My study abroad was not glamorous. In fact, during the initial week of my study abroad in Guayaquil, Ecuador at La Universidad Casa Grande, I felt as if Shakespeare could have written a tragedy detailing my immersive experience. I didn’t travel to 12 other countries, drink espresso and eat pastries every morning, nor attend beach parties and sightsee with other exchange students (I was the only student who was not from the same university in France). I was not confident enough in my Spanish to get a bus ticket and explore Ecuador on my own and my host family situation was not ideal. I was destined to be miserable.
I communicated my concerns to my director at Nebraska Wesleyan University and while she agreed to look into a replacement option, she encouraged me to first visit La Universidad Casa Grande to be certain that there was nothing for me in Guayaquil. As fate would have it, my university was phenomenal. The professors allowed me to explore topics like Rafael Correa’s revolución ciudadana and public policy formation for improved orthodontic care in Medellín, Colombia. The academic rigor included analytical papers about economic, political, and social development in Latin America, weekly group presentations, and weekly Spanish reading assignments. This experience inspired my interest in inter-American development and I have become an advocate for sustained relations between countries in the Western Hemisphere and human security that extends beyond regional borders. My study abroad affirmed my career path and ultimately led to a semester-long internship with the Department of State.
Outside of the classroom, I knew that if I was to travel anywhere in Ecuador, I would have to do it alone, considering my circumstances – and so I did. I lived with indigenous families in the Amazon Rainforest and Sierra Nevadas, biked an active volcano, scuba dove in the Galapagos, and took weekend trips to various communities known for silver and orchids – large exports in Ecuador. Because of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I not only gained the experience of a lifetime, but learned how to do it alone. As I have reflected on my life experiences thus far, the one thing that has been quite easy to learn is that I have an obligation to my community to create spaces for citizen-state interactions. Whether in the classroom or in the public arena, I believe it is my responsibility to use my academic training to understand political, social, and economic phenomenon to identify and suggest more efficient systems under which everyone can prosper. I internalized that I am capable of taking care of myself and was reassured that while this small-town Nebraska, first-generation college student has struggled to keep moving at times, I am resilient and deserving of life opportunities. As I look to graduation in May, I can confidently say that my study abroad opened a door to a world that Nebraska could not have offered me and for that, I am ever grateful.