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Name: Bethany Ryder
Major: Special Education
Traveled Abroad Before: No
Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: Adventure. So much of the time that I was abroad I felt confused or lost. I know that this only helped me grow as a teacher and a student. When I first arrived at my host family's house it felt as though all of my prior Spanish was gone from my brain. I realized quickly that the Spanish you learn in school is sometimes very different than the Spanish spoken by many people. I learned so much about what it means to be an adaptable person. I met so many people from all over the world that all had a story to tell. The most valuable lesson I learned while being abroad is that to be a good talker you have to be a good listener. This goes for learning a language and for being able to speak effectively in the languages you already know. Everyone has a story to tell, it is our job to listen as much as we decide to talk.
Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: To be completely honest I chose this destination because I knew that it would be affordable for me. I also chose Ecuador because I wanted to work on my Spanish skills while I was abroad.
Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: I was in the COST Program so my experience was a little different than many people who decide to study abroad in that I was actually doing some of my student teaching and not actually taking classes. The school that I taught at, Colegio Americano de Quito, was incredible. I taught 4th grade math and science and I was able to see the similarities and differences between the Ecuadorean and American education systems. The culture differences were very noticeable and I loved exploring and learning about them. I saw these differences mostly in my students. In many South American cultures it is common for children to rely on their parents longer than is custom in North American cultures. I soon realized that problem solving skills were something that my 4th graders desperately needed. While it was easy to get frustrated when they seemingly could not solve very simple problems like finding a pencil I had to turn the situation around. How wonderful that these students have parents that care so much about them. That's how my whole study abroad experience played out...trying to find the good in every challenging situation. I loved the customs and traditions. While I was abroad I celebrated my birthday, El dia de los difuntos (Day of the Dead), and Christmas with my host family. Ecuadoreans love to celebrate and it was so much fun.
An unexpected experience that I had was the custom of arriving later than you say you will. We would plan something to happen at 7PM and it wouldn't end up starting until 9:30 or 10PM. That was a very American habit that I needed to get over. I realized that life doesn't have to be lived by some strict schedule. It's ok to be more go with the flow.
Another unexpected experience I had was how quickly I felt at home. My host parents spoke no English and I had VERY little Spanish when I first arrived. Somehow we got through that first hard month of very little communication and my host mom told me the first day, "Tu es familia" or "You are family".
Lastly, something that troubled me was the lack of special education services offered to students in Ecuador. As much as it frustrated me at first to see so many children going without a quality education, it only inspired me to go back to Ecuador and try to make some changes. I was offered a job at the school I taught at and so I might be going back in the Fall. The principal was very enthusiastic about my knowledge in Special Education and told me if I have any ideas for starting a program that she would be willing to listen and support me.
Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: Ecuador was an incredible country to study abroad in. I may be biased because it was the first time I have traveled outside the USA, but I was definitely never bored. There are three main regions in Ecuador: Jungle, Andean Highlands, and The Coast. To have such diversity in just one small country was incredible. I lived in the mountains and on the weekends I could take a two hour bus ride to the Amazon Rainforest, or to the beach, or hike a volcano. The diversity in the people is incredible as well. Walking down the streets of Quito (the city I lived in and the capital of Ecuador) you could see a business man waiting for the same bus as an indigenous Andean family dressed in traditional garments.
Ecuador is also one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish because the people are known for their slower paces of speaking. The people are also some of the kindest and most helpful I have ever met. Once you are welcomed into a home, you are family.
Q: What advice would you offer?
A: Try to learn at least a little of the language most commonly spoken before you go. It isn't completely necessary all the time, but it makes you a lot more independent if you can fend for yourself when it comes to communication.
Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: To learn the education system of a South American country and to get a better understanding of what special education might look like in another country outside the United States.
To learn more Spanish and be able to hold my own in a conversation.
Also, I tried to upload a picture and it isn't working, if there is an email I can send a picture to I will do that!
Question? Email Bethany!
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