Instead of us telling you about the experiences of our UNC Charlotte students, we decided it would be best to hear it from one of our students directly! Bailey Brooks was one of the lucky superstars that came to Cuenca last week for a jam-packed spring break program in Ecuador. Here’s the best bits of it:
Mi Casa Es Su Casa:
Living in the home of an Ecuadorian familia and experiencing the culture first-hand is an invaluable experience you can’t get in the classroom. The 1 ½ hours of university Spanish classes don’t compare to being in an environment where you are surrounded by Spanish 24/7 and need to use it for survival. You quickly pick up new words and slang you didn’t learn in school. Living with a homestay family is the best thing you can do for yourself. You don’t “get” Ecuador through a computer screen, you get it by going and experiencing the country for yourself.
The Cultural Hustle and Bustle:
The activities through El Nomad were fantastic! While hiking in Cajas National Park, I learned how passionate Ecuadorians are about protecting and nurturing the environment. On the chocolate factory tour, I was impressed by the factory workers’ ability to find innovative ways to reuse “waste” and make the best of deteriorating machines instead of just throwing them out! My trips to Ingapirca and the Pumapungo Museum demonstrated the country’s passion for preserving history and showcasing their unique culture. Besides passion, Cuencanos are proud of where they are from. My host family said they loved visiting New York City but nothing beats their hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador. There’s no place like home!
What it Means to Give Back:
My service project at Fundación Arenal was extremely rewarding because our actions were in the best interests of the children there. We worked on developing a more efficient roof, which would allow rainwater to filter onto the plants, and created more space for plants and vegetables using recyclable materials. We also had the opportunity to speak with the children’s parents, which was an eye opening experience into the lives of those truly suffering from poverty. Regardless of their situation, the children wouldn’t let us leave after surrounding us with hugs and bright smiles.
Food, Glorious Food!
There is no surprise that food plays a huge role in bringing people together across so many cultures. In Ecuador, it’s no different. Even though I’m a terrible cook, I bonded with my host family over cooking empanadas and preparing hot chocolate together using the pure cacao I bought at the chocolate factory. I even convinced our cab driver to take us to the best, local food joint in exchange for treating him to dinner.
At Fundación Arenal, the staff showed their appreciation by providing us with snacks and small meals. These are the experiences that will stay with me forever.
My best advice is to take the chance and study abroad. You never know who you will meet or how much it will change your life until you get back and start applying what you learned to your professional and personal life. Step out of your comfort zone and find an adventure. In the words from Up, “Adventure is Out There!”
Bailey is an energetic, spirited Junior at UNC Charlotte, where she majors in Communication Studies and minors in Psychology. Besides her passion for travel, she enjoys watching movies, exercising and dancing.
Upcoming programs you'll love
SPANISH immersion GALAPAGOS Ecotour MACHU PICCHU Ecotour