Abroad in Ecuador, where do I begin?

Hi everyone! My name is Sarah West, and I am a junior currently studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. When I look back on the journey that got me here, there were a limited number of sources that gave insight into the daily life of a BC student studying abroad in Quito. Thus my reason for writing. If nothing else, hopefully this will give somewhat of a glimpse into the vibrant country of Ecuador as an exchange student. 

Given I have been here for little over a month, I feel the dust has settled and my ~routine~ is somewhat more established. I use the word routine loosely, as spontaneity seems to be a constant here.

My weekday begins with waking up at the home of my host parents, Fernando and Rosita. Fernando, a retired pulmonologist, and Rosita, originally from Mexico, raised three adult children who have kids of their own now. They are a charming older couple, who have truly done the most in making Quito a second home. Whether that be giving me bartering lessons for the open air markets of Otavalo or having an abundance of patience for my entry-level spanish, the “familia anfitriona” aspect of studying abroad has been a major blessing during the transitional period. 

Classes begin at 10 am for me everyday, so after a morning breakfast with Rosita and Fernando, I am off to the Universidad de San Francisco Quito. I use the public buses in Quito for my morning commute, which totals to about 25 minutes on a bus fare of twenty-five cents. While the T has a special place in my heart, I certainly am not missing Charlie card expenses. The university is located in a town called Cúmbaya, and the road winds through the urban mountainside of Quito. Commuting for the most part tends to be very relaxing (save for the days when you accidentally take the wrong bus line, but more on that later). 

My classes this semester entail the following: Ecuadorian History, Language of Film, Medical Spanish, Conversational Spanish, Photography 1, Community Development, and a population health clinical placement. As a nursing major, this is definitely the most avant-garde semester I have had in terms of course types. Normally my schedule has a maximum of one or two non nursing classes, due to the rigor of the program. While operating a camera or analyzing film will not be on the nursing licensure exam, cultivating passions and other interests is quite important, and I can’t think of a better opportunity to utilize my newly acquired photography knowledge. 

All of our courses do happen to be in Spanish, which provides a layer of difficulty for your average, non-native speaker. Some days are better than others in terms of comprehension, but luckily professors have been super approachable and understanding of language barriers. 

(USFQ or Hogwarts, you tell me)

Classes will get out anywhere from 2:20 to 5:00 pm depending on whether or not I have clinical. 

After school activities range from city walks at the various parks in Quito, errand runs to Super Maxi (your Ecuadorian Walmart), group debriefings at Bigote (a cute cafe located across the street from USFQ which we frequent often), and everything in between. Normally weeknights tend to be utilized for work, as we like to keep the weekends free for adventuring. Given the majority of BC exchange students don’t have class on Fridays, it’s the perfect “work hard, play hard” set-up. 

The weekends are when all routine goes by the wayside. Within our group of BC students studying abroad, there are a handful of planners who work tirelessly to coordinate the weekend happenings (I do not happen to be one of them…they are the real MVP’s).

(We have yet to get a group photo, but this is the closest we have gotten)

The itineraries are guided by a google document that has been passed down from former BC Quito study abroad students. It has a plethora of destinations within Quito and beyond that give the recommendations for transportation, accommodations, food, and basically anything you could want to know about planning a memorable weekend trip. So normally, a plan will be finalized around mid-week, and we are off by Friday afternoon to whatever is in store. 

This past weekend, the eight of us headed out to Mindo, a cloud forest located about two hours from Quito. We attended a “frog concert” on Friday, which consisted of a guided evening walk in which various wild frog species and other insects were encountered via flashlights (truly top tier nightlife). Saturday morning entailed ten ziplines and the “Tarzan swipe”, aka the 100 foot swing, which undoubtedly woke us up. After, we set out by foot for the next excursion: waterfall hiking. We were not fifteen minutes into the walk before we were offered a ride in the back of a pick-up truck, by a kind family who was also on the way to their weekend get-away. This saved our much needed energy for the hour-long hike through the cloud forest to “Cascada Reina”, the most powerful waterfall I have ever seen. We then headed back to our air bnb, and I made some guacamole for our late afternoon pick-me-up. After much needed snacks, showers, and rest, we then headed into town in search of dinner. We settled upon an authentic Italian restaurant, complete with gnocchi and lasagna (leave it to the Boston exchange students to find the “North End” of Ecuador). And for our evening activity, we rode the town caterpillar train that was definitely meant for five year olds. Adorned in neon fairy lights and doing donuts in the town square, it’s moments like these where the beauty of being abroad shines in a way that none of us could have ever predicted. After concluding our time in Mindo with a chocolate tour on Sunday, we headed back to Quito. 

But as much as our weekend excursions provide the traditional sense of what people imagine study abroad to be, it is equally found in the routine and in the calm of daily life. Study abroad entails the thrill of adventuring to hot springs and volcanoes, but it just as much entails the quiet mornings with host parents, the daily commutes, the favorite cafes, and the warmth under the ecuadorian sun. May we be where our feet are, and may the adventure follow close behind. Until next time,¡que te vaya bien!