Imagine waking up one morning in a different room. Getting out of bed and walking into the kitchen to see a table, boasting an array of new foods. Outside the scenery is unfamiliar, like the people of this new place.
Anna Olsen is experiencing this scenario on a daily basis. The junior Spanish major is studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador this semester through Malone’s program with Brethren Colleges Abroad.
“My new home is beautiful in its own way. Complete with a winding staircase… Up on the rooftop, where laundry is done, you can see things more clearly. Most notably, the Andes Mountains no matter where you turn. They make the enormous, endless city seem contained and almost insignificant—as if God was daring humanity to take one more step,” wrote Olsen on her blog Talking to Strangers.
Quito is the capital city of Ecuador with a population of 1.801 million according to the CIA world factbook. At an elevation of 9,350 ft according to ecuadorexplorer.com Quito is “as close to the sun as you can get with your feet on the ground,” wrote Olsen on her blog.
Spanish majors must study abroad to fulfill a graduation requirement.
Olsen chose Ecuador “because I’ve kind of always wanted to go to South America, since I was little, and it was the only option is South America,” she said.
Olsen, who had never been out of the country prior to this trip, is taking advantage of being abroad and doing some travelling of her own. She has visited Puerto Lopez—a coastal town where she went whale watching.
Another travel experience was a hike on the Isla de la Plata. She also went to Otavalo, where she learned how to bargain in the town’s market.
Olsen said that she felt guilty about bargaining because she felt like she was taking advantage of the sellers, even though it is culturally accepted to bargain in Ecuador.
Bargaining is one of the many cultural differences Olsen has had to adjust to thus far. There are little things–hot tea with meals and the price of food–in addition to larger social customs such as the treatment of women and mastery of the language.
Her host family tells Olsen that her Spanish is improving—but with improvement comes a new set of challenges.
“As I improve, I find more and more roadblocks. Once you get into deeper conversations, you need better words for things,” said Olsen as she talked about keeping conversations going.
Olsen has many opportunities to improve her Spanish. She is currently studying at the Universidad San Fransisco de Quito.
At the university Olsen is taking multiple courses—Latin American Culture and Civilization, Grammar, and Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture—all taught in Spanish.
Olsen said the courses are helping sharpen her Spanish skills. She also said it can be hard to keep up in class because native speakers speak very quickly.
While abroad Olsen is taking advantage of the cultural opportunities around her. She recently attended the Ecuador vs Bolivia soccer match. She is also learning to use Quito’s public transportation—which from her blog is always an adventure.
Olsen will be returning December 20th from her semester abroad.
Olsen thinks studying abroad is a great opportunity because it allows for cultural awareness.
“In the states you’re always going find people that might believe different things than you, or live very different ways from you, but when you are tossed into a place where everyone is radically different from you and you’re the outsider instead of the mainstream, you’re forced to actively participate in it. You have to, or you will be isolated and very lost. You have to learn to become a part of it. Only then can you understand the reasons why a culture works the way it does and embrace it fully.” Olsen said.
Director of Global and Off-Campus Programs Jack Harris said, “Time spent in another culture is a much richer experience than studying about another culture.”
Harris said students interested in a semester abroad should contact professors in their department to see what programs are available in their major or come talk with him in Mitchell Hall 200.
Hannah Finley is the feature editor for The Aviso AVW.