Never Wake A Sleeping Sea Lion

Kayla Mernoff stops by to let us in on her summer music volunteering in the Galapagos!

             Within minutes of arriving on the island of San Cristobal for my music volunteering program in the Galápagos, I had already seen a beach, a few sea lions, and probably got a little bit sunburnt. It was an incredible feeling, to say the least. At that point in time I didn’t know how quickly four weeks could go by, and how much of an impact this trip would have on my life.

I arrived at my host family’s house and was immediately greeted by my host parents who were waiting to help me carry my suitcases to my room and introduce me to the rest of the family. I learned pretty quickly that they spoke almost no English, and while this seemed slightly intimidating at first, I was excited to improve my Spanish. After a trip to the office and a tour around the town, I discovered that I would spend my time teaching beginning English, and then working with a teacher at the local music school. While I was not expecting to teach English, I was up for the challenge and excited for what lay ahead of me.

The first few days of work took a little adjustment, but I soon got into a routine. At the time there was one other volunteer working with me at both the office and the music school, and she showed me how everything was laid out and how she went about teaching. The group of five year olds I was working with in the English class liked to run around, climb on top of me, and pretty much do anything except do their work. Though they seemed very against productivity at first, I soon learned how to have fun and teach them the alphabet at the same time. As I do speak Spanish, the language barrier was not a huge issue, but I did learn that it is sometime difficult to understand little kids, no matter what language they are speaking.

At the music school we helped with the violin and beginner music classes, along with teaching private piano lessons. The kids were very interested in learning, and even though they were only between the ages of 3 and 6, I could tell that some of them will grow into talented musicians if they continue with their teacher, Alva. Teaching 3 year olds about the musical staff and treble clef was no easy task, but by the end of my four weeks, they even knew a few notes on the piano. My piano student also improved each week, even though he was always tired and I am not the best pianist, and this was definitely an encouraging feat for me. I was also given a chance to play trumpet (my primary instrument) at a local church, thanks to Alva! By the end of my trip I had two other volunteers working with me at the school, and we are now fluent in what I like to call “Spanish for musicians.” I connected so well with Alva that I am now working on a project to send her students more instruments, as they do not have very many. I look forward to keeping in contact with her and the students, and hope that I can provide them with the instruments that they need to teach more kids the joy of music.

As amazing as the opportunities to volunteer on the island were, I cannot leave out the incredible people that I met and places that I visited. Going into this I was unaware of how many different countries were represented by the volunteer staff. While I met volunteers from the United States, the majority of my friends were from Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and even Australia! We met up most afternoons after work, and sometimes again after dinner. We took daily trips to nearby beaches, went snorkeling with sea turtles and sea lions, saw the Giant Tortoises, and even got to travel to two of the other islands to explore, swim, shop, and just spend time together. I’ve mentioned sea lions a few times now, so I should probably mention that they are EVERYWHERE. They lie on the benches, play in the sand, ad make a lot of noise. We were advised not to go near them, and I saw plenty of people try to pet them, unsuccessfully I might add. Beware of the Alpha Male! One of my favorite memories of this whole trip was taking pictures at sunset on one of the nearby beaches, Playa Mann. I was able to bring my trumpet, and take an incredible picture right next to the sea lions. That picture is surely the best representation of my trip.

            Overall, this was one incredible experience. The kids I taught all hugged me on my last day, and one of them even drew mea picture called “La Fiesta de Cumpleaños de Las Profes” (birthday party for the teachers). Between the kids, my host family, and all of the friends I made, I have people all over the world that I share these special memories with.

As much as learned on this trip about music, Spanish, and myself, I learned two major lessons that I will never forget: Glue and glitter do not mix with five year olds, and more importantly, never wake a sleeping sea lion.



2016 Summer Photo Contest: You at Work

We’ve already announced the winner and runners up of the photo contest, but we’re also sharing some of our favorites in different categories.  This week’s category: You at Work!

Here’s the description we gave them:

You aren’t just a tourist!  Did you teach dance in Costa Rica?  We want to see that.  Did you tune pianos in Ecuador?  We want to see you hunched over the strings with a tuning fork.  Did you study dance in Ireland?  Show us.  Did you make photocopies for a theater company in Spain?  Did you sing in a choir in Kenya? We want to see it!

And here are a few of our favorite entries:

This is what makes PAA programs great.  The title of the program says it’s a Film internship, and boom, here’s a great shot of Mae with her hands on a camera, making a film.  Nicely done Mae!

This is a great one from Long Nguyen.  Yep, there’s definitely some Musical Theater foo going on up in here!

Anyone who’s ever taken a music class recognizes what’s going on in this picture.  The difference is that this is in Costa Rica and our intrepid volunteer is teaching in Spanish.  Way to go!


Costa Rica was obviously a popular destination this summer for music volunteers.  We love this one because there are three PAA participants, but you have to find them sort of like a Where’s Waldo.  Good luck!


Olivia Kapell, Music Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands

Olivia Kapell, Music Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands 

Olivia wasn’t in Costa Rica, she was teaching music in the Galapagos Islands.  As you can see, her students were appreciative.

So confession time.  We didn’t even know puppets were involved on our West End Musical Theatre Training program.  Thanks for tipping us off Morgan Casto!  See, this is why we love this category; even we get a glimpse we didn’t have before.

Teaching Music in the Galapagos Islands

Olivia KapellOlivia 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.

36290019 copyFrom 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.36280021 copy

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.

received_1024954690919881In 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.

13474935_10208884940393961_4978703141641420732_oI 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. 13443068_10208884929073678_8638741165445269027_o

Teaching Dance in the Galapagos Islands

zoe geigerZoe Geiger is a Kinesiology and Dance student at Western Washington University.  She completed not one, but two PAA programs in 2016, and the Dance Volunteering in the Galapagos program was the second one.

Teaching dance classes while living and adventuring around the Galápagos Islands is an experience I will never forget. San Cristóbal Island is a beautiful, friendly island with almost as many sea lions as people.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.29.44 PMI stayed with a sweet family with another volunteer from Belgium, and a study abroad student from the states. We were lucky to live with a big family, happy to be hosting travelers. On my first day, the family took me to Puerto Chino, a beautiful beach on the other side of the island.

A volunteer from Denmark arrived a few days before me and lived in a home next door to mine. My second day we rented snorkel gear (for $3) and found our way to a beach to snorkel with turtles, sea lions, and oh so many fish. The following weekend we adventured about the other islands together, taking several tours in and around 3 other islands. In those 5 days, I saw penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, marine iguanas, tortoises, sea horses, hundreds of fish, white tip sharks, flamingos and of course, sea lions.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.30.03 PMTRY AGAINDuring the mornings, I volunteered at a summer camp held at an elementary school called Alejandro Alvear. I taught dance classes to children ages 4 to 14. There were other volunteers teaching English, German, sports, and arts from all parts of the world. My afternoons were free to be spent relaxing by the beach, snorkeling, or watching the hundreds of sea lions roll about along the water.

TRY AGAIN 2On Fridays, we took the kids on field trips, often to beaches around the island. My last day was spent with the kids back at Puerto Chino beach. A few older girls even showcased some of the choreography we had worked on.

Life was extremely tranquil on the Enchanted Islands, with humans living harmoniously alongside other species. The sun is hot, the water is warm, rice is always being served and no one is ever in a rush.

Island Time Volunteering in the Galapagos

My name is Jenna and I am a theater volunteer in the Galapagos Islands with Performing Arts Abroad.


One thing you hear a lot in the Galapagos is “island time”. This usually refers to the notion, that when someone says they will meet you at 1:30you should expect them closer to 2:00. While this can be frustrating it actually has a really good message. For me “island time” became a reminder to go with the flow and to not take yourself too seriously.


I landed in San Cristobal knowing absolutely no Spanish and ready to help in anyway possible. Originally I thought I would be teaching a theater class, but once there it seemed there was more of a need for volunteers to teach English. So, determined to combine the two, I decided one of the best ways to learn new words and remember them was through art. For two weeks I spent my mornings learning as much Spanish as I could and every afternoon I taught 45 students using theater games and art projects. Things are very laid back in the islands so I could really develop my lesson plans any way I wanted to.



Taking the idea of “island time” to heart, I also did a lot of amazing activities I never thought I would do. We hiked mountains, climbed volcanoes, and snorkeled in coral reefs. The beauty of San Cristobal is beyond compare. Once you step back and allow yourself to be open to new experiences you see truly amazing things.



While all of these adventures were fun the best part of this experience was working with the kids and the other volunteers. We became a family that shared each other’s frustrations and victories. To have students start out not really wanting to learn and with in a week seeing the same students come to class early and ask to sing the counting song, and bouncing out of their seats to tell you the vocabulary word and write it on the board, made me so incredibly proud of them!  Absolutely an amazing experience!


Written by Jenna Snyder, Performing Arts Abroad theater volunteer in the Galapagos Islands.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos

From September 2014 to January 2015, Performing Arts Abroad is hosting a family of four in the Galapagos Islands for a music volunteer program. This family is no newcomer to the idea…they have played together for years as “Kentucky T. Dutchersmith and the Rubber Band” and lived abroad in Mexico for a six-week service learning project several years ago. The father, Kent, is a music teacher in the school system of Goshen, Indiana. On PAA’s program, the Dutchersmith family plans to work with land tortoises and conservation work some mornings, and volunteer with music activities in the afternoons. Enjoy this special series as we follow this family’s musical adventure in the Galapagos!  Check out their blog here:
Snorkeling is now my favorite sport.  Luisa is really into it too.  Most of the time I/we walk the mile walk to La Loberia (Sea Lion Beach) and go snorkeling there.  When the tide is low, it’s great snorkeling, with lots of sea turtles and many different tropical fish.  However, it’s nice to have a change of snorkeling scenery from time to time, so I decided to pay some money to take a snorkeling day tour to Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), also known as Kicker Rock.
On this particular trip, our snorkeling boat had just 5 passengers, the captain, the first mate, and our Galapagos National Park certified tour guide.  Leon Dormido trips usually include another location as well, and ours was a beach called “Playa Manglecito” (Little Mangrove Beach).  At the beach we could hike, tan, hang out, or go snorkeling.  After a brief hike to explore the beach, I headed to the water with my snorkeling gear.  The snorkeling was similar to La Loberia.  It was shallow with lots of rocks covered with marine algae and plants, which both the fish and turtles like.  What made this “snorkel” special was that I saw a beautiful hawksbill turtle.  The most common sea turtle to see in the waters around San Cristobal is the green sea turtle.  This was only the second time that I saw a hawksbill turtle close up.  It has a orangish-brownish shell, and  is smaller than the green turtles.  I also saw some large, (1 1/2-2 feet long) colorful tropical fish.  Some were orange and others were multi-colored with a shimmery florescent sort of sparkle.  For both large fish and sea turtles, my strategy is to follow them at a safe distance until I either lose them, I see something else interesting, or I simply am ready to move onto something else.
Lunch often seems to taste better on snorkeling trips.  I probably snorkeled 45 minutes or so, which takes more energy than I realize.  On the boat we ate a delicious lunch of fried fish (wahoo), sweet plantain, rice and salad.  After lunch we headed to Leon Dormido, which we could see already from our beach.  From a distance and at the right angle, the rock does indeed look like a sleeping lion.  Leon Dormido is actually small when you consider it to be an island, but is humungous when you think of it terms of a rock that is jutting out of the middle of the ocean.  When the sun shines on Kicker Rock, it almost sparkles.  Made of lava rock, it has many large white spots–due to the vast number of sea birds that nest there and poop on it–which is typical of all the coastal Galapagos rock formations.
Close up, Leon Dormido is quite impressive.  It actually has two sections, which are separated by about 50-75 feet.  It looks as if God took a steak knife and cut the rock into two sections.  It was near this space that we were dropped off.  Unlike my other snorkeling adventures, this one was in deep water.  After jumping off the boat and into the ocean, I looked around to see nothing but water.  However, after getting adjusted to my surroundings and as we approached the space between the two rocks, we started seeing good-sized fish and then Galapagos sharks!  All the sharks in the Galapagos waters are said to be not dangerous to humans.  The Galapagos sharks can get up to 12 feet long, but most of the ones we saw were probably no longer than 8 ft.  Looking below me, I could see at least 10 sharks at once, gracefully swimming at least 6-10 feet below me.  They didn’t seem to be phased by our group at all.  At one point, directly below us were two large eagle rays!
Besides the sharks and rays, we were also greeted by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors.  Under water, the surface of Leon Dormido is teaming with life.  Sea urchins in crevices, sea stars, corals, water plants, fish . . .  Leon Dormido’s under water surfaces are a living mural.  As we swam besides the walls, the “mural” changed.  It was the most diverse snorkeling I’ve experienced yet.  At one point we hovered above a school of thousands of silver-black fish.  One guy in our group was very good at diving deep.  He’d dive right down through the middle of them and they would part for him.  The hole would then close up, and soon after he’d pop right through the fish, who would again part for him.  At another time something dove down out of nowhere.  It was a diving blue-footed booby.  I’ve often seen them flying over head and then dive straight into the water, but this was the first time I got to see what it looked like below water.  The booby went down some 20-30 feet below the surface.
Towards the end of our time in the water, my hands were numb and I was getting tired.  But at the same time, I didn’t want to get out of the water.  It’s such a magical place below the water’s surface and I could swim around the under water walls of Leon Dormido again and again and still see new things.  Writing about it helps preserve the memory of such an incredible experience.
Kent Dutchersmith

Special Series: Music Volunteer Family in the Galapagos Issue 3, “Teaching at Music Camp”


From September 2014 to January 2015, Performing Arts Abroad is hosting a family of four in the Galapagos Islands for a music volunteer program. This family is no newcomer to the idea…they have played together for years as “Kentucky T. Dutchersmith and the Rubber Band” and lived abroad in Mexico for a six-week service learning project several years ago. The father, Kent, is a music teacher in the school system of Goshen, Indiana. On PAA’s program, the Dutchersmith family plans to work with land tortoises and conservation work some mornings, and volunteer with music activities in the afternoons. Enjoy this special series as we follow this family’s musical adventure in the Galapagos!


Luisa leading her group on the bamboo claves.

Luisa leading her group on the bamboo claves.

Monday we started teaching music classes at the project office in the mornings since all schools here have a two-week vacation this week and next week. And after vacation we will continue teaching at the preschool and do the classes that we are doing right now in the afternoons instead.

Recorder lesson.

Recorder lesson.

The afternoon classes will each be one hour long instead of one and a half each. We are teaching two classes, one class is ages 5-8 and the other class is ages 9-14. There are about 15-18 kids in each class. The younger class had been about 23 kids but then they took out three and four year olds because they thought there were too many and it was a big age range to work with.

Playing bucket drums on the malacon.

Playing bucket drums on the malacon.

With both groups we are doing stick games, body percussion, dances (mostly in Spanish), singing games, singing, and percussion making (out of trash).

Decorated maracas.

Decorated maracas.

We are also teaching the older group to play the recorder. We found lots of bamboo on the side of the road and so we chopped it up and took it home to make instruments out of it.

Kent and Luisa making musical instruments out of bamboo.

Kent and Luisa making musical instruments out of bamboo.

We chopped the smaller bamboo into sticks to play stick games and we’re making guiros and wood blocks out of the thicker bamboo. We also are getting small scarves made in colors of the ocean for dances in the classes.

Luisa and students show off our new dancing scarves.

Luisa and students show off our new dancing scarves.

So far the classes are going great!

Written by Luisa, age 13
Daughter of the Dutchersmith family, music volunteers in the Galapagos Islands