About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Environmental Studies and Global Studies double major, Hispanic Studies minor
Program: Universidad de San Francisco de Quito
Location: Quito, Ecuador
Term: Spring 2020
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Even before applying to colleges I knew that I wanted to study abroad. A personal life goal of mine is to become fluent in Spanish and I knew one way to achieve that is to immerse yourself in that language. So, when I began looking for programs, I started by finding all Spanish language options, then narrowed down my search by looking for all that had programs or classes in Environmental Studies. I had originally decided on an SFS program but found I could not afford it. My advisor was such a huge help, as she led me to USFQ in Ecuador. It was cheaper, had classes I could take, and allowed me to learn more about the country that I had already researched in my time at UNC. All in all, I am so happy I ended up with the program that I did. The process is not linear! But you will end up where you need to be.
What did you learn about yourself?
One thing I learned was that I am more than capable of handling situations outside of my comfort zone. I have anxiety, which can lead to overthinking of just about everything. Despite this, I found myself speaking up when my group experienced language difficulties. I did not let the worry that I would say something wrong or stupid keep me from holding a conversation or getting advice about where to eat, or visit, or what path to take. I was able to find and keep my voice. I also discovered the power of meditation. After Mindo, my friends and I continued to meditate, together and apart. This enriched my experience by allowing myself the space to appreciate exactly where I was and what I was doing. That skill is something I plan to take with me on future travels and whenever I need to stop and recognize the good that I have around me.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
I quickly clicked with a small group of exchange students from all across the US (and one from the UK!) who wanted to travel as much as I did, all on a budget. We started going to someplace new every weekend we could, and did so up until Covid concerns locked us down and we had to move home. My favorite one of these trips was one of our first weekends away together. Three others and I went to Mindo, a small town in the cloud forest. We found an amazing hostel that had an orchid garden and so many hummingbirds right next to the breakfast tables. This trip was transformative for several reasons. First, the activities we did, such as hiking, zip-lining, touring a chocolate factory, and wandering around town introduced me to a completely new environment. I was able to interact with the locals, joke with taxi drivers, and eat amazing arepas all while taking in the stunning natural beauty unlike anything I have seen. Second, my friends and I began to meditate in the mornings, to center ourselves, connect, and get ready to take on the day with full appreciation. This strengthened our bond and showed me that they will be friends for life. It also taught me that it is so important to stop and recognize the amazing moments we find ourselves in. Thanks to that collective experience I remember that trip and the feelings I experienced so vividly. Lastly, it was the first time we ventured away from Quito and saw how different Ecuador can be in only a couple hour drive. The landscape changed, the pace of life changed, the people changed. It helped me feel connected to my new country, not just to the city and school.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Stay calm. Work to get a solution in place. And then let your emotions out. I found that keeping myself calm until any scary or new situations were sorted out, whether I was lost, dealing with people, or unsure what to say what I needed to, helped me immensely. For example, when Ecuador went into lockdown due to Covid, and so many of my friends were getting sent home, I remained calm and was in consistent contact with my universities, my parents, and my fellow students until my safe passage back to the US was secure. After that, I had to space to be incredibly upset without having the additional stress of uncertainty. It is so important to give yourself the space to be upset after an emotional experience. Otherwise, it stays with us and makes it so much harder to move onto better, brighter things. Finally, rely on your support system! You have so many people with you who want to help: exchange and local students, your host family, university resources, just to name a few. You are not alone. If you are ever unsure of what is going to happen, these people are there for you, whether it be to lend an ear, to get you where you need to go with what you need, or to offer advice.
How do you identify?
LGBTQ+, Covenant Scholars, Scholarship Recipient
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
As somebody in the LGBTQ+ community, be careful! Look into where you are going to make sure it is safe to actively present that part of yourself or not. Although Ecuador is very Catholic, I felt safe telling certain people about my sexuality and that definitely strengthened my bond with them.
If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
The other students at my university, both local and exchange, were a great support system for me. I surrounded myself with individuals who understood the challenges of having a different identity and if I ever was uncomfortable I was able to talk it out with them.