I grew up in the kitchen… sink. My mom is a multitasker and got our baths out of the way while making dinner. Even when my favorite foods were Life cereal and Amy’s mac n cheese, I still appreciated meal time– maybe not for the quality of ingredients or wine pairing that I appreciate today, but still for the depth of conversation and ability to learn via the kitchen table.
Tieing my running shoes on the kitchen floor, stepping out of the kitchen door to wander unknown streets, examine unfamiliar faces, explore unending farmers markets, return home to prepare a meal, to converse with friends, family, strangers– I learned to explore the world with the kitchen as my home base.
I travel in this way, too. And my experience in Quito, Ecuador was especially interesting because I lived with a host family. Much of our initial conversation and relationship revolved around arranging meals. The first morning, I woke up in my family’s home in Quito and was greeted in the kitchen by the smell of fresh juice that my “mom” had just made. We were able to avoid any awkward silence by conversing about food– my favorite types, if I had any allergies, our general arrangements for meal times during the week, etc. She quickly learned of my love for fruit and was excited for me to try Ecuador’s exotic fruits… pitahaya, granadilla, maracúya, the list goes on.
My mom left for work at 4:30 am everyday so I was left to my own devices for breakfast- my time for culinary exploration. I accompanied my traditional Ecuadorian instant coffee with tropical fruits, different types of bread from local bakers, lots of avocado, beans, and my favorite: last night’s dinner with an egg on it.
Family dinners were infrequent because of everyone’s busy schedules (and because Ecuadorians eat less at night due to the high altitude) but when they did happen, they were treasured. And they were also the times in which I learned most. I practiced my Spanish, learned about Ecuadorian cuisine and culture, found out about cool things to do in Ecuador, and formed relationships with my host mom, brother, and sister, who have fascinating lives and jobs but still make time to sponsor host students and ensure an incredible experience in Ecuador.
Towards the end of my first semester of college, I was sitting in my 9am spanish class with one of the best professors that I’ve had when we were pleasantly interrupted by two of her colleagues with an announcement about their summer study abroad program. They gave a brief description of the Ecuador trip covering the basics and not much more. Their energy, the fact that I could perfectly understand their Spanish, and their descriptions of the Galapágos had me itching to go. But at that point, it seemed distant and unlikely– an infomercial that sounds cool but you’ll never actually order it.
Except I did. But it wasn’t simple and the decision didn’t happen overnight. I went to another information session about the trip with my friend who was also very interested in going. The pictures, videos, and stories were enticing but the price tag attached seemed out of reach. I pushed it to the back burner for a while hoping that it would fade out and I would find something to do over the summer that was more financially feasible. That idea backfired. I think it made me want to go even more.
I started looking into scholarships and financial aid opportunities. Unfortunately, Georgetown is not able to extend financial aid into summer programs and my advisor strongly encouraged that I look into study abroad options for the semester instead. I kept asking around about scholarships and finally a member of my fellowship told me about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. I looked into it and found out that I met all the requirements.
They have great resources online to help students apply for the scholarship and were readily available to answer any questions or concerns about the entire application process. I found the application to be very manageable and the prompts called upon candid responses that provide students with an opportunity to reflect on their backgrounds, progress, and intentions for the future. I attended an information session about the Gilman Scholarship at Georgetown and our representative was incredibly accessible for any questions that I had.
I still remember the day I received my acceptance letter to the program. It had been a while since I applied and I started to push the entire idea of going to Ecuador off because it was too overwhelming financially. But then one day, I was walking out of the gym and checked my email only to find my award letter. I was in shock. I called my mom immediately and ran to my friend’s dorm to tell her that I was coming to Ecuador! I wouldn’t have been able to have this incredible study abroad experience this past summer without the generous help of the Gilman Program. I am so grateful for everything they do for students that have been bit by the travel bug without the means to fulfil their desire to explore.
I can’t wait to continue my Follow-On Project and share my experience with students like myself that want to enrich their college education by experiencing cultures, languages, food, people, and other opportunities that only present themselves while studying abroad.
If you have any questions about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship I would be MORE than happy to help!
I went into this trip with very few expectations. I knew I would be taking 3 classes, living with a host family, and spending a week in the Amazon and a week in the Galápagos– other than that, I was open minded and ready for just about anything that was thrown my way. Any expectations that did have prior to leaving were far surpassed.
Upon arriving, we spent two weeks in Quito, Ecuador with our host families. I would wake up everyday at 6 am to have breakfast and walk to my bus stop by 7. Classes ended at 4 pm so we would get home around 4:30– I would go for a run, have dinner, do my homework and pretty much go right to bed. Needless to say, time was pretty limited during the week but our weekends and trips to the Galápagos and Amazon made up for it.
Every weekend (with the exception of 2), our entire group would load onto a bus and drive around the country to experience various cities and cultures within the 4 regions of Ecuador. We went to Otavalo, an artisanal market in which vendors sell authentic Ecuadorian clothing, instruments, jewelry, food items, etc. Chota Ibarra is an Afro-Ecuadorian village rich with tradition and culture. And our 10 hour bus ride to Canoa was well worth it for the incredible beaches and fresh ceviché.
But the highlight of the trip had to be the Galápagos. I didn’t even know swimming with turtles and penguins at the same time was possible until I was in the water doing it. We spent our days snorkeling, taking Zodiac’s around the islands, and walking through the Galápagos with nature-experts who had fascinating information and stories to tell. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my study abroad experience. The stress of fitting 9 credits of coursework into 3 and a half weeks paid off in our culminating exploration of the Galápagos islands.