When giving advice to incoming students of The Ohio State University, studying abroad seems to be an ever-present topic. All students are encouraged to try it. After all, travelling to an unfamiliar country is not only culturally and academically enriching, but also just plain exciting. The advice to study abroad might not seem particularly meaningful to a prospective or current student who has been sitting down listening to a speaker drone on for the past hour; it might drift in one ear and out the other. Firsthand experience, on the other hand, is usually much more intriguing. To truly understand what the study abroad experience is all about, it would be very effective to walk a mile in the shoes of someone who is actually living it.
Unfortunately, as we have yet to master the art of teleportation, not every curious inquirer can wake up one morning to find that they have been magically transported to a foreign land. However, Ohio State sophomore and Honors Collegium member, Nina Finley has provided us with the next best thing: an entertaining and informative blog detailing her own experiences travelling abroad to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. In addition to her blog, she has also graciously answered various questions about her experience so far, providing us with an idea of the day-to-day life of a student studying abroad.
In order to walk a mile in her shoes, it is necessary to understand where her journey began. After having gone to a bilingual elementary school and having seen her sister study in Paraguay during high school, Finley came to Ohio State with the goal of travelling to a Spanish-speaking country. In fact, within her first week at the university, she was already looking into opportunities. “When I found a photo of a girl next to a giant Galapagos tortoise on the Office of International Affairs website, I knew that was the program for me,” she explains, adding that she advises any student considering studying abroad to follow in her footsteps and go after any possible opportunities. “Do something that makes you absolutely jittery with excitement.”
Of course, one of the reasons why travelling is so exciting is because other countries are so different from our own. Finley says that one of the most noticeable differences between the United States and Quito (where she is currently staying) is the terrain. She describes Quito’s roads as being built out of sheer cliffs. She also describes the Centro Historico (Old Town), in which sixteenth century buildings can be found. Of the town, she says “The history is palpable.” However, despite the many differences between her hometown of Seattle and the new, unfamiliar land of Quito, she says some things feel very much the same. For instances, her host family interacts similarly to her family back home, and she recollects that going with her host family to cheer on her host brother in a mountain biking race felt a lot like a family outing to one of her Ultimate Frisbee tournaments back in the United States. Ultimate Frisbee is one of Finley’s hobbies; her team, Fever, is one of the things she misses about home, but she recalls how fun it was to teach some of her classmates in Ecuador to play.
So what is a typical day for Finley while she studies in Ecuador? “There is no typical day,” she relates, “because many days bring incredible adventures, like hiking in the Andes, conducting field studies in the cloud forest, or spending a week in the Amazon!” However, she is still able to explain how most days go for her. She usually gets up around 7:30 and eats breakfast before being driven to school for a three hour ecology class (her study program involves five classes in three week modules, so she is only taking one at a time). After eating lunch in her favorite cafeteria- which provides a hearty meal for only $4.90- she has time to do chores or explore downtown Quito with her classmates. Her host family returns home at 9pm, at which point they all eat dinner together, usually consisting of hot milk and bread. Like many American families, they also enjoying watching TV in the evenings.
Obviously, a huge component of studying abroad is the actual studying part. Finley, however, seems to have no complaints about her schoolwork. “My Tropical Ecology professor, Esteban, is the best professor I have ever had the pleasure to be taught by,” she says. “He is a PhD ecologist, but he likes to be called by his first name and considers grades unimportant compared to personal experiences in the field.” Of course, taking a tropical ecology course in Ecuador is one way to get that personal experience. While Finley enjoyed her Honors Biology and Honors Intro to Animal Science courses at OSU, she calls Tropical Ecology her “perfect class” so far. However, the excitement does not end there; her next class, Marine Life, will be taught in the Galapagos and will involve field studies and scuba diving. It is not every day that one gets to say they went scuba diving for credit hours, but a study abroad experience can bring about an endless supply of adventures. “I am expecting the most life changing experiences to be my week spent in the Amazon at Tiputini Biodiversity Station- the most biodiverse place on the planet- and my three months spent on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos,” she predicts. “I hope to assist a professor doing research on the Islands, and learn everything I can about the incredible habitats.”
Finley, clearly one to go after her dreams, pictures herself eventually ending up in one of two careers. One option she has considered is to become a veterinarian in her home state of Washington, specializing in dairy cows. However, as she is passionate about research and conservation, she is also considering become an ecologist on the Pacific Northwest coast, working with either the marine or temperate rainforest ecosystems (a career closely tied with her current experience abroad). She is also considering teaching down the road, sharing her passion with younger generations. Whatever the future brings, Finley is already living one of her dreams. She describes her trip so far as “perfection.”
Finally, like all adventures, Finley’s has brought many funny stories. She recounts one in which she was in a small, rural town called Suleta with her host family. They ate their meals in local homes, which prepared a set menu for visitors. One day, when she wandered into the yard of a home, she asked a tiny young girl where the bathroom was, in reaction to which the girl shouted, “Mama, una gringita blancita esta aqui!” (meaning “Mom, a super pale white girl is here!”). This comedic instance, however, had a happy ending; Finley befriended the girl over lunch, and even got to play with her pet dog. She describes the people of Ecuador as incredibly welcoming.
Nina Finley’s experience in Ecuador exemplifies the benefits of studying abroad: exposure to a new culture, a chance to find one’s passion, the opportunity to meet amazing people, and, of course, some humorous tales to bring back home. Hopefully, more OSU students will take the initiative and perhaps one day find themselves walking around in her shoes...
Or perhaps scuba gear.