Dec 14, 2017
By Maddie Bennett '19
Junior Maddie Bennett of the softball team spent her fall semester in Ecuador. Here is her experience from South America.
I chose to study abroad in Latin America because I liked the idea of spending four months in a place that could provide completely new learning experiences and I wanted the opportunity to immerse myself in the Spanish language. To do that, I took classes in Spanish and stayed with a host mother who I shared meals with, spending time with her and her friends and family, and with whom I was able to rely on for emotional support. My host mother's nickname, Sol, means "sun" in English and without a doubt, she brightened my experience. She made me feel comfortable in her home when I first arrived and was suffering from altitude sickness. The usual symptoms are dehydration, drowsiness, and a loss of appetite. For me, I was chugging water and falling asleep every couple hours and could only pick at some rice my first days there. While I was constantly napping, Solwould check in on me and come home from work to eat lunch with me. As I grew accustomed to the altitude but still struggled with adjusting to the culture shock, she always made me feel comfortable like our home was my safe space. When I began to meet new people and become more social, she pushed me to travel and never let me take my time for granted. Sol really had an immense positive impact on my time in Ecuador and I am so appreciative that I had the opportunity to live in her home.
Ecuador is a small country, about the size of Colorado, with the Andes Mountains running through its center, the Amazonian rain forests to the East, and a coast of white beaches to the West. A quick tidbit, that you may or may not have known, is that the Galapagos Islands, home to Darwin's Finches and the well preserved body of the famous tortoise, Lonely George, are also part of Ecuador. While the geographic considerations were not what inspired me to choose Ecuador, it definitely did enhance my experience while I was here.
The city I was staying in, Quito, is the bustling capital of Ecuador and the section of Quito that I was living in could best be described as modern, with a sprinkle of historical. The true heart of the city was the "centro histórico", with beautiful churches and building that were practically untouched from the colonial era. I took an art history class on Colonial Quito, and we went on field trips to la Compañía and San Francisco, two of the most important churches in the historical center. The class was a great opportunity to learn about the history of Quito with art, and visiting the churches with my professor gave me new insights on the rich cultural history of Quito.
A big part of living in Quito was learning to use the public transportation, in part because that is the most practical way of traveling in a city, but also because cars are imported goods and thus extremely expensive. The public transportation seemed daunting at first when I was figuring out how to get to school. I would walk 20 minutes from my house to the Rio Coca bus terminal, take a green bus another 20 minutes to Cumbaya and then get off at my stop and walk to the university. The buses have a lot of unspoken rules that I had to pick up on quickly, like the fare is 25 cents, and that you have to tell the coin collector where your stop is or there is a chance the bus won't stop. On especially busy hours, it was normal to have to stand in the aisle, grabbing the overhead handles for stability and squeezing next to someone. Once I became used to the system, I could appreciate how affordable and reliable it was, and that it could get me anywhere in Quito.
The people in The States tend to be more formal with each other, but in Ecuador the norm is to get warm and personal from the start. The typical greeting is to kiss on the cheek, and I didn't just kiss the person I knew, I kissed everyone they were with too. A common phrase to say when you are meeting someone for the first time is, "Mucho gusto" which indicates that it was a pleasure to meet them. My host mom would also say terms of endearment on a regular basis, calling me her "corazón", which means heart, or her "mija preciosa" which means her precious daughter.
A big portion of my time in Ecuador was spent traveling all over the country. I didn't have class on Fridays so I could spend my weekends hopping on a bus, at times a plane or boat, exploring the area, crashing in a hostel, then coming back home to do assignments from the university. Some of the places I visited were Tiputini, a biodiversity research station in the Yasuni Park of the Amazon rainforest, two islands of the Galapagos, the thermal hot springs in Papallacta, and "las cascadas", waterfalls, of Mindo. Every exciting place offered amazing experiences and gave me a new perspective of Ecuador.
Along the way, I was sure to try a lot of food. The most important meal of the day was lunch, which typically came with a freshly made juice, soup, and a plate with rice, tomato salad, and some type of meat or a fried egg. Some of my favorite dishes were the ceviche, made with fish, tomatoes, onions, and lime, the encebollado, a soup with fish, yucca, and carrots, and fritado, with fried mashed potatoes, pork, and sometimes a fried egg. Every street would have a panadería, a bread shop with delicious fresh bread and pastries, which I ate almost every morning with fresh fruit.
I feel like too often, students who study abroad are willing to share about the good parts, but skim over the bad and the ugly. It is quite possible that they never experienced the level of uncertainty and stress that I did, but phew! Studying abroad led to a lot struggles that I had to overcome and work through, the biggest of which was the language barrier. I knew that taking classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish-speaking family, and truly immersing myself in another language would be tough, but I never really conceptualized it. I was constantly making mistakes, but eventually, those mistakes led to growth and I felt myself becoming more confident with my Spanish comprehension. I am extremely glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and studied abroad in Ecuador, but the process was not easy and I had to overcome adversities like culture shock on a daily basis. It may have been the most challenging semester I have had to date, but it was without doubt the most rewarding and don't have enough good things to say about the beautiful country and its warm citizens.
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