Why did you pick this program?
Julia: I selected SIT Ecuador because it was one of the few programs that I could find that integrated science and Spanish. There are a lot of study abroad programs that focus on Spanish, and there are a lot that focus on science, but there are few that combine the two, which was really what I wanted.
My main goal for going abroad was to better my Spanish, so when I was looking at programs I decided that if need be I could do a more humanities focused program; however, I am very happy that I chose to do the more science intensive program.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Julia: I tell my friends that it is one of the best decisions that they will ever make. Going abroad gives you an experience that you really cannot get easily in any other way. You can vacation to a country, but that does not provide the same understanding of the country, nor do you get the integration into the culture.
You can choose to work abroad, but often times it is a longer commitment and may not be as feasible as studying abroad. Studying abroad provides huge advantages including aid in navigating the country, advice on being safe and secure, other students your age with a common interest, and a set of people who know a lot about the country. I also tell them that it is really important to remember that studying abroad is not always a walk in the park. It can be challenging, but it is still completely worth it.
What was the hardest part about going abroad?
Julia: I think that perhaps the hardest part for me was living in a Latin American country. I am relatively tall and very blonde, which draws a lot of unwanted attention from men. Walking down the streets of Quito I would get so many catcalls and men trying to get my attention. While I never felt unsafe, it was very exhausting, and it was simply aggravating.
While that was the hardest part while being abroad, coming back to my life in the States was also very challenging. Living in Ecuador is an extremely different lifestyle than the lifestyle that many people in the states are used to living. I found it challenging to balance the more basic lifestyle that I wanted to live with the life that my friends were used to living. However, I was able to make it work!
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Julia: There are so many good stories that it is hard to decide what my favorite is, but it might be during our time in the Galapagos. We spent one day where we went out to these lava tunnels on a fishing boat. We left at about 8 in the morning in an attempt to get the best snorkeling possible.
The first thing we did was snorkel with Manta Rays, which was a super crazy experience because they move extremely fast and are huge animals, but it was so cool! The day only got better from there because the next animal we found was a hammerhead shark and we got to jump off the boat and snorkel with it.
Then, we finally got to the lava tunnels, which are basically bridges of lava underwater and you get to dive under them and swim into caves or other areas while snorkeling. We saw so many white tipped reef sharks, and even a seahorse! It was such a fun day and I learned so much! It was awesome!
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
Julia: One of my favorite experiences while I was abroad was during the Independent Study Period. This period is a month long program where you spend time in one part of the country doing a research project that you have developed. I was located in the region of Ecuador between Banos and Puyo, which is a beautiful location, and I was studying the effects of small scale deforestation.
For this project, I got to travel around a little bit, and I spent 4 days at a reserve called Sumac Kawsay, which is located near Mera and is basically at the base of the Andes where the Amazon begins. This makes it a super cool area to be in, and there is a lodge located on the top of a hill that overs fantastic views of the Amazon and the Andes Mountains. I spent one night there alone, which was a very interesting experience, but during this night there was a thunderstorm.
I got to stand in the third floor of the lodge and watch as these huge bolts of lightning descended from the sky over the Amazon. It was such a cool experience to think that I was the only person around for probably 20 miles, and I was just watching the lightning all across the Amazon.