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PHIL 226 will travel to the Galapagos Islands for 10 days, becoming the first global seminar to return to international travel since COVID-19 moved all courses online in spring 2020.

Credit: Ashley Ahn

PHIL 226: Philosophy of Biology will be the first global seminar to return to international travel since COVID-19 moved all courses online in spring 2020. 

The class will travel to the Galápagos Islands for 10 days after final exams to study the relationship between conservation, tourism, and local communities. Penn Global Seminars are semester-long courses that offer a short-term travel component to enrich studies. Philosophy of Biology is the only global seminar traveling this fall, and eight courses will include a travel component in spring 2022.

The class will travel to the Galápagos Islands on Dec. 31 and return to Philadelphia on Jan. 11. The group will spend much of the trip living on a boat, and will travel to the islands to snorkel, hike, and meet with community leaders and residents.

Students in the class are working on group research projects about the Galápagos, focusing on topics including food security and land distribution. They won't complete their projects until they perform additional research during the trip, College junior Sylvia Goldfond said.

Goldfond’s project focuses on why food is so expensive in the Galápagos and what potential solutions might be, including increasing agriculture on the islands. She said she is excited for the opportunity to travel to the Galápagos and witness firsthand what she has learned about in class.

“It's one thing to read a textbook and then write a paper on something,” Goldfond said. “But when you're seeing it, and you're talking to the people there and seeing what effects are happening in real life, I think it's just a different experience.”

Penn Abroad has worked closely with the Office of Risk Management & Insurance and Student Health Service to plan the trip to the Galápagos, Executive Director of Penn Abroad Nigel Cossar said. 

All students must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and tested before departure, College senior Chloe Rosenberg said. The Galápagos Islands have a 99% vaccination rate and a very low population density.

Rosenberg said that while traveling is a little nerve-racking, she is excited to leave the country and confident in Penn’s preparations.

“We’re definitely heading in the right direction if this is what the guidelines allow, but it's also a little scary,” Rosenberg said. “Fingers crossed everything goes well.”

Students attended pre-departure orientation on Friday, Nov. 3, with speakers from SHS to discuss travel and water safety. 

Philosophy of Biology will serve as a blueprint for the full return of in-person global seminars in the spring, Cossar said. He added that while working at Penn Abroad can be a “roller coaster” right now, he is optimistic that the long-running course will be a success. 

“What it requires is just careful planning, a lot of communication, and a lot of flexibility," Cossar said. "This first course that is going [to the Galápagos Islands] has been great. We really want this to be successful.”

Penn Global Seminars have been held online since spring 2020. The virtual courses include online tours of historic sights, conversations with locals and academics, and collaborative projects with students from universities around the world. 

While on campus, students in the course study ecology with a focus on pre-Darwinian theories, Darwinian theories, and the history of the Galápagos Islands. Outside of the classroom, Philosophy of Biology professor Michael Weisberg co-leads the Galápagos Education and Research Alliance, which partners with the local community to do both conservation research and sustainable development.

Weisberg wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that taking students to the Galápagos Islands is a special experience. The course is one of the first global seminars that the University offered when the program was created in 2016.

“I love every second that I am in the Galápagos, and it's especially thrilling to share it with people who have never been there before,” Weisberg wrote. “It is an enormous privilege to take students to such a special place and I hope that, in the fullness of time, all Penn students can experience a global seminar.”