Time Abroad: Fall 2008
Major: Integrated Sciences, Spanish
When the topic of study abroad comes up, one of the first things that most people ask is "Where did you go?" The unique aspect about my program was that I got to travel throughout my host country, and live in three different cities. If you ever get a chance to go to Ecuador, do it -- it's very worth your money because it not only has the coast, but the jungle and mountains all in a country about the size of Nevada. What really attracted me to the SIT program is the month-long independent study program (ISP). After four months in Ecuador, I can definitely say that it was the most unique and memorable part of my trip. I did my ISP in Catamayo, a small, impoverished town in the south. I spent the month with "promoters," assisting them in rehabilitating disabled children and adults physically and mentally, with the goal that our patients would have the physical capacity and self-confidence to work or go to school by the end of their sessions. SIT is extremely unique because it gives you the independence to spend a month alone in a setting that you choose, which is almost always different than anything you have every experienced. With that independence, you have the choice to take in the culture as much or as little as you want.
The second question I get is "Would you go there again?" and I always say por supuesto! (Of course!) because it's the truth. I love the Spanish language and Latin culture. In Ecuador, I didn't have as much of a choice: I had to learn Spanish and immerse myself. I am so grateful because now, I feel like I have lived there and have a family to go back to whenever I want. When you are surrounded by English speakers, it doesn't matter whether they are American, French, Spanish, or Japanese, you will be more likely to speak English because it is a natural tendency. In many parts of South America, a large portion of the population does not speak English, and that creates a more supportive environment to learn Spanish. With that said, make sure that when you choose a program, you understand the characteristics. Recognize if you want to immerse yourself, or if you want to take the more tourist approach. Either way is fine, but they are very different paths. Similarly, recognize if you are willing to go to the jungle and be in 95% humidity, or if you would rather be more comfortable in a milder environment. Each has its pros and cons.
I can honestly say that I have a new perspective on the world after studying abroad. When I initially returned to the states, I had
major culture shock, and didn't think I would stay in the US after I graduated. Two years later, I would still love to go back to Ecuador,
but can see the benefits and disadvantages to living in various locations. I think that anyone given the opportunity should study abroad
in a place that will make them look at their life and critique it. Traveling abroad allows you to look at your life from a different lens.
I have been abroad a few times and learned some little things along the way, so here are three things to leave you with:
1) Be honest with your host family and program advisors (much easier said than done).
2) Keep a blog, even if you only write on it once every two weeks. You will appreciate it in the future.
3) Try every type of food you are given, BUT, don't get sucked in to eating excess food because you are an American and people think you eat a lot. The balance is sometimes hard to find, but it is much easier to set boundaries at the beginning that three months into your program. (One time, and one time only, I didn't say no to puerco (fried pork) from a street vendor, and let's just say I paid for it.)