An Experienced-Focused Semester in an Incredibly Biodiverse Country January 30, 2015

By (Biology, Bowdoin College) - abroad from 09/01/2014 to 12/13/2014 with

SIT Study Abroad: Ecuador - Comparative Ecology and Conservation

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
The main things I gained were botanical knowledge, field research experience, and connections with the science community in Ecuador. Not too much new academically, but the experiences were great. I also saw a fair number of birds, which for a birder like me was great.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

While we were definitely busy all the time , the work was not terribly challenging, especially when compared to my home institution. However, the field time was good for experiential learning.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was paired with a good host family, orientation was good, and trips were well organized and planned.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Living arrangements varied between 4 host families, 4 lodge-like setups, and a boat. My host family in Quito was quite nice and had a nice house. There were a few instances (outside Quito) where bathrooms were not as functional as a would have liked (i.e. finicky electric showers, no lights, door didn't shut).

* Food:

Food was pretty variable as well. Typical Ecuadorian food usually involves a lot of rice, either fried or boiled potatoes, and some sort of meat; the only seasoning is salt or aji (hot sauce) that you add. My host family cooked a variety of food, though, and food was quite good at most lodges and on the boat in Galapagos.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

We were moving around so much that it was hard to settle in one place; the most integrated I felt was during the four-week long independent study project, as that was the longest we stayed in one place, and I was working side-by-side with an Ecuadorian. Other than that, you're with other Americans so much that you feel more like a visitor than a part of the culture.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I didn't have to use any health care, so my rating is really arbitrary. I got mildly sick once from eating tripe for 48 hours but other than that had no health issues. As a precaution, I took parasite meds which I bought in Ecuador upon my return and they either worked or I had no problems to begin with. Yellow fever vaccines are required by available in Ecuador for cheap, though getting it beforehand is not a bad idea and may be required. Malaria prophylaxis is also available in country, but I brought mine for fear of side effects, as in-country medicine was described as "stronger."

* Safety:

I personally had no problems with safety, though Quito is not the safest city in the world; 2 or 3 of the 23 people on our program got robbed. However, the safety advice given during orientation was quite useful. Just stay in groups of 3 or larger at night; also having a male with the group is helpful given the machista culture of Ecuador.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Ecuador is very inexpensive, and most costs are included with the program. I spent about what I normally would on textbooks over the entire semester. Going out to lunch is about $2 - $2.50.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $2
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Buy electronics beforehand, as the price is about double in Ecuador. Also it's hard to break bills larger than $10, so bring small bills.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Equivalent of five semesters college Spanish
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talking with your host family would probably be the easiest thing.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
  • Host Family
  • Hostel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Cloud forest excursion (specifically the lodge)
  • Lots of birdwatching
  • Independent study project
* What could be improved?
  • More advanced biology/ecology
  • More time for cultural immersion
  • Spanish instruction
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Bring small bills ($1-$10) and cellphones are provided.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Independent Study Project

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Comments: Not so much a course as a wonderful, four-week-long experience. I had a great project adviser, my project went pretty well, and I had a lot of fun doing it. It was nice getting some more experience doing field work (I had done research the previous summer).
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Field Methods

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Instruction Language: Spanish/English
Comments: Again not too challenging, but boy did I like this course. Basically a course on being a naturalist in Ecuador. Lots of botany and bird ID, which I loved. Also learned fish and insects, which was cool. In this class there is a final project based off of data that we collected in the field, which was cool. Very well integrated with field trips.
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Ecology

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Instruction Language: Spanish (with some English)
Comments: I had a pretty extensive ecology background beforehand, so nothing much new here.
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Spanish

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Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: This class was quite fragmented (i.e. on-a-week, off-a-week) due to field excursions. We did a lot of workbook stuff in class and watched a movie, which I felt wasn't the best use of time when we could have been doing something like conversing. My Spanish only improved marginally over the course of the program.
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