Ever since I was little I have dreamed of going abroad, whether it was going to be on my own or through an institution. By the time I attended college, I made it my priority to do a study abroad program. I have passion to learn new languages and understand other cultures.
I studied in Guayaquil, Ecuador through the International Service-Learning Program (IPSL). The program consisted of a fusion of language immersion and community service for a duration of four months. I stayed with a host family who lived in close proximity to the university. During our first week in Ecuador, the students spent a week in the highlands for a cultural introductio. We started in Quito and traveled to several northern provinces throughout the country. From then on, the students went on excursions about twice a month, organized by the school. A day in my life in Guayaquil included going to my service in the morning, eating lunch there, going to class in the afternoon, then coming home around 7pm. My schedule was relaxed and I loved it.
Since I am a resident at my home university, the tuition that I pay for school there, transferred to my university in Ecuador, Universidad Especialidades Espiritu Santo (UEES). However, I still had to figure out a way to pay for necessities like books, flights, toiletries, and spending money for my trip in general. For these reasons, I searched for funding through applying for scholarships. Fortunately, I am honored to say that I won both the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and the Diversity Abroad Blogging Scholarship, which literally funded all of my necessities.
I wish I would have known the economic situation of the country. In the coast of Ecuador, a majority of the goods are imported from the United States (like hygienic products, clothes, electronics, etc.), making the taxes high. For example, body wash costed over ten dollars . Had I known how expensive all of these goods were going to be, I would have brought more things from my country. Living in Ecuador has made me appreciate the bustling, national industry of the United States.
If anything, experienced sexual discrimination while I was abroad. In Ecuador, the "machismo" culture is very much alive and prevalent. There, I definitely felt like a woman. Every day I would walk to school, cars beeped and men whistled. At home, my host-father never cooked and rarely cleaned. He worked all day and by the time he came home, his food was ready. The maid would make it and my host-mother would serve him. At the same time, the machismo culture was flattering because the men had more manners. They would give up their seat for a woman on the bus, hold doors open, and never let a woman struggle with carrying a heavy object. It took me months to adjust to the gender roles there. In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable with the starkness of gender roles but over time, I just accepted that it is a part of their culture. I learned that I cannot get upset over things I cannot control.
Honestly, studying is a personal experience. Studying abroad has changed me in a way that I do not even understand yet. One benefit that I can name however, is that I can speak Spanish now and that I was my ultimate goal for coming to Ecuador. I am extremely grateful for this and the rest of the benefits will manifest themselves as life goes on.
The most memorable moment of studying abroad was when I experienced the earthquake. I was with my friend in the mall when it struck and we were terrified. I truly thought I was going to lose my life but my friend was there for me. Once we escaped the shaking building, she hugged me as I sobbed in her shoulder. Experiencing such a traumatic moment with her made me realize how strong our bond is. I will never forget that. This has shown me that you don't have to know someone all your life to have an inseparable bond.
I think Ecuador is more of a country for cultural and adventurous excursions. There are many cute, coastal villages to visit and countless intrepid, audacious activities in the highlands, but I would not recommend the nightlife. I did not find it enticing.
Studying abroad has prepared me for my future career by teaching me to understand other cultures (like tolerating customs that I do not agree with). In addition, I have gained a deeper understanding for the Spanish language which broaden my spectrum of communication.
I would suggest to go on every excursion. Over time, the hype of the country that one is in may decrease and one's interest in excursions with the school do not sound as exciting as they did in the beginning of the program. I say, go to everything and make the absolute most of the short time you in a that particular country.