During the May Term 2017, I traveled with a group of Ohio State graduate and undergraduate students to Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador. As a graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program, I had the opportunity to partner with an undergraduate student to volunteer in a classroom in Cuenca, Ecuador. There, we developed lessons in Spanish for third grade students to learn English, and we also learned words in an indigenous language, Quechua. In sharing and communicating with the students, we engaged in cultural exchange.
The trip also provided the opportunity to reside with a host family in Cuenca, Ecuador. At meal time and throughout my stay, I engaged in dialogue with my host family in Spanish, as I gained confidence in my ability to communicate in a language other than English.
In addition to volunteering and service learning, we also visited town centers in Quito and local markets. One of my favorite activities was the hiking trip to Cajas National Park in Cuenca, where a guide led our group up and around a mountain.
From these experiences, I would encourage other Ohio State students to study abroad because of the chance to develop confidence in traveling to a new country and also the opportunity to increase language learning. In my travels, I learned what it felt like to operate in the moment, and to only be concerned with the present. I feel this mindset was unique to being abroad and in a different environment, and I do not think I would have developed this outlook otherwise. Studying, living, and learning abroad enabled me to increase my cultural competency in learning Quechua and interacting with the students in Cuenca, and opened the doors to becoming a more confident and self-assured graduate student.
In addition, through working with the undergraduate students, I was able to use my knowledge of higher education and student affairs through an international lens and apply this experience in undergraduate student mentoring to my work with my Morrill Scholars Program. Lastly, I made lasting connections with my peers and the Resident Directors on the trip, by sharing in similar experiences, who are still a major part of my life even after coming back to the United States. The experience in Ecuador is definitely a highlight of my graduate school experience, and I encourage both undergraduate and graduate students to consider studying abroad!
Written by Lauren Klingshirn, Second-year Masters Student, Graduate Administrative Associate with the Morrill Scholars Program majoring in Higher Education Student Affairs