I jumped off an Ecuadorian bridge into a 50 meter free fall high above the river below, biked 37 miles along the highway, observed the many wonders of the Amazon rain forest, hiked volcanoes and cloud forests, experienced the evolutionary diversity of the Galápagos Islands, and climbed the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. And those were just the weekend and spring break excursions.
“It was stunning.” That’s been my go-to response when people ask me about my semester in
studying at la Universidad San Francisco de Quito and completing an internship
in the south part of the city. I lived with my host mother in a three bedroom
apartment 9,000 feet above sea level, with her daughter and two-year-old
grandson. I took the bus 20 minutes to the university each day, dropping into
the valley of Cumbayá, where I took four classes, all in Spanish. Just riding a
public bus in Ecuador proved to be an invaluable window into a wonderful
culture. Quito, Ecuador
Perhaps the most rewarding part of my experience was my internship. Three days a week I traveled 90 minutes one-way by bus to get to the southern part of Quito, where I volunteered at el Centro de la Niña Trabajadora (the Center for the Working Girl), a nonprofit alternative school and workshop dedicated to helping working children of the market and their families to attain an education and have access to health, social, and psychological services.
I primarily worked in the administrative and volunteer offices, helping to search for grant opportunities and to update our presence on international volunteer sites and fundraising platforms, though I also spent some time helping disadvantaged students with their homework and volunteering on special projects to earn funds for the street outreach program. When I first told my host mom where I’d be interning, she strongly discouraged me from going to such a dangerous part of the city. However, I steeled myself to be vigilant but unafraid (though my walking pace betrayed my fear still), and was overwhelmingly rewarded with amazing life changing experiences and a host of new international, life long friendships.
I saw a part of the country that many citizens and most tourists don’t want to see. I had the unique opportunity to juxtapose the economically privileged students of the private liberal arts university with the marginalized members of society whose economic needs forced their children into labor often before elementary education could be completed.
I met incredible people from
and from all over the world who showed me the value of experiencing life
outside one's comfort zone. Whether having to speak a new language, navigating
to avoid being robbed at blade-point, eating lemon ants from a stick, dealing
with the military near the Colombian border, jumping off a bridge, or hiking in
the hail with new friends, I learned to trust myself and to be self-reliant. My
semester abroad proved the value of an experiential education as I found
opportunities to learn beyond the classroom.