Study Abroad Leads to Independence & Growth

 

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Dani O'Brill

 

Senior Accounting and Finance Major, Spanish Minor

 

In the summer of 2012, Dani O’Brill got the chance to completely immerse herself in a different culture by studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is considered one of the top destinations for individuals wishing to study Spanish, since the language is spoken with very little variance in dialect from its original form. This and the fact that Ecuador’s unique combination of tropical, mountainous, and coastal environments gives rise to completely different cultures led Dani to choose Ecuador as her study abroad location.

Dani studied at Yanapuma Spanish School where she spent four hours a day with a personal tutor working on improving her conversational Spanish. Each day after class, the school offered different excursions for the students. Her favorite part of the trip was the last two weeks, when she and another EIU student got the chance to travel the country, living out of their backpacks and visiting spots suggested by Ecuadorian locals.

Dani says her study abroad experience helped her to grow to appreciate other cultures.  “Loni and I didn’t have a group of students from the United States to act as a safety blanket for us. Therefore, we were always in a group with people from all over the world who were all trying to perfect our Spanish . . . I learned so much about international culture. It was clear that other countries have their own distinctive set of values and what they prioritize. Such values are near and dear to everyone’s hearts, so it was clear that tolerance and acceptance of other cultures is a necessity. Sure, we would bicker about differing views for the fun of it, but overall we all got along because there was a mutual respect for everyone’s opinions."

Dani would love to return to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos Islands. Due to schedule conflicts and a limited budget, she wasn’t able to get there this time. She would also like to visit her host family again. This study abroad experience has inspired Dani to travel to other South American countries and to possibly study abroad again in India or China due to their dramatically different cultures from the United States.

The biggest lesson Dani learned while in Ecuador was that time is not nearly as much of a factor in South America.  “The culture is much more relationally based, so time is not as much of a factor in their day-to-day activities. This was probably the biggest culture shock when I arrived, but also the biggest lesson I learned as well. Although Americans will always have the mentality that 'time is money,' I learned that this is not the case for many other countries and it may be something that should be commended rather than looked down upon. Families are very tightly woven and overall the people invest in their friends, family, or even lost American girls in need of some serious guidance.”

For students considering a study abroad experience, Dani urges them to consider going without a group. She says this will enable you to follow your own schedule, take ownership of your experience, make international friends, and learn the language. She also highly recommends staying with a host family.  “They are your family away from home that will walk you to school on the first day and call if you’re late for dinner. They treat you as if you are their own child. It made my parents feel a lot better that there was someone there watching out for me and helping me along the way.”