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Ecuador (1) - Su12

posted Aug 10, 2012, 4:45 PM by Joanne O'Toole   [ updated Aug 28, 2013, 6:04 AM ]
Adolescence Spanish Education major, Brianna Carnevale (, participated in the SUNY Oswego study abroad program in Quito, Ecuador, in Summer 2012.  She shares her experiences below and invites you to contact her if you would like to know more about the program.
What was the program like?
The program was amazing!!  There was a group flight out of JFK, with a layover in Miami, which took us straight to Quito.  I took two classes for a total of 6 credits, the perfect amount for a summer program, as it allowed time to explore during the week! The group lived in a hostel called Hotel Plaza, a few blocks from the school, Bipo y Toni’s Academia de Español. Breakfast in the hotel was at 7 30, and class began at 8 30. The first day of school started with an orientation with the director, where schedules were distributed and questions and concerns were answered.  My schedule alternated each day.  On MWF, Lit 395 was from 8 30 to 10 30, and grammar class was from 1 00 to 3 00. T and TH, Lit class was from 11 to 12 30, with grammar from 1 to 3.  At 10 30, the school holds a “tea time” where all of the students and travelers taking Spanish classes at the school meet in the indoor courtyard to socialize and practice speaking with each other while enjoying coffee and delicious tea! Professor Loayza from SUNY Oswego taught the Lit class while a native Ecuadorian teacher named Mere taught the grammar class. Classes were very small which provided the perfect opportunity for constant speaking and one-on-one help.  At 12 30,  we left for lunch near the school because there were tons of fantastic yet quick eateries to choose from which offered a typical Ecuadorian lunch consisting of a bowl of soup, a main dish usually meat, chicken or fish, dessert , and a fresh cup of fruit juice which at most cost $3.50 for a hearty portion. After school at 3, there were plenty of excursions and activities to participate in through the school such as salsa lessons,
cooking lessons, tours of the city and more. Weekends consisted of overnight trips to the Rainforest, Otavalo, a huge indigenous market, the Equator lines, the hot springs, waterfall tours, and so many more mini travels. The last week there, we took a bus to the coast where we lived on an Organic farm for the week.  There, we learned about life on the coast, went horseback riding through the rainforest, hiked, made Mate bowls to eat out of, made homemade coffee and chocolate, and experienced a whole new type of cuisine only eating vegetarian foods while there. On the last day of classes, the director of the school and the professors hosted a farewell lunch where we all reflected on the program and bonded one last time.
How did the study abroad experience inform, influence, or change you?

 Throughout this trip, I learned that Ecuadorians are extremely proud of where they come from and truly work hard for every dollar they earn. At the Ecuador vs. Columbia soccer game, the roars of pride and chants coming from the stands were unforgettable.  They represent who these people are and how proud they are of their home country and culture. Soccer games bring extended families together for an all-day event on Sundays.  Entire families—including cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.—take up entire sections of stadium bleachers.

In the markets, it’s evident that people work hard for what they do to make a living. Most of the things sold are hand woven or carved such as mini wooden statues, loom-woven alpaca blankets, hand-sewn purses and wool crafts, hand-painted pictures of the city, and so much more. Even though an item might seem inexpensive to the typical American tourist, it is what these people live off of and payment shows a true appreciation for their hard work. I also noticed that these people go above and beyond the true definition of friendly. There are so many locals willing to help you out or show you authentic Ecuadorian places to go. The hotel staff helped us navigate our way around the city, called cabs whenever we needed them, catered to whatever we needed at anytime of the day or night, and simply served us with a smile. I truly value this because I feel as if, in our American culture today, so many people feel rushed, are busy working all day, and are constantly on the go. In Ecuador, people value every second of the day and make time for each other and family. Life doesn’t focus around work, but instead it centers genuinely around the family. On the coast, we traveled to an elementary school near the farm which was a heartwarming experience. The owner of the farm and his wife opened the tiny school and it has blossomed into a huge success story. Their resources are very limited yet once our van drove up to the lot, the kids ran to the owner and hugged him screaming his name. Even though their library consisted of five shelves of books, their desks were plastic chairs and wood tables, the playground was made from old tires and scrap metal, these kids cherished the value of education and came to school each day with the desire and heart to learn and grow in their community. We as future educators take smart boards for granted and the use of fancy technology; yet here, the teachers use basic handouts and a chalk board to teach young kids math and social studies.
What experiences helped you develop your target language skills?

The grammar class helped me tremendously.  The class addressed many concepts that are not typically addressed in upper-level Spanish classes at SUNY Oswego.  It consisted of me and one other student, which was perfect for asking questions one-on-one and truly studying the language in depth. The first half hour was dedicated to speaking, and our teacher would ask us questions about the USA, where we lived, our family, what we did in Ecuador so far, personal hobbies, etc. It really helped me to build confidence, perfect the different tenses based on context, and eliminate the hesitation when I speak. Mere, the instructor, incorporated culture into all her lessons.  Everything was worthwhile and was centered around the different cities in Ecuador, foods, historic aspects and the things that we were going to do later that month. Living in the hostel for a month was amazing because everyone truly got to know the hotel staff that we could practice our Spanish with. I am friends with everyone on Facebook after the trip, and I keep in touch with everyone from the hotel and talk to them in Spanish on Facebook which keeps my Spanish on point.   Shopping in the market helped too because bartering was a huge part of getting the best deal there!

How did the study abroad experience help you develop cultural understandings?

I developed cultural understandings from traveling to different parts of Ecuador during the trip. On the weekends, we traveled to different cities such as Mindo which was where the rainforest was, Otavalo which was where the market was, Canoa which was near the farm on the coast, and so many other cities as well. Each city had something different to offer that represented that region’s culture. Quito was very city-like with buses for transportation, large buildings, parks, plazas, stores, and more with a wide variety of food. Otavalo, for example, is a town known for Cuy or Cui, which is guinea pig, and other exotic delicacies. Never would I ever think that I would have tried guinea pig but when experiencing a different culture, TRY SOMETHING NEW!!! It tasted like chicken, and I would definitely eat it again  J. On the coast, especially in Canoa, seafood and local fishes were the main dishes usually served with rice and vegetables. The ceviche, which is raw seafood cooked in lemon or lime juice, was one of my favorites because it was so fresh. Near the rainforest and also in the town of Papallacta, trout was a local delicacy which ended up tasting delicious when I tried it. It goes to show that, even though Ecuador as a whole is one united country, how people live as well as the geography of the different cities shape how people make a living as well as the food native to that region.  This is what I consider to be a huge chunk of understanding culture.

What special stories or experiences illustrates the value of the program for you?

 The last day in Ecuador was the hardest because we had made so many new friends.  It was impossible to say goodbye. The hotel staff immediately became our new friends and some even traveled with us on the excursions on the weekends. Our bus driver, Marcelo, was the sweetest man a person could ever meet, and saying goodbye to him was heartbreaking.  I feel that he impacted every person on the trip in a different way. It goes to show that it’s the people who make a country and not just all the good food or sites to see. If people aren’t welcoming or standing on the streets with open arms willing to help people out, it’s hard to feel as if you belong to this culture. The impact that these people had on me was unreal, and it made this whole trip worthwhile to come into a foreign country and form strong bonds with everyone! I felt immersed into the culture here and considered myself a true Ecuadorian during this month!! There was also this one day when we traveled to the house of an old friend of my professor. The man lived with his wife and daughter, who had studied in the USA for several months learning English. The level of hospitality these “strangers” offered to us was unthinkable. Not knowing any of us except for our professor, this family welcomed us right off of the bus with hugs, homemade ham and cheese sandwiches, sweet bread, coffee, tea and tons of stories about their life and careers in Ecuador. I think that it’s important to give back to a country once you are there even if it is making a small change in someone else’s life. One of the hotel secretaries was around our ages yet was struggling to learn English. Everyone including myself wanted to teach him some words since he was helping us learn new Spanish words. Giving him mini English lessons was rewarding because by the time we left, he remembered everything we taught him from the second week that we were there which is incredible in my eyes!