Welcome to my blog! My name is Julianna Connelly, and I am a Junior at Indiana University studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador, for the Spring 2019 semester. I am a double major in English and Spanish with a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. Way back in my Junior year of high school, I was completely unsure about what academic horizons I hoped to explore in college. The only certainty I had was that I would study abroad for a semester somewhere far away from home (Indianapolis, Indiana) in a culture immensely different from my own. Although I did not know which country I would end up in, I knew the experience would force me to break through the boundaries I have set for myself and jump headlong into the adventure of a lifetime. With plenty of scholarships, financial aid and over 380 programs in more than 50 different countries worldwide, IU offers every study abroad experience I could have imagined.
Flash-forward three years (my Sophomore year of college) and the time had come for me to sift through the immense pile of brochures the IU Office of Overseas Study displays to determine which country I longed to spend four-and-a-half months in during my Junior year. With seemingly countless options, I began to feel overwhelmed until I realized that whatever program I settled on would be the best option for me. Before I knew it, the pieces clicked into place and my lifelong goal to become fluent in Spanish suddenly seemed more than just a possibility…I had five semesters of college-level Spanish under my belt (soon to become seven) and professors who assured me studying abroad would be the greatest opportunity to improve my Spanish skills. Incorporating my love of nature and desire to live more sustainably with my goal to become a fluent Spanish speaker, it soon became obvious that IU’s co-sponsored program in Quito, Ecuador, was the right choice for me. Not only could I gain 9 credit hours for my Spanish major and 3 for my Environmental Studies minor, but I would also have the option to partake in a service-learning internship within the local Quito community. I could not have pictured a more fitting program.
Now I am less than 48 hours away from leaving the comfort of my Indianapolis home for the unknown incredulity Quito has to offer, and I would not have it any other way. Am I anxious to study in a foreign country? Absolutely. Nervous about living with a host family I have never met? Definitely. Afraid to see how well my Spanish skills will fare in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country? How could I not be? But, at the same time, I feel incredibly ALIVE. I cannot wait to experience the ups and downs of living in Quito, studying with a handful of other North American students in a city that holds the honor of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No matter what difficulties I may face, they will help me grow as a young adult, an IU undergrad and an adventurous spirit. Yes, the language and cultural differences feel a little daunting, but as my Grandfather used to say, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.”
For all of you who plan on studying abroad (in Quito or somewhere else), I would love to offer a few helpful hints about predeparture jitters:
1. Try not to have any expectations of your time abroad. No sense attempting to figure out exactly what life will be like in a foreign country. It is a completely new experience, so simply enjoy the ride. A lot easier said than done of course, but the less you expect, the more surprising and enriching the journey will be.
2. Take time to pack! As I said previously, I leave in less than 48 hours, and I still have not even started packing. I know the kinds of clothes I plan on bringing (plenty of layers, a rain coat, jeans and long-sleeves), but I can assure you that not having packed a couple of days in advance leaves a weight hanging over my head that I wish I had had the foresight to rid myself of so that I could focus more on the excitement of my impending adventure.
3. Make sure you have your travel documents with you at least a week or two in advance of leaving so as to protect your fragile emotional state from a full-fledged breakdown. I had plenty of difficulties trying to get my Ecuadorian visa on time because the country is continuously updating its standards, the people at the Ecuadorian consulate in Chicago will only speak Spanish if you call, I did not realize that I needed a state background check until a few weeks before I left, and both the FBI and state background checks needed to be apostilled, notarized and translated. If you are having trouble with figuring out who can translate and notarize your documents, I recommend US Authentication Services (stationed in Springfield, VA). Lastly, if you are unable to obtain your Ecuadorian student visa before your departure date, it IS still possible to get your visa once you are already in Quito. Simply bring all of the required documents with you to your program and the IES Abroad onsite advisors will be happy to go with you to the consulate in Quito to update your 90-day travel visa to a student visa.
Since the hours are ticking by, I am going to sign off for now and get started on my packing. If you are interested in following my adventures for the next four-and-a-half months in Quito, stay tuned for my upcoming blog posts. I would love to help ease your fears and connect you to the incredible excitement and beauty that studying abroad in Ecuador brings to all who embrace the adventure. Hasta luego!