This is the first 2018 Hendersonville Student Ambassador profile in a series of five monthly spotlights published in the Times-News.
Katie Farina, 20, has called the Blue Ridge Mountains home since she was six years old, and grew up cherishing the wildlife around her. This month, she’s trading her backyard mountain views for the Peruvian Andes and studying the biodiversity of the Amazon.
And, it’ll be the first time in her life she travels internationally.
Graduating in three years, Farina is beginning her third and final year as an Environmental Science & Sustainability major/Spanish minor at UNC–Greensboro. She said her passion for studying ecosystems was originally inspired by her home on Davenport Mountain in Horse Shoe.
“These mountains have had such a big impact on my life,” she said. “I’ve always loved learning about all the animals and plants that live in them, and I’ve just really felt so connected to them.”
As a child, Farina said she could be found “hogging those big animal encyclopedia books in the library” or passing out animal information at the unofficial “Endangered Species Club” she created at Etowah Elementary.
“I just wanted to learn more about my home,” she said. “Especially as I got older, more how I could protect it.”
Now, Farina is spending five weeks of her summer at the Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Cusco, Peru, studying the ecology and biodiversity of the region.
“Biodiversity, basically, is an ecosystem’s large variety of animals and plants that create that very delicate balance that (the) ecosystem needs to survive,” she explained.
“If you lose even just one species,” like the Eastern Hemlock being threatened in Western North Carolina, Farina said, “(it) will ultimately lead to the decline of many other species.”
Farina plans to apply what she learns at Universidad in the field, as she explores the Amazon rainforest and the Islas Ballestas while in Peru.
“Peru’s section of the Amazon is actually the most diverse section of all of the Amazon,” she said. “I’m so ecstatic to go, especially to see all the different types of birds.”
Home to hundreds of species of migratory birds, including the endangered Humboldt penguin, the Islas Ballestas are also on Farina’s “must visit” list.
An uninhabited natural sanctuary for marine mammal, fish, and bird life, the Islas Ballestas off the coast of Paracas are only accessible by boat ride. Often referred to as “the poor man’s Galapagos” because they’re cheaper to access, Islas Ballestas is “a place where you can see evolution in the animals and plant life,” Farina said.
She plans to take copious notes, and looks forward to presenting on the biodiversity of Peru as part of Hendersonville Sister Cities “Speaker Series,” when she returns home later this summer.
Farina said she is also eager to be immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture, and is confident her conversational Spanish will improve while in Peru, by necessity.
“I’m nervous about being in an airport in Peru,” she said, explaining she connects in Lima before flying to Cusco and will have to navigate almost entirely in Spanish. “It’s really going to push my Spanish skills.”
She said her high school Spanish teacher, Suzanne Perron at West Henderson High, initially got her excited about the language and she’s been studying it ever since; Farina may even have enough credits by the end of the year to transfer from a Spanish college minor to a second major.
And she knows she wants to incorporate the language into her career – whatever that may be. She’s equally passionate about sustainability, environmental science, Spanish, and nonprofit work – thanks to her involvement with Camp Kesem on UNCG’s campus.
“Along with my love for nature, community service has always been something that’s really prevalent in my life,” Farina said. “I have these big, broad dreams.”
To keep up with Katie Farina and our other Hendersonville Student Ambassadors as they study abroad, follow “Hendersonville Sister Cities” (@HendoSisterCities) on Facebook.