Students studying abroad through Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) Ecuador attend the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), a private Ecuadorian university enrolling 3,500 undergraduate students that is largely modeled off of an American liberal arts college. Elizabethtown students studying within the biology, business, education, fine and performing arts, history, modern languages, political science, psychology, and sociology and anthropology departments will find a number of course offerings available through the USFQ. Many students from other departments can otherwise fulfill their Elizabethtown College Core Program courses in Quito as well. The majority of classes at the university are taught in Spanish; however, a number of biology and environmental science classes are taught in English.
Prior to arrival in Ecuador, the registrar from the USFQ will e-mail students a language placement exam, which will determine their Spanish language ability and the corresponding level of classes that students are eligible to take. After having taken the exam, students will register for classes a few weeks before departure for Ecuador, or at the very latest during BCA orientation. Perhaps the most frustrating part of registration is that international students are the last to register in the USFQ system so there is the possibility, although unlikely, that some classes may be full by the time BCA students register. BCA recommends that students going abroad have at least two semesters of college Spanish before going, especially since students will use Spanish every day. There are a number of Spanish language courses for students from all ranges of ability from beginners to advanced. Some popular classes that students have recommended in the past include "Tejido Básico," "Temas de América Latina," and "Volcanology." A number of these classes among others include field trips to various parts of Ecuador, further familiarizing students with the country.
The majority of classes for students will consist of a mix of Ecuadorian and international students. Professors tend to be fairly lenient on international students, knowing that Spanish is not their first language; however, students who take upper-level non-language classes taught in Spanish may find the professors to be somewhat stricter.
City and Local Attractions
Quito is the capital and second largest city in Ecuador and has a population of nearly 2 million people. It is located high in the Andes Mountains at approximately 10,000 feet in the Ecuadorian province of Pichincha. In 1978, Quito became one of the first two cities to become a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site for its high levels of indigenous culture. The city is very diverse in terms of its residents and development, and no visitor will leave without experiencing the warmth of the Quechua indigenous lifestyle. Some popular places to visit in the city include:
- Mariscal Foch: the most popular neighborhood in the city for foreigners that includes a number of cafés and nightlife activities as well as a large indigenous market selling locally produced goods.
- Mitad del Mundo: an Equator monument located just outside Quito that marks the line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The monument is a popular tourist attraction and makes for a great picture; however, the correct Equator line is actually located 240 meters from the indicated line.
- Museo Guayasamín: a museum located in the Capilla del Hombre that is devoted to the art of Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorian artist famous for his paintings of the plight of the mestizo. Typically, the BCA director will take students here for free, and it is definitely worth the visit.
- Plaza Grande: the main square in the city's historical center where visitors can find a number of museums as well as the city cathedral and the Church of San Francisco.
- TelefériQo: the world's second-largest cable car ride that takes visitors to the top of Pichincha, the volcano around which Quito is built. From the top, visitors can see a number of other nearby volcanoes as well as the entire city of Quito below.
- Virgen del Panecillo: the Panecillo is a large hill near the historical center of the city on top of which is a large statue of a winged Virgin Mary. The BCA director typically includes this visit as part of students' orientation program.
Students who study abroad in Ecuador often recommend buying a cell phone in Ecuador in order to communicate primarily with study abroad friends and host families. The most common telephone companies from which students will buy cell phones include Movistar, Porta, and Alegro. Most students buy pay-as-you-go phones, which cost on average between $50 and $70, and students buy additional minutes as necessary throughout their semester abroad. Often, there are Movistar and Porta representatives outside of the university that will sell you additional prepaid minutes. Frequently, students from previous semesters leave their Ecuadorian cell phones with the BCA director, so it is possible to reuse a former BCA student's cell phone. Students recommend communication with family and friends in the United States through Skype or a similar video chat program. Many students, but not all, have access to Internet at their host family's house; if they do not, there are four computer labs in the student center at the USFQ that are available for use throughout the day. Sometimes there are classes in the computer labs and they can often fill up quickly when there is no class, so learn the best times to use the computers if necessary.
"I did buy a cell phone, and I highly recommend it. Sometimes old students will leave cell phones for you, but you can buy them for about $50 at the mall. Most students from the United States in Quito use Movistar. I sent mail at a local post office and received it through the BCA office at the university. Often times, I would have to go to the customs office to pick up my larger packages. I had Internet at my house. Most host families at least have Internet; some have wireless, but some do not have either. If your family does not have Internet, you can use the Internet at the university, or there are a plethora of Internet cafés for cheap." (Elizabeth DiLeonardi '11)
"I personally did not experience very much culture shock. The main problem I faced in the beginning was the change in language, since I had never before been in an environment in which I was forced to use Spanish all the time. However, after a few days, I was fine. One thing I can recommend is to just keep an open mind about all your experiences, and not to judge something too quickly." (Melissa Cangialosi '11)
"Culture shock affects everyone differently when they first arrive in a new country. The biggest thing that may be difficult for some students is adjusting to life in a developing country, where seven people crammed into the bed of a pickup truck is totally normal as is watching guys in the Amazon climb orange trees with machetes and hack down an orange to later only peel it using the same machete. I found myself constantly being amazed at the simplicity of Ecuadorian life; if students notice those differences and latch onto them, culture shock will not be a problem. Reverse culture shock was terrible for me due to the complexity and fast pace of American life. I came back in May and was finally readjusted by the end of June only to return to Elizabethtown where I found after a year abroad, much had changed. Students who love Ecuador should be prepared for that difficult reentry." (Allan Craven '11)
"I have lived in Latin America prior to my year abroad in Ecuador, so the adjustment was not too rough for me. There is definitely reverse culture shock for sure. It can be difficult coming back and noticing that most people don't really care about where you've been, American license plates really haven't changed, and the worsening levels of Spanish among American students is inevitable. I also found myself forgetting that toilet paper can go in the toilet and that you really don't have to put up your windows, take out the radio, hide all electronic devises, and lock the doors incessantly in the United States." (Kristen Kilpeck '12)
Unlike many other study abroad programs that work through the USFQ, BCA provides a number of excursions to familiarize students with Ecuador. The two principal excursions that BCA includes are the week-long trip to the Galapagos Islands, where students visit wildlife preserves, go snorkeling, and hike volcanoes, and the five-day trip to the Amazon, where students stay in a jungle lodge, visit an indigenous shaman, and participate in activities at a local jungle high school. Besides these main excursions are a weekend visit to the indigenous market town of Otavalo in the north of Ecuador and day trips to Bombolí (a cloud preserve located near Santo Domingo), Quilotoa (a volcanic crater lake located in an indigenous community), and South Quito (the more poverty-stricken area of the city where students participate in activities at a local childcare center).
Health and Safety
Check to make sure that your health insurance policy in the United States will cover you for five months in Ecuador. If not, you will need to investigate alternative forms of international health insurance. In terms of crime, the biggest threat in Quito comes from pickpockets, as it can be very common for students have items stolen from them unknowingly while walking in the city. It is important to remember, however, that just like many Latin American cities, Quito can be more dangerous than petty theft. Otherwise, most students have found Quito to be very safe.
All students live with host families, one student per family, in the northern neighborhoods of Quito, the majority of which are located about a half hour to forty-five minutes away by bus from the university. Upon arrival in Ecuador, students will stay in a downtown hotel during orientation week before finally moving in with host families. BCA requires all host families to provide their host student with his or her own room and two meals per day.
The official language of Ecuador is Spanish, which is the most widely spoken language in Quito. In much more rural areas or areas with a large indigenous population, locals may speak Quechua, the largest indigenous language, or any of a number of other tribal languages. Few Ecuadorians speak English fluently besides a number of the educated elite and students at the USFQ, so it is essential for students to have at least a basic understanding of Spanish before studying abroad. Some commonly used Spanish slang words very representative of Ecuadorian speech include the following:
- Bacán: cool
- Chévere: cool
- Chistoso: funny
- De acuerdo: Is that OK?, alright
- De ley: absolutely, definitely
- Full: many, a lot ofMan: guy
- Pana: buddy, friend
- ¿Qué cosa?: "What did you say?"
The vast majority of Elizabethtown students studying abroad in Ecuador choose to use their American bank accounts in Ecuador and not open a separate Ecuadorian account. Automatic telling machines (ATM) are available throughout the country, but it is important to remember when withdrawing cash from ATMs that there will be transaction fees of varying amounts depending on the bank. Most students recommend taking out large sums of cash infrequently to avoid paying these potentially large fees. The most important thing for students to keep in mind is to guarantee the safety of the area where they plan to withdraw cash—if the area looks suspicious, it is best not to withdraw large sums or any money at all. Most Elizabethtown students spent between $1,000 and $4,000 on personal travel and other expenses.
The official currency of Ecuador is the American dollar, which eliminates any problems with foreign exchange risk. The country uses all paper bills as used in the United States; however, it also mints its own coins that are used interchangeably with American coins. It can be very difficult to break large bills in small restaurants or on buses due to the country's frequent change crises. As a result, students should not be surprised when a small neighborhood store will not accept a $20 bill for a 25¢ purchase.
"Generally, I took out large sums of cash at a time and kept it in a safe in my room. However, be extremely careful carrying around large sums of cash. DO NOT BRING LARGE BILLS. There is a big change issue in Ecuador and even a $10 bill is sometimes hard to break. Bring lots of change (especially quarters for the bus) and avoid anything larger than a $20 bill. Overall I did not spend that much because we got a generous lunch allotment each month, so I saved up that money. I spent most of my money on traveling and a little shopping. I spent maybe $1,000 in total." (Elizabeth DiLeonardi '11)
"Bring as many small bills and quarters as possible, and never carry more than $20-$50 at a time unless there's some major shopping being done." (Kristen Kilpeck '12)
One important element of BCA Ecuador is the resident director's commitment to finding a volunteer work position or an internship for each student. It is very common for students from all academic majors to find some avenue in which to serve during their semester in Ecuador.
"Twice a week I volunteered at a women's jail in the daycare section. I played with the children and got them ready to return to their moms at the end of the day. The ladies with whom I worked were very friendly and understood if I wasn't able to come to volunteer due to a trip or something along those lines." (Melissa Cangialosi '11)
"Daniel Bryan helped find me a position with an organization that he founded himself, Quito Eterno, which brings high school students from around Pichincha into the capital's cultural district to provide them tours of the city. The organization had just been removed from the Historical Center's accounting records because it had grown too large, and Quito Eterno needed someone to help get it started preparing its own financial statements. I went at least once a week to the organization and helped prepare its annual income statements from the year before, which was incredible first-hand non-profit experience for a business major." (Allan Craven '11)
"There were numerous amounts of service opportunities. I worked at ABEI, a medical center for children with disabilities. I did a 200 hour (six credit) social work internship through the sociology and anthropology department. I worked two to three days a week for eight hours. I worked hand-in-hand with the social worker at ABEI to do intake, home visits, financial support, and family support for the clients. And the best part was that, in my downtime, I got to play with the kids in the daycare." (Elizabeth DiLeonardi '11)
Seasons in Quito represent those of a mountainous region on the Equator. Students studying in Quito either in the fall or spring semesters will find average temperatures to be around 70 °F. Quito's climate is highly predictable in that on most days the temperature will rise in the city to about 70 °F and at around 3:30 PM, the sky will open up and it will rain for about fifteen to thirty minutes before returning to clear skies. With the only exception of periods of drought, the weather is almost always as such. Students living in Ecuador during the spring semester will likely witness more rain than those students studying in the fall since the spring is the rainy season. Also, keep in mind that since the university is about a twenty to thirty minute bus ride outside of Quito and also at a lower elevation, it is almost always hotter there than it is in Quito.
"The spring is the rainy season, so you should always carry an umbrella with you, just in case it starts to rain while you're out. I would recommend bringing jeans, nice short- and long-sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt or two, nice shoes (flats, nice sneakers), and a pair of flip flops or two." (Melissa Cangialosi '11.