Name: Margaret Mauer
Program: USFQ Ecuador in Spring 2018
Fields of Study: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Minor in Spanish
How did studying abroad affect your academic and/or professional career?
Studying ecology in a classroom is fine. Studying ecology by experiencing it while traveling on another continent is beyond amazing. After spending a semester abroad, I have become so much more sure that my academic and professional goals are headed in the right direction, and after having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world working in my field, I have better connections and a better idea of what my career could look like in a few years!
How did you explore your hobbies, interests, and passions abroad?
Ecuador is a special place for exploring a really wide variety of passions: just a little bit smaller than the state of Nevada but HIGHLY diverse, you can travel from the capital city of Quito to the Amazon, deep into the Andes, or out to the Pacific coast in about eight hours or far less. Every weekend I had the chance to get on a bus and explore a different interest: field sketching and learning about traditional ecological knowledge in the Amazon, cooking and hiking in the Andes, dancing and surfing on the coast (actually, I danced pretty much everywhere I went). I was even lucky enough to visit the Galápagos—something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. And all along the way, I was learning more and more Spanish than I ever could in a classroom.
Why would you recommend your respective abroad program or location?
I really can’t imagine wanting anything more than the experience I had studying abroad through Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). USFQ is a big school for studying abroad, and in my experience, there was a good mix of international students from all over the world—not just the States—and I had a great time meeting people from my program. Classes were really engaging and weren’t separated between international and local students, so I got to meet some really cool people outside of my program as well! Additionally, classes aren’t held on Fridays, and because Ecuador is such a relatively small country, opportunities for long weekend adventures are everywhere. USFQ also helps to organize trips to the Amazon, the Galápagos, and Peru, which can be really great ways to meet other international students and see really special parts of the world. Another plus: Quito is known for speaking very clear Spanish, which for some makes easing into a Spanish-speaking culture a little less intimidating!
What should students consider when applying and preparing for their time abroad?
Before you go, do your homework on the country you’ll be living in. Review a little bit of its history and which holidays you might experience while you’re there; look at it on a map and check out its borders and geography; find a national news feed and read a couple articles about what’s going on there. In my experience, coming into a new country and culture and meeting new people was more fun and more responsible having learned something about them beforehand.
Share a story about a time you experienced cultural immersion.
There are a million differences between my experience living in the United States and Ecuador, but one that I really struggled with was machismo. During my time in South America, this took the form of behaviors like catcalling or some kinds of dancing and gesturing that I personally found disrespectful. Despite wanting to react the way I wanted to within my own beliefs and values, I realized that it’s not my culture, it’s not my place; I learned to react the way other Ecuadorian women did, by steadily ignoring really unwelcome advances. I would probably have done this differently in my own culture and country, but by following the examples set by the women around me, I felt that I stayed within respectful cultural bounds and ended up making some really special connections with them.