As part of our series on COVID-19, Amizade’s Communications and Development Coordinator Melissa Nix interviewed Ecuador semester student Erica DeBarge about her journey to study abroad and the impact the pandemic had on her experience.
Melissa: Hi Erica, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Erica: Sure! I grew up in Connecticut, and I am now a student at Tufts University in the Greater Boston Area. I participated in the Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year Program after graduating high school and spent nine months living in Madrid, Spain with a host family. It was there that I learned to speak and understand Spanish at a high level, which sparked my interest in the language and made me curious to explore study abroad opportunities in Spanish-speaking countries in the future. I decided to major in computer science upon arriving at Tufts and planned to study abroad my junior year. I’ll be going into my senior year this fall.
M: You started planning to study abroad in Hong Kong, right? What was your process for choosing that location?
E: Having lived in Madrid for nine months previously, I decided not to study abroad in Europe. I absolutely loved my time there, but I wanted to explore a different part of the world that wouldn’t be as easily accessible to me in the future due to proximity to the United States and language barriers. I’ve never been to Asia before and was super interested in learning more about the many cultures all across the continent, as my education in the United States has been fairly Eurocentric.
M: But then you ended up having to choose another location because of the protests. How did you feel when you had to change your plan and choose a different location?
E: I was definitely disappointed in not being able to go to Hong Kong. However, in the months leading up to the program’s cancellation, things were very up-in-the-air and it was stressful not knowing what was going to happen and knowing that the program could be cancelled if any escalation were to occur, possibly not allowing me to study abroad at all if I were to find out too late to apply to a different program, or possibly cut my experience short if the program were to evacuate us when we were already there. Therefore, I was sad, but also relieved to have found out soon enough so that I was able to look into other study abroad options.
M: You chose to study in Ecuador instead. What led you to choose the Ecuador program?
E: I knew that if I couldn’t go to Asia, I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. After getting back from Madrid, I didn’t practice my Spanish that much and was eager to get back into it and brush up on and enhance the skills that I’d developed in Spain. The program in Ecuador was specifically attractive to me because of the semester start and end dates: the majority of semesters in South American countries start in February or March and end in late June or July, and I wanted to be able to have a summer internship in the United States starting in late May or early June, so I wasn’t interested in choosing a program with those semester dates.
M: Unfortunately, your semester abroad face another challenge. After just a couple of months in Ecuador, BCA+Amizade had to make the difficult decision to cancel all semester abroad programs and bring students home. What was your initial reaction to the news that you would have to return home early from Ecuador because of COVID-19?
E: I was pretty shocked at how quickly the situation escalated in Ecuador after the state of emergency was declared, but I was not very surprised at being sent home early. Honestly, I was expecting it and knew it was only a matter of time. I was really upset when I first found out, but I didn’t have a lot of time to mull over it either. I had to scramble to pack everything up in order to make my flight out in the morning.
M: What is your feeling about the situation now that you’ve had a few weeks to start processing it?
E: Now that the initial shock is over, I am definitely more at peace with the situation. The entire world is suffering right now and virtually all students studying abroad all over the world were sent home. It is sad and inconvenient, but we all have to make sacrifices until the pandemic is over, so I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m grateful that I am staying healthy along with my friends and family and have the privilege of staying at home, especially knowing that so many people’s worlds were turned upside down and aren’t as lucky.
M: I’m glad to hear that you, your family and friends are all doing okay. What does your new normal look like these days?
E: My life is not super busy these days. I am still taking all my classes from my Ecuadorian university online and they’ve been going well. I’ve had a lot more free time to run and read. I’ve also been baking a lot and trying to keep in touch with friends and family through video chatting.
M: All of these difficulties aside, what was one highlight (or a few highlights, if you can’t choose just one) of your experience abroad?
E: One of my favorite parts of my abroad experience was my host family. They were extremely welcoming and helpful and I always felt comfortable at home. I also learned the most about their family’s culture and overall Ecuadorian culture just from talking with them and exchanging stories over meals.
It was also super cool to be able to explore classes that I never indulge in here at home. I took an art class (Basic Painting Techniques) for the first time in my life which went a lot better than I expected it to and I ended up really enjoying it. My other favorite class was breadmaking–I learned how to make a different type of bread from scratch every week (and got to eat everything I made).
Thanks, Erica, for sharing your story! I’m sorry your semester had to be cut short, but I’m glad you had such good experiences during the time you spent in Ecuador.
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