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Study Abroad: Ecuador

 

I was always told to study abroad in college, because it’s one of the only times in your life when you can travel, learn and experience another place without the pressures of a job or family. When I decided to be a two-season college athlete, the dream of studying abroad became less of a sure thing. While I wouldn’t ever want to give up being a part of an athletic team, I yearned to experience the world outside of the US east coast. I was born, went to high school and went to college all within a 100-mile radius of each other.

 

When I found out that Hopkins offered an intersession study abroad program, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I would only miss two weeks of track, and I would be able to complete my studies here at Hopkins.

Ecuador was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt authentically alive in a place that was nothing like the place I call home.  What some people experience in an entire semester, we managed to pack into two weeks. We scaled the side of a slippery waterfall while my professors had simultaneous heart attacks on the bridge behind us. We sauntered through the largest market in South America, Otavalo, and used my advanced adequate Spanish, courtesy of taking the language for five years (no one actually uses the usted form anymore, by the way).  We walked across a bridge suspended over the Amazon Rainforest, spotting monkeys and birds and sloths along the way. We snorkeled in the Darwin Bay off of the Galápagos Archipelago with sea lions, sharks and sea turtles, and I get dangerously close to stepping on a sting ray. I ate way to many fish dinners (literally, treading the mercury poisoning line), way too few Chipotle-esc burritos (which are not an Ecuadorian food group) and just the right amount of buy one get one free pisco sours at happy hour (legal in the great country of Ecuador).

 

You may be thinking, wow, this sounds like a vacation not study abroad and while yes, this trip was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life I also truly learned more than I ever had in a classroom. I went to Ecuador partly to get three science credits to add to a total 12 mandatory to graduate. Science is not my strong suite, and I was dreading making up those pesky credits in a classroom.  The opportunity to go to Ecuador and fill those credits, studying tropical biology and animal behavior, was the perfect way to do it. I was completely immersed in the culture and in the land—literally, living in the Amazon and on a boat in the Galápagos— and being so involved and active in my learning made me appreciate the information so much more. Things that I would have fallen asleep learning in a traditional classroom are now ingrained in my head because I experienced them, not passively heard about them. I saw sea lion pups nursing and unfortunately how the El Niño season affects their lifestyle.  I witnessed squirrel monkeys follow capuchins, using their intelligence to steal food. I listened to exotic birds sing certain tones in their songs to attract mates. I truly learned by experience, something that I believe studying abroad has the power to give you.

 

Studying abroad, even for two weeks, has given me so much more than three science credits. It pushed me past my comfort zone, helped me experience a new culture and allowed me to make timeless memories (not to mention super sweet GoPro pics). I encourage you to make the same leap, get on the plane, and go.

Megan DiTrolio is a writing seminars major at Johns Hopkins University.
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