Bachelor of Science (Ecology & Conservation)
Exchange @ Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
Universidad San Francisco de Quito
There are two aspects to the university. The main campus in Quito is very sophisticated in its culture, refined in its appearance and modern in its resources. Home stays are at very comfortable homes with affluent members of society.
The GAIAS campus in Galapagos is new but currently very limited with resources. It is a stunning location right on the beach with access to amazing marine life to observe and study. A new science centre developed in collaboration with UC Chapel Hill is attached to the campus and when it becomes fully operational will be a very nice suite of laboratories, aquarium and teaching spaces.
Studying at Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Ecuador has an amazing ecological diversity from the High Andean mountain systems through to the tropical coasts on the west and the Western Amazon rainforest in the east of Ecuador boasts the current highest densities of biodiversity ever recorded... and then of course there are the Galapagos islands. The program takes advantage of showing all that it can and classes are much more heavily field orientated and much less academic. Some struck a good balance of this though it often felt like we were on more of an ecological tourism programme… That been said a very excellent one!
The classes are signed up to in a package of 5 courses, most JCU students only get credit for three and you can change two of your courses through the USFQ system once you are enrolled. I changed one of my courses to make the most of the teaching specialty and resources available.
Some of the courses are far too light, some are heavily text-book driven and others take you into the field almost every day. It was the opportunity to get in the field that really made a difference to the experience there in comparison to JCU where you sometimes feel people’s inspiration and passion slipping.
The main disappointment in the classes with USFQ was the lack of rigorous
grading in some of the courses which affected student motivation and quality of output. In terms of grades a very wide range of outputs were regarded in terms of grades as of equal contributions and effort.
Living in Ecuador
The mainland experience is very well catered and you are treated as members of an affluent society. The suburb of Cumbaya that houses the university is a very new and wealthy section of society. The orientation pushes security issues to an extreme, however I found my visits to other sectors of society very warming and enjoyable.
Life is pretty cheap on the mainland, busses are 25c to town and $1/hr roughly for long distance, a full lunch will cost about $3.50 tops, though dinners can from $10-25. The group of students itself had a huge north American dominance and that culture came through strongly in the activities pursued. There are a lot of mountains to access and activities like rafting, canyoning etc cost $25-40 day/half day.
Ecuadorians, as with most Latin people are very family orientated and you will definitely be warmly embraced and included in your new community.
The experience on the Galapagos islands is much different than many people expected. The island of San Cristobal has around 5000 inhabitants and the culture and infrastructure is very directed toward tourism, with fishing and the Navy being other big operators. Most Galapagonians are reasonably new to the islands and there is very much a recreation of mainland Ecuador. The course has had problems with student integration in the past but our cohort was widely and warmly accepted into the community. Many people volunteered in a range of positions from nursing, to the dental and vet clinics, pre-schools, libraries, community development organisations, bakeries, and with the national park and with resident PhD and Masters students.
The state of development is a little off-putting with many half finished buildings and dreams of modern prosperity built on first the fishing and now huge tourism trade. Sometimes the rubbish and grimy feel of the streets and buildings, though much less than on the mainland, is a little surreal in comparison with the idyllic pictures we paint in our own heads, and it is this aspect that possibly made this trip the most interesting, how so many people have a different vision for the islands and what occurs at the crossroads of these realities. The island Isabella, with much fewer inhabitants and less developed with sand streets still is more like what we expected.
Snorkelling, diving, swimming, surfing, sunbathing, football, pool, camping, bars and running were the main pass-times and all are readily accessible. Pretty much everything is in walking distance and taxi rides are in community pick-ups for a $1/person.
People had a much wider variety of homestay experiences on the islands from places without windows to rooftop hotels. I myself had an excellent set up with a small community of artists, musicians and merry makers who own one of the local cafes.
Costs on the islands are much higher than the mainland though still cheaper than Australia.
What were the most rewarding aspects of the exchange experience?
Having a constant contact with a fully abundant ocean system.
Being invited to help the Galapagos National Park.
Being invited to study masters on the islands.
Seeing first hand the Amazon and seeing altitudinal gradients.
A whole host of amazing new friends.
The constant sense of adventure and luck to be on such a trip.
Did you experience any difficulties?
Language limitations no matter at what level are often frustrating when trying to communicate fully and effectively. The program is definitely doable without a Spanish background but getting a foundation is going to make life a lot easier. Life in the island homes is full emersion.
The tourism aspects of the course took a bit of getting used to. It’s just the way the islands are set up.
What advice would you give to a JCU student going to your host university?
Expect to be pampered and to be blown away by what you get access to experiencing. If you are confident enough, arrive a few weeks early or plan to stay a few weeks after as there are many things on the mainland you’ll hear about and get a taste of that you won’t have time to experience fully. (those 5-6 weeks go pretty fast)
Learn some Spanish before you go, you don’t need it but you do, if you get what I mean.
Even if all the courses are not academically challenging, you are going to have a very motivational experience with stories for a lifetime, hands on experience as well as working in a third world environment are all essential skills in a global job market.
Everyone you ever tell will hold you in high regard for having lived in the Galapagos.
The sense of adventure drives you to return home and learn more.