Well believe it or not, I’ve been in the beautiful country of Ecuador for almost a whole week!! On the one hand it feels like so much longer and on the other it feels like I arrived just yesterday. After a long day of traveling, I arrived in Quito, Ecuador on Sunday, September 2 (with a very shaky landing that I did not like). I met up with the other 8 students on my same flight from Miami and successfully made it through customs. After (again successfully!) getting all of our bags, we met Diana, our program assistant, who helped us get to the hotel where we spent the first 2 nights. We met everyone else from our program and bonded over some pizza before heading to bed.
The second day, Monday, we woke up, had breakfast in the hotel, then met Diana and walked to the program building where we will have our classes. Monday included lots of get to know you activities as well as lots of orientation. That evening, we got to go on a nighttime bus tour of Quito and learned all about the historic parts. A little bit about Quito: Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and is located in the valley between the Andes mountains. Now, even though it is in the valley, it still has an altitude of 9000 feet above sea level (which means I’ve had a headache every day while my body adapts to the altitude). It is also home to 2.6 (or 4.7 if you count the suburbs) million of the 16 million residents of Quito but is only 143 square miles (which means the traffic is really bad).
Tuesday, instead of going to the SIT program building, we instead got to go to the Jardín Botánica de Quito (Botanical Garden). We learned all about the types of ecosystems in Ecuador and about the different types of plants that grow there (see my pictures below). After lunch and a little bit more orientation, we headed back to the SIT building. It was now time to do what I had been dreading, take the SIELE exam. SIELE is a 3 hour Spanish exam with reading comprehension, listening, writing, and speaking parts to determine your overall Spanish level. We will take it again at the end of the program and the hope is that our Spanish should improve. After that (very) long test was over, it was time for us to meet our host families!!! We were all extremely excited (and nervous too). It was definitely overwhelming at first, but I love my host family. I have a sister who is my same age (her birthday is a week before mine) and she is studying medicine like me! So far, everything with my host family has been going great!
Wednesday was not very exciting and included continued orientation, but Thursday was different. On Thursday we took our first excursion to the Jerusalem Andean Dry Forest Reserve. At first sight, it looked like a desert. The roads were sandy and there were cacti. But, it was a completely different ecosystem. At this point, we split into our Spanish groups and went around with our professors, taking notes while they were talking. It was definitely a different kind of learning than I am used to. After we finished our hike, we ate lunch then got into a freezing cold “pool” (it was only 2 feet deep) to cool off. The pictures below are of the dry forest (unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the pool).
Today we finished orientation and started our Spanish classes. The work is definitely going to be hard but I can already tell I am going to learn a lot. I’m super excited to have this opportunity to explore the ecosystems of Ecuador and become a better biologist (especially in the field). It’s not going to be easy but nothing that’s worth it ever is.
Sorry for such a long first post! I’ll definitely try to do better next time.