Two international programs students who are here for the Fall Semester in the Andes shared their thoughts two months ago, in their first week at CEDEI. We looped back now, as they’re approaching their final weeks here, to see what moments have stood out and what they’re grateful for about this experience.
Out of all the countries to study abroad, why did you choose Ecuador and why did you choose the CEDEI program in Cuenca?
Kayla: The program was approved by my school, and my friend Chris came here the year before. He had loved it and raved about it, saying it was so personalized, and that you really get to know the staff, the group of students, your host family, etc. I also wanted to get to know Cuenca and other parts of Ecuador. I liked that I could be in Cuenca, and not just at a university. Siena, my school, is really small. Classes are maxed at 30 students, but there are roughly 15 students per class, so I knew a small program would be really helpful.
Rylee: “My school back home is small with 1,000 on-campus students so I wanted to travel to somewhere new to explore in different environments and broaden my world views. My coordinator was very excited when I chose Ecuador; however she had never heard of CEDEI so that took independent communications on my half with the University in Cuenca. I decided on Ecuador because as an Environmental Studies major, Ecuador’s diverse environment made me very excited, with the Andes, the Amazon, the coast, and the Galapagos. I chose the CEDEI program because the excursions and the description of the program sounded right for me.
And actually, it was crazy because once I had decided to come here, I was busy getting ready and a few days before I left for Ecuador I went to my chiropractor and masseuse. I live in a really small town, so everyone knows everyone. I was talking to someone in the office and said I was going to Ecuador and my masseuse overheard and told me that she’s from there! Then, she asked where I was going and I told her Cuenca and she said that’s where she’s from. And then, when I told her I was going to CEDEI, she said that she had worked in their tourism office, Apullacta, for years! This all happened three days before going. It was reaffirming, like fate saying I made the right decision.”
What are the classes like at CEDEI International Programs?
Kayla: My classes are only me. I didn’t realize that when I first came here. At first, it was nerve-wracking to go into. There was no cushion if I don’t understand or get it, but I’ve found that I like it because it’s so much more personal. If I don’t get something, I tell my teacher. I was nervous at first also because it’s all in Spanish, but I told her I was nervous and she said we’ll take it one step at a time. I’m forced to use the language.
Rylee: “It’s only been a week and a half but I’m picking up a lot more Spanish, even just in 3 days, with living with my family and taking my Spanish course. The amount of Spanish we learn here in 3 days is equivalent to the amount we would learn in 2 weeks back in the states”.
What are you most excited for with the program?
Rylee: “I am excited about just being here and taking in the culture and environment. As for excursions, I cannot wait for our trip to The Galapagos Islands. That has been a dream of mine, to see the animals and human coexisting in harmony. I live in the second largest rainforest in the world– Tongass National Forest– and here in Ecuador is the first, the Amazon, so now I’ve gotten to go to the largest after growing up in the second largest.”
What are you most nervous about?
Kayla: “At school, I’m only 2 hours away from home, but this is 4 months from home– living with a host family, stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m not homesick yet, but I’ll probably start to feel more nervous soon.”
Rylee: “I can always go home from my University too, and even in States it’s an easy flight to Alaska. I’ve never been to South America, no one from my family has ever been. No one could give me much advice. And, I can only can use Wi-Fi, so I left not knowing how often I would talk to my parents and friends, and I have 2 pugs that I’m obsessed with. But I haven’t even had time to miss people yet, I’m so busy all day, walking to and from school, doing classes, eating lunch, walking home— everything little thing here is just cool. There’s no time to worry about missing things back home.”
International Programs Coordinator Nico
What are some of the differences that you’ve noticed so far?
Rylee: “In Alaska I live in a small community, I actually live on an Island off the town. While Cuenca is a big city; however it is a lot more than just a city. I have already noticed so much culture. I think Alaska is the most magical place on earth, but Cuenca is special in its own beautiful way.”
Kayla: “And the people too are so welcoming and friendly!”
International Programs Coordinator Felipe
How do you feel now, that you’re nearing the end of your program?
Rylee: I learned that the experience you have while on exchange mainly depends on you and what you make of it all. However doing so can be hard, especially when your primary obligation here is school. But even with classes and homework, we still made time to explore the city, head to the coast a couple of times, hike and camp in the Andes, rock-climb, go canyon rappelling, paragliding, parasailing, and so much more. I feel extremely grateful for the love and support that my host family gave to me throughout my stay in Cuenca. They made me feel like I was apart of their family. At school, the professors were available for questions, taught solid content, and were understanding. All of the staff at CEDEI were all very welcoming and helpful. I’m grateful for the other students in the program who have become great friends of mine. It has been awesome to always have adventure partners. Since CEDEI is small, we all became close friends fast.
Kayla: With only two weeks left in Cuenca, I am so grateful for all that I’ve experienced here, from truly connecting with my host family, improving my Spanish, and getting to know the culture of this beautiful country. Just being able to walk to school with a view of the mountains or explore a new part of Ecuador each weekend has been incredible. I feel like I have a home here now, and I’m thankful to have made a connection with the country I hold so close to my heart.