Study Abroad: Passport to Ecuador
Kaity Harman (right) participated in an exchange program with Ecuadorian college student Melissa Cordero (left).
Major: International Studies, Spanish
Hometown: Bemus Point, N.Y.
Study Abroad Program: Universidad del Azuay (Ecuador)
Why did you select this Study Abroad program?
Since I was staying for a year, I wanted a less popular destination where I could have a true immersion experience. I wanted to be in a classroom with Ecuadorians and improve my Spanish. The fact that it was a direct exchange made it even more interesting. Melissa and I basically traded lives. She came to BW and I lived with her family.
Was this your first international experience?
I had gone overseas in high school through yearly mission trips to Honduras. I had visited as part of a team and on my own about six to seven times, so I understood the process of making connections and establishing rapport within a community. I think that is part of the reason I chose to do a non-traditional Study Abroad program.
What benefits did you gain from this experience?
It was extremely challenging and somewhat scary at times. I think thatís why I gained so much from it. Personally, I had to re-learn what itís like to live with a family because my family is spread out. I was delighted as well as unprepared to sit down to a big lunch every day with my Ecuadorian family and to visit their extended family on weekends and holidays.
With regard to interpersonal relations, I felt like I had to create a new personality that translated to the Spanish and Cuencan culture. It was a trial and error process. I learned what humor translated and what didnít as well as what behavior was appropriate in certain situations. Academically, I benefited from taking my classes in Spanish and with Ecuadorian students. It expanded my vocabulary and my understanding of the education system and its perspectives.
What surprised you most about yourself?
When I compare pictures of my first month there to my last month, I look like a completely different person in dress and demeanor. I think most people expect to change and grow during their time abroad, but it's surprising to see how much.
What three words would you use to describe the experience?
Enriching - my life was enriched by the Ecuadorian people who reached out to me to make sure I had the best experience possible. I treasure each and every kind word, joke and piece of advice I received along the way.
Educational - it's a different kind of learning when you live and breathe the culture. It becomes personal so it stays with you longer.
Adventurous - I had the freedom to plan and embark on my own adventures. This included when my own family came to visit and when Melissa and I we toured the Galapagos Islands together just before I left Ecuador.
What was your most heartwarming experience?
I celebrated Thanksgiving with my host family. I had the recipes and ingredients and my host mom had the cooking expertise. Our cross-cultural cooperation felt like the true spirit of the holiday. Sheís a social studies teacher, so we both enjoyed talking about history and traditions.