I honestly wouldn't trade my study abroad experience for anything. I loved being a part of the IES family; I truly felt comfortable and cared for by not only my amazing host family, but by the staff members as well. I took classes at the IES program center and at USFQ, and also volunteered at a daycare for underprivileged children. I feel extremely lucky that IES provided the opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands and to the Amazon! In addition to those excursions, many weekends were spent travelling around other parts of Ecuador. However, Quito truly became my home during my time abroad.
I was one of the few students in my program who was not a victim of pick pocketing/robberies. My university in the States is located in the heart of North Philadelphia, so I am accustomed to urban living. I know it was a big adjustment for some of my friends who didn’t have much experience in that setting, but they learned street smarts fairly quickly! The idea that cat-calling and crime is so much worse outside of the U.S. is totally false in my opinion. Bad things happen everywhere, and as long as you use common sense in social situations, you’ll be fine!
I did get quite sick, as did most people in my program. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with gastroenteritis. My program directors and doctors took great care of me, and I made a quick recovery. Unfortunately, I also was just a few towns away from the epicenter of a 7.8 earthquake that wiped out much of the coast of Ecuador. I absolutely feared for my life and witnessed some horrifying tragedies. My friends and I were lucky enough to have been able to return to Quito after a hard couple of days, but many people did not have that luxury. Throughout this entire ordeal, the solidarity of the people of Ecuador inspired me and made me realize how many good people there are in this world. Everyone did their part to help us and to help each other, and my entire community spent much of their time volunteering and making donations to earthquake relief efforts.
I felt totally immersed in Ecuador’s culture and I am now much more confident in my Spanish-speaking skills. I made so many great friends and completely fell in love with Ecuador... and a boy (I know, totally cliché!). I am already planning to visit again later this year! I definitely recommend this program to anyone who is up for adventure!