The long train ride

Like many other students in the tri-campus community, I am someone who is constantly thinking about what assignment I have to complete, what projects need to get done and what exams I need to start studying for. So, I think I speak for many when I say that having the opportunity to put academics on pause over fall break was very much appreciated. As sad as I was to say goodbye to South Bend for a week, I also looked forward to being reunited with my family. I especially looked forward to spending time with my golden retriever puppy, Bentley. 

Months in advance, my mom and I made plans to travel to Boston to see my twin brother at Boston College. This was something that we did during my first year of fall break last year, and so in many ways, it felt like it was becoming a tradition. Last year, we flew to Boston and spent a few days with my brother as he showed us around campus. Then, we decided on a whim to take a ferry to Nantucket for the night because it’s my mom’s favorite place. We created so many long lasting, unforgettable memories on this trip, and I wanted the same thing to happen this year. Instead of spending the majority of our time in Boston, we decided to spend half of the trip in New York visiting our family friend in her apartment in the West Village.

After visiting my brother for a few days in Boston, my mom, my friend and I took the Amtrak train to New York. And because there isn’t much to do on train rides in order to pass the time, this forced us —for four hours at least — to take time to relax and reflect. 

During this train ride, I thought a lot about my time at Notre Dame so far. Even though I have only been here for a few months, I am already filled with an enormous amount of gratitude for the things I have experienced, for the people I’ve met and for where I am today. When applying to Notre Dame, current students, alumni and anyone affiliated with the University all seem to emulate a similar idea: the close-knit, welcoming community you find at Notre Dame is unlike any other community on any other college campus. 

This idea that Notre Dame’s community is unlike any other was something I always believed and knew to be true, but I realized this was something I didn’t fully understand until becoming a Notre Dame student myself. From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I finally realized why Notre Dame’s community was something that was heavily emphasized by both current and former students. 

From going to Mass at the Basilica, watching Rudy on the football field, cheering on the Irish on game days, walking to the Grotto, going on late night trips to LaFun or simply just watching a good romcom in your friend’s dorm room, being a Notre Dame student provides you the opportunity to create lifelong memories, share what you are passionate about, and grow as an individual.

Yes, I know these were some pretty deep thoughts for a four hour train ride, but I couldn’t help but look back with an immense amount of gratitude for the time I have spent in South Bend thus far.

Once the train ride was over, my mom, my friend and I all piled in a taxi to head to my friend’s apartment. While in the taxi, I looked through the car window and admired the big city that surrounded me, filled with excitement to finally be in New York, appreciation for the last few months and also hope for the future and the remainder of my college years.

Just like last year, this trip was filled with unforgettable memories. I’ll never forget staying up with my friend and my mom to wait for the release of Taylor Swift’s new album, “Midnights,” strolling through Central Park with my mom and dining at my family’s favorite Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End.

As sad as I was once fall break had ended and as much as I longed for a few extra days of relaxation, I was excited to return to Notre Dame, my new second home.

Isabelle Kause is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying sociology and minoring in journalism. When she’s not busy, you can find her listening to country music or Taylor Swift or trying out new makeup/skincare products. She can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Students study in Galapagos Islands over fall break

On Monday, a group of 14 students and two faculty members returned from their 10-day trip exploring the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador.

Jeremy Fein, professor of civil and environmental engineering and Earth sciences, and Gary Lamberti, professor of biological sciences, oversaw the excursion. Lamberti explained that this trip differed from other Notre Dame study abroad programs.

“The trip is embedded in a regular course. So the course is a two-credit [biology and civil engineering] course and it’s called ‘Field Practicum – Galapagos Islands’,” Lamberti explained.

Students don’t just leave campus to travel to South America for the course; they also go off campus into South Bend, Lamberti said.

“As part of this course, the students also do a service project at the Robinson Community Learning Center down on Eddy Street… we have them spend two sessions with the students at the Robinson Center, teaching them about the Galapagos.”

Lamberti reflects on how the service element of the course is special, as it brings the University’s funding for the trip “full-circle” and gives the students an opportunity to give back to the South Bend community.

But why the Galapagos? Fein explained the famous reputation of the islands and why they are considered so unique.

“The Galapagos were where Charles Darwin made his observations that led directly to the theory of evolution,” Fein said. “So that’s why it’s world-famous. These are ‘fresh islands’ that have come out from the seafloor on top of a hotspot and have been colonized by a whole range of plants and animals that have evolved separately from the mainland,” he said.

Lamberti expanded on just how special the islands are.

“The plants and animals that occur on the islands are unique worldwide. Many of them exist no place else on the planet,” Lamberti said. “And the animals in particular have virtually no fear of humans.”

Honey Stukes, a junior studying biology, said that the unique atmosphere of the Galapagos was noticeable from the minute the group stepped off the plane.

“We just walked a couple of steps like right off the plane… we saw the prickly pears and so much, and we weren’t even in the airport yet.” Stukes said. She described her attempt to “soak it all in like a sponge.”

The group stayed in Puerto Ayora, the most populous town in the islands. Each day, they visited a different island, making observations and conducting individual research, as well as experiencing the landscape around them through many hikes and snorkeling expeditions.

Senior Megan Hilbert, an environmental science major, reflected on the diversity of the islands.

“Overall, I was really surprised by how different all of the islands were. Every day it just felt like a totally different corner of the world,” Hilbert said.

Students agreed that what every place had in common were the up-close interactions with wildlife.

Junior Shannon Reilly, a civil engineering major, joked that it was often the animals that broke the existing mutual protection rules.

“Sea turtles came and swam right underneath us and it just did not look real. We’re supposed to stay six feet, but the turtle completely broke that one.” Reilly said.

In addition to sea turtles, students highlighted their close encounters with sea lions, manta rays, giant tortoises, iguanas, and native bird species— just to name a few.

Junior Peter Martin, a biological sciences major, referred to the islands as “the Holy Land for biologists.” Martin said that the conservation of the Galapagos is a product of hard work and sacrifice.

“It showed that when you conserve these large areas of land and you have people willing to make sacrifices to protect the environment, you create these rich biodiversity hotspots with animals that aren’t afraid of humans,” he said.

Martin said that the preservation of the islands was due to conscious choices.

“We met members of the community who understood how valuable and precious these ecosystems and places are… it really showed me the need to educate the next generations and show them how we can have this love and respect and care for the natural world,” he added.

Senior Hannah Enabnit, an environmental engineering major, explained how the group was fortunate to learn from one of these locals, their guide Luis.

“We had our guide Luis, and he had lived there for at least 20 years. He was so knowledgeable… he knew every detail about the Galapagos, but also just other things going on in the world. It was so impressive to me,” Enabnit said.

Attempting to sum up the experience in a single phrase, students described their trip as “surreal,” “out of a dream,” and most collectively: “once in a lifetime.”

Professors Fein and Lamberti agree that their favorite aspect of the program is getting to watch the students’ enthusiasm unfold. Fein explained that this is the most rewarding part of the program.

“I think Gary and I both do it because we love the reaction of the students… it’s, you know, a potentially life-changing experience,” Fein said.

“Seeing the excitement in our students when they see their first Galapagos tortoise or their first marine iguana or their first blue-footed boobie and all the unique animals is just wondrous,” Lamberti said.

Students reflecting on the trip expressed a sense of gratitude. Reilly said that, above all, she feels “extremely lucky.”

“Not many universities have programs like this, and I feel just really lucky that Notre Dame does and with such great professors and that I got chosen to go,” Reilly said.

Stukes expressed a similar feeling of appreciation.

“It was just a life-changing experience, I think for all of us… I’m still trying to process it. I look over the pictures and I’m like ‘I was there,’” she said.

“We all tried to record stuff, but at some point, we all just kind of stopped. We just had silent moments, and we were just looking around. We were just present in the beauty.”

You can contact Kelsey Quint at