Reason you chose this program: I knew I wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking, and I had an Ecuadorian Spanish teacher in high school who would talk about it all the time, so since high school I had an interest in the country. That became the determining factor when deciding between Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile – though all sounded amazing.

Favorite classes: I took the “Internship and Service Learning” class through the IES program center. The class met only once a week, and the rest of the hours were completed though a volunteer position in an organization in Quito. I worked at Baca Ortiz, the children’s hospital in Quito, with kids with cancer. Though it was a really emotionally difficult job, I was able to see a side of Ecuador I otherwise would not have been exposed to.

Decribe the housing situation: I lived in a homestay, with my Ecua-parents Cumanda and Augusto.  They were actually more my Ecua-grandparents – Augusto is a 91-year-old practicing surgeon!  They were so incredibly kind and generous to me, and are such interesting people. I feel incredibly lucky to know them and learn about their lives.  Their grandchildren were around my age, and 5 of them lived in the same apartment building as me.  Whenever I got bored I would go down to my “cousin’s” house and hang out with them. I loved being around a huge family and getting to be a part of their traditions, like the weekly Sunday breakfasts at our house.

Best Memory: This question is so hard to answer! The first thing that comes to mind was our 5-day trip to the Amazon, which was so unique and like nowhere I had ever been before. On a more everyday scale, I loved my morning breakfast ritual – coming downstairs and talking about life with our empleada Carmen over cornflakes and coffee. 

Experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: They tell you that reverse culture shock coming home can be more difficult than when you arrive, and for me this was definitely the case. When I got back to Chicago it took me a long time to get rid of the everyday habits I learned, like putting toilet paper in the trash can instead of the toilet, or turning on the hot water before a shower. It was also hard to eliminate some Spanish words that became part of my Spanglish vocabulary as well.

What you know now that you didn't know before going abroad: You learn so much about yourself when you are immersed into an unknown situation – especially one with a language barrier. Going abroad only exaggerated my love for travel, exploration, and meeting new people. It has also given me some potential ideas for what I want to do after I graduate. 

What I wish I knew before I left: You kiss everyone once on the cheek when you greet them – whether you know them or not. It is customary, whether you’re meeting up with a group of people or walking into a room of twenty, to go around and say “hi” by a quick kiss, even if you have no idea who they are. You also repeat the process when you leave.  Hand-shaking is not so much “the norm,” and though it got some getting used to, it’s a nice little part of the culture that I definitely miss now. 

Greatest Challenge: Balancing school and “life” was probably my biggest challenge while I was there.  Though we did not have Friday class, which was excellent in terms of planning weekend trips, there were times I had to really remind myself studying is a priority. Also, my parents wish I did a better job of keeping in touch. They love you and want to know how you are!

Fact about your host country that you think people would be surprised to learn: Even though Ecuador looks like a tiny little country on the grand map of South America, it is so geographically and ecologically diverse. To the east you have the Amazon, the Andes Mountains run central, and then there is the coast on the west. And of course, the Galapagos are like nothing I had ever seen before – something you absolutely cannot miss while you are down there.