I was nervous when I left for Quito. It was a program with students from schools other than my own, in a place I knew very little about. I knew I wanted to spend my J Term doing something meaningful, though, and this was the right experience.
I could go on forever about the experience. One of the absolute highlights for me was the family I had the privilege of living with. They were all so welcoming, and interested in knowing us as people, and teaching us everything they could. We ate almost every meal as a family, and it was common to stay at the table talking after dinner finished (one night we talked for three hours!). Our mom always made sure we were well-fed, and her cooking was a mix of healthy and traditional and flavorful. She always explained when something she was making for us was native to Ecuador, or a cultural tradition.
We spent hours in the classroom, yes, but in the end it paid off. We heard from many field speakers, who gave great insight into Ecuador's past, present, and future. Outside of the classroom, I loved the structure of the experience. We were only there for a month, but wow, we saw so much. Exploring Quito was just the beginning. We went to the rainforest and the Andes, two areas so different from each other and from where we were staying. On our free days, we independently organized group trips to the Cloud Forest and Banos as well.
Overall, it was a whirlwind of learning and adventure. I pushed myself to new challenges and experiences-- zip lining, climbing a birdwatching tower, night-hiking, salsa dancing, speaking Spanish with strangers, herding cows, taking transit in a new city, making new friends, baking in a wood-fired oven, learning a traditional Quechua dance, swinging over a mountain valley, soaking in hot springs, eating tropical fruits I've never heard of, and exploring crowded outdoor markets. By the time I was done, I wasn't ready to leave! I plan on returning to Ecuador, and I would recommend this program to anyone.