was the right one for me. This tour fueled the spark that keeps me moving forward, closer to my goal. There’s a common phrase that is said in Costa Rica: Pura Vida. It means pure life; I took this to heart. Live life in the moment and appreciate what you have while acknowledging what you do not. And work your butt off for what you want.


Haley Evans


Dominican Republic

Santiago, Dominican Republic- Abigayle Steffes, January 2017

After spending a few days in the capital of the Dominican Republic, my class ventured two hours away to Santiago. Within hours of being in this city, I fell in love with it. With endless music and dancing, the city of Santiago never sleeps. I had no expectations of redefining who I was, but this city changed me.

Our first night in the new city was spent in the mountains at an ecotourism site called Jarabacoa. From waterfalls to smokey mountains, the scenery was one that took my breath away many times. At Jarabacoa, we bonded with six of the Universidad ISA students. They taught us Merengue and Bachata. In exchange, we taught them how to line dance and swing dance. These cultural exchanges made me rethink some of our American values and truly opened my eyes to what I was experiencing. Jarabacoa was the highlight of my study abroad trip because I bonded with American and Dominican students, and made some of the best friends.

Another meaningful aspect of my time in Santiago was when we visited a Batey. A Batey Libertad is a rice growing area, where many of the workers live in the community across the street. Eventually, the community converted to sugar cane production that issued work visas for Haitians. These communities are typically poor, and the people often don’t leave the community to seek higher paying work.

From the moment we stepped off the bus, the children welcomed us. They held our hands and would not let go. As we toured their community, I opened my eyes to just how much we have in the United States. We have running water, electricity, and homes with more than one room. However, what we lack is the pure happiness and love for basic things. I noticed that even the company of new people brought an insane amount of happiness to the children we were blessed to meet.

There was one kid in particular that touched my heart. His name was Macero. Macero insisted on braiding my hair and teaching me games, such as handshakes that have corresponding songs. I could see pure joy in his eyes as we interacted. While we Americans may have more luxuries, the Batey community absolutely had more love and fulfillment in their lives because they were not caught up in material items, or living life based on the amount of time you have.

ACES 298: Discovering Systems of the Caribbean taught me more than just agriculture systems. I learned about a different way of life, gained new perspectives and discovered myself. #imagineACES




Semester Abroad-Dublin Spring 2017

Alex Brauman – Junior – Agricultural and Biological Engineering

On January 12th I packed everything I thought I would need for 4 months of studying in another country and drove up to Chicago to spend the day with my family.  The next morning I flew to New York to start my adventure.

After spending 3 days in the city visiting a friend I boarded an overnight flight to Dublin.  Everything since then has been a blur.  The first week was all orientations, getting to know the school, and visiting the city.  It didn’t take long to start traveling though; the first Saturday after we arrived, the school sponsored a daytrip to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.

I am studying at University College Dublin, one of the largest schools in Ireland, with just over 25,000 students.  It is located in the suburbs south of Dublin, but is only a 20 minute bus ride from the city.  The campus is a lot smaller than U of I and a lot of the Irish students I have talked to live at home with their parents and commute to campus.  There isn’t really a campus town like there is in Champaign.  It isn’t really any better or worse, just different from what I am used to!  I’m taking 4 classes here on campus and one online through U of I and they’re actually pretty similar to a lot of the classes I have taken at U of I.

Traveling in Europe, and Ireland in particular, is incredibly easy.  There is so much to do compacted into a small area.  In the 5 weeks I have been here I have visited Cork and kissed the Blarney stone, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, spent a good amount of time exploring Dublin, and spent a few days in Madrid!  I also have trips to London, Brussels, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna planned.  From Dublin I can get to anywhere in Ireland in less than 5 hours.  Busses and trains crisscross Ireland and the rest of Europe for that matter.  If you plan ahead of time, weekend trips are relatively cheap and allow you to visit some incredible places!  Traveling by yourself or with other students teaches you so much about yourself and the places you visit.

If you’re considering studying abroad during your time at the University of Illinois, do it.  There are so many opportunities, there is bound to be something that will fit your academic goals and schedule.  There are also many scholarships that will help cover any potetial costs of your study abroad experience.  Early planning will immensely by making sure you keep some classes reserved to take abroad.  Studying in another country is an amazing experience and I would reccommend it too anyone who is even considering it!

-Alex Brauman


Africa, South Africa

ACES: HDFS Study Abroad in Cape Town, South Africa

Aside from working at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, I was amazed at all the sights we were able to see during the trip. A meaningful aspect from the trip for me was when we visited some of the townships in South Africa. Since apartheid, these communities are historically impoverished areas inhabiting all Black populations. Although these areas look to be very poor, the sense of community that the residents have with each other is very inspiring. While visiting Ivy’s township of Delft, it was amazing to see all of the neighbors greeting her with such warmth and compassion. After dinner that evening, it was great that we got to interact with some of the other people in the township. After a long day at work and especially during the holiday, spending time with family continues to be an important aspect of this community. That is something I really admired and was inspired to see.

Some of our other adventures included hiking up the Cape of Good Hope, visiting Table Mountain, going to the beach, visiting the apartheid museum, Nelson Mandela’s home, bargaining for authentic souvenirs, and trying so many amazing new foods. Overall, my experience abroad was unforgettable and such a great learning experience. I would encourage everyone to partake in a program relating to their academic and extracurricular interests because the experiences you will have are well worth the journey. #ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

-Vanessa Farrow


Africa, South Africa

Tamarrian Johnson Cape Town, South Africa, University of Illinois UC GBL 298

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My experience in Cape Town was one that I will not forget. It took me out of my comfort zone, and ultimately, I learned so much, and took on a lot of firsts. The hostel we lived in was filled with the most friendly people I have interacted with in a long time. They made me feel comfortable and welcome the entire two weeks I was there with their hospitality. Within the first few days aside from learning, my group was able to go to Table Mountain National Park to watch the sunset. It was so breath taking! It’s definitely something that you wouldn’t see here in the US! The mountain hovered right above the Atlantic Ocean. I also cabled up Table Mountain! We were 1,067M high! When we got to the top, we were literally in the clouds! A day that stood out to me was when we went to the Cape Flats. The people we met had so much life in them despite of what they were going through. The most beautiful thing about them was that they wanted to be educated about their circumstances and how to fight them, and then they wanted to teach others like them to stop the cycle. The fact that they wanted to be aware and act on their issue is what I believe is the key to fighting adversity, as we have been shown throughout history.


Tamarrian Johnson