by Anna Rice, ’16 (Biomedical Sciences)
As an incoming freshman, I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I was unsure about where and for how long. As I continued my Spanish language classes through my freshman and sophomore years, I explored the idea of studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Through the individual study program at Minnesota State University, Mankato I chose to travel and study in Ecuador for 8 weeks to further my Spanish language skills. Because it is an individual study program, I was responsible for booking flights and traveling to Cuenca, Ecuador on my own. I was extremely nervous, as I think most people would be, but I said my goodbyes and boarded a plane to South America!
Once I arrived, my host family picked me up and took me back to their home. They were warm and welcoming and did not speak a word of English! I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I tried to catch as much as I could and with in a week, I could already understand ten times more Spanish than the first night of my trip. It just goes to show, things that you aren’t comfortable with don’t have to be uncomfortable forever. I started classes at Estudio Sampere, the sister university through Minnesota State University, Mankato. There were a handful of Mankato students involved in my same program. We had not all met before arriving, but we became quick friends. We attended school from 7:30 am to 12 pm every day, taking grammar and discussion based courses, with around 5 to 6 students each. After class, I would return home for lunch, and do some homework until mid afternoon. Almost every day I would meet up with the other students from school and hang out at a café or go explore the city. We tried to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as we could by visiting markets, restaurants, cathedrals, orphanages etc. We had our fair share of fun, and my Spanish greatly improved as I was speaking more and more each day. By the end of my trip, I would go to class and not even think about what I was going to say, or worry about not understanding an assignment. By the time I finished my 12 credits at Estudio Sampere, I was ranked the level below a fluent Spanish speaker.
As we only had class Monday through Friday, on the weekends we were free to roam. The school did offer optional weekend trips like hiking through the Andes or visiting ancient ruins, which we took full advantage of. Other weekends we took off to explore on our own. One of my favorite parts of my study abroad experience was the trip we took to the Amazon Rain forest. After riding a Grey Hound bus for nine hours through the winding roads of El Cajas National Park in the Andes Mountains, we arrived in Puyo, a small town in central Ecuador. We stayed in cabins at what I would compare to a camp ground run by a local family. We went on hikes, canoed, swam in waterfalls, and visited a village of indigenous people. We were fortunate enough to spend the day learning how they make jewelry to sell, how they hunt, and their traditional dances and foods. I was immersed in their culture and was able to see first-hand how different their lives were compared to mine without running water or electricity. Interacting with the natives and learning about their culture was incredible. It was an absolutely amazing and eye-opening experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. The weekend to the jungle was definitely one of the best weekends of my trip.
Ecuador was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I would absolutely recommend studying there or just visiting. I made so many memories and had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with whom I have made life-long friends. Anyone pondering the idea of studying abroad anywhere, DO IT! The experiences you gain and the people you meet will have a lasting impact on your undergraduate career and your life.