I was eating a burrito on campus last winter when my twin Adrian showed up, and next thing I knew he had convinced me to study abroad. I studied abroad here by accident. I put effort into making it happen, but before deciding on a whim to go, while under the influence of a burrito, I had never even considered studying abroad in Ecuador.
Ecuador is a small country–the size of Oregon in territory, with a population representing one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population. Its prominence in the news, class room, or everyday conversation might be even less significant. You hear about Ecuador every now and then–after they win a game in the world cup, or pull a controversial political stint–but we hear a lot more about Haiti, Syria or Costa Rica all of which have comparable populations.
My parents visited Ecuador 25 years ago. They traveled the country for six weeks, summitting snowy volcanoes, canoeing through the heart of the rainforest, and hiking on the beach. Nonetheless, even they never mention Ecuador, which seems odd, because their other travel stories come up often: The Chinese guy who held their passport upside down while pretending that he could read it; various near-death mountaineering trips that they would kill me for doing; trekking New Zealand and Nepal… the list goes on.
It is as if Ecuador doesn’t exist. Many of us know the capitals of Costa Rica, Haiti, or Syria. But Ecuador? I’ll admit that I didn’t know its capital, either, until I decided to study there for a semester.
Considering all of this, I can’t blame my college friends who are studying abroad elsewhere right now for not coming here instead. That said, they are missing out. Ecuador is the little-known perfect place to study abroad. Here’s why:
#1 The language. Speaking in another language is an amazing experience. There is nothing like dreaming in Spanish, effortlessly speaking the local slang, or comprehending without trouble.
A fascinating aspect is the influence of Quechua–the Inca language–which is infused in Ecuadorian Spanish, to the dismay of Google Translate. After accounting for abbreviations and slang, you end up with crazy stuff if you attempt to “see translation” on Facebook.
#2: The culture: It is humbling, interesting, and educational to learn another culture, its customs, norms, and traditions. Staying with a host family has offered me a window into another world. The culture is rich here in the Andes of South America.
#3: The food. Even I like complaining about “all the rice”–and don’t get me wrong, I am still looking for a good plate of spaghetti–but I will admit that the food is actually scrumptious. Even guinea pig. The street food is remarkable; there is nothing like a skewer, empanada, or fresh coconut from a curbside vendor. And when your host mom makes hot soup and spicy chicken pasta for lunch with chocolate walnut mousse topped in whipped cream for desert, you can only justify so much complaining.
#4 My versatile experience in Euro-travel amounts to the six-and-a-half hours I once spent in Brussels. I had a long layover and simply could not pass on the chance to check another continent off the bucket list. Joking aside, I spent long enough to verify that a week in Ecuador would not pay for a night in Europe. It’s cheap. A hostel costs seven dollars and a bus ride costs twenty-five cents. You can do anything in a weekend for under a hundred dollars.
#5: The easy bus system. Ten bucks and an overnight trip can get you to any city in Ecuador–a quaint beach town, a historic mountain city, or a village in the amazon. The buses are clean, efficient, and cheap.
#6: Outdoor Paradise. Ecuador is like the example maps in geography books. You can watch a snow-capped volcano spew lava at night; you can wander a pristine tropical beach, swim with river dolphins in the rainforest, or marvel at tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. I cannot imagine a better paradise.
#7 The people are friendly. I have conversations with taxi drivers; the guy sitting next to me reminds me to get off when I arrive at my bus stop, and people are genuinely happy to meet and greet you. You can start a pick-up basketball or soccer game anywhere–even in the Galapagos.
#8: It’s relaxed. Sometimes too relaxed. But it can be nice too, avoiding the stress of high-strung life in the states.
#9: Recreation. This is something else I didn’t consider before coming, but between surfing, soccer, ecua-volley (volleyball sort of), rafting, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, “canyoning”, mountain biking, canoeing, sightseeing… there is nothing you cannot do.
Of course, this is just for me. Sunsets over beach towns, friendly people, good food and life-changing adventures aren’t for everyone.