Grounded in Quito

The landscape, lit by magical lights, made it easy to see the mountains and valleys of Quito as we descended. The mountains and ridges donned few lights, while the valleys were peppered with the magical lights of many warm incandescents with a few blue LEDs scattered throughout. Now came the grounding. The shaking, the sound of the engine fighting against gravity along the runway, the brakes working as they should, led to a jumble of emotions, then at once, relief: we were, grounded in Quito, Ecuador.

This travel experience was one of the smoothest I have experienced in a long time. Checking into GSP International Airport, every person I encountered along the way was so friendly and nice to me, which was a pleasant surprise. As I waited to board my first plane from GSP to Atlanta, I found Evan, another Wofford student going on my program and we chatted, which calmed my nerves. Waiting on our second flight, Evan and I found some more of our classmates who we got to know better eating dinner in the airport. Both of the flights were a few minutes early and encountered only a little bit of rain. Customs was muy fácil for me as the worker was friendly and didn’t grill me on details of my stay.

Evan and I took a picture to send to our moms before boarding our flight to ATL
The rest of my classmates and I after going through customs in the Quito airport. It was a surprisingly easy experience.

Though the travel experience was smooth, each time I looked out into the clouds outside of my window seat, I thought “It is crazy to be on this plane right now.” It was the reality of COVID-19 pandemic these past eighteen months had crushed any dreams of international travel that on the plane it was almost unreal. It was finally real.

My bedroom in the garden hotel we are staying in for orientation. The bed was very welcoming after a long day of traveling.

Since arriving in Ecuador my program has been staying in a hotel near the airport to rest and adjust to the altitude while completing an orientation and introduction to our semester classes. We haven’t interacted with much of the local culture inside of the hotel, but we will soon when we move to a hotel in the city of Quito. I am feeling excited and hopeful for more cultural and linguistic immersion as we begin our classes and time in Quito.

My first morning view of Quito from our garden hotel.

Hasta pronto,

Olivia

¡Hola a Quito!

Growing up in a church that was active in global missions, I went on several short mission trips where I traveled to places like Haiti, Canada, and Honduras. The natural beauty and wonder of experiencing the culture and people of these countries left me wanting to be immersed further than a short trip would allow. I knew that studying abroad during my time in college would allow me to be immersed in and be of a part of a community in another country.

My students and I in the Bay Islands of Honduras during my summer of service there in 2019. I spent 8 weeks working as a teacher in a bilingual school, which is the most time I’ve been abroad.

That being said, I never really had a dream destination to travel or study abroad. As an easy-going person, I took the posture of “I’ll go wherever there is an opportunity” for in every travel destination there is opportunity to learn and grow academically, culturally, and personally. This mindset benefitted me as I decided to study abroad as a requirement for my Spanish major, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the major required me to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country, I had all of South and Central America as well as Spain to choose from. Narrowing down these study destinations was determined after choosing my program organization, SIT, the School of International Training, and a theme of study. I chose SIT because it heavily focused on hands-on experiential learning and gave the opportunity for an independent study project. I chose a program focusing on public health because Wofford doesn’t offer a direct program of study for this discipline on campus and this is my desired discipline for graduate school.

Originally, I was going to study public health in Urban Environments in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the Fall of 2020. Unfortunately, these plans were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After several more changes, the program I am about to embark on this semester is Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment in Quito, Ecuador. SIT has been super flexible and accommodating throughout the entire process of having program and semester changes due to the pandemic.

In preparing to go abroad to Quito, Ecuador, I have talked to a friend who is from Quito and she has given me several ideas of sights to see and foods to try in order to experience the local culture. I am excited to try helado de paila, a creamy fruit ice cream that is a gastronomic tradition in Ecuador. I am expecting to like this, but I will keep you updated once I try it in the country!

A photo of helado de paila after being freshly prepared. Photo from RT en Español

Some of the natural beauty near Quito is near the northwestern city limit: an active volcano called Pichincha. I hope to hike up this mountain to the volcano at some point during my time in Quito.

A photo of Pichincha volcano, the northwestern limit of the city of Quito. Photo from Travel Past 50.

Though COVID-19 presents some difficulties and unknowns for international travel, I know that SIT and Wofford will support me in challenges and in achieving my goals for this experience. From this experience I hope to gain a strengthened ability and confidence in my Spanish language skills. This goal will challenge me, but with all of my classes in Spanish and my commitment to interacting with locals in Spanish will allow my proficiency to increase tremendously. Additionally, I hope to gain knowledge of public health on a global level and the ability to compare health systems cross-culturally. I know that my courses and engagement with local health organizations throughout Ecuador will give me good foundational knowledge of global public health. I am so excited to share more with you once I arrive in Quito!

Until then,

Olivia