Bachelor of Science (Zoology)
Exchange @ Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
I’d never even considered studying abroad due to family commitments here however, a friend mentioned she was off to study in the Galapagos islands through James Cook University and, as any budding young zoologist would, I found out as much as I could about it and jumped at the chance. My family and my partner were extremely supportive. There were a few hiccups along the way but the James Cook University Staff helped me out so much.
Studying at Universidad San Francisco de Quito
I feel as though I had two exchanges, one in Quito (mainland Ecuador) and one on San Cristobal island (Galapagos). This is due to the culture, weather and the universities differing so much. The university in Quito, USFQ, is very much a ritzy upperclass university. However I must say I didn’t spend much time there as I picked Tropical ecology for my first class and we were taught in the field: in the Paramo, Maquipucuna (a cloud forest) and we also spent a week in the amazon at Tiputini research station. In the Galapagos Islands most of my classes were marine based and the classes were also very informal as there was a heavy emphasis on learning in the field. The field trips consisted of research diving which meant measuring densities and abundance of various marine creatures and determining vegetation types, dominant species etc. I believe that JCU also has a strong emphasis on learning in the field thus the style of teaching was very similar.
ECL0440 Tropical Ecology
BIO0328 Marine Life
ECL0322 Intro to Marine Ecosystems
REC301E Climate Change
REC0330 Communities & Natural Resource Management
We didn’t have a choice on this exchange as the whole time besides field trips we spent in host family’s houses. This meant eating with our host family every second night and GAIAS arranged every other night, lunches we had on our own which meant spending $3-4 each day on food. Almuerzos is the local lunch deal.
Budgeting and costs
Yes I prepared for my budget and had room for adjustment. I went over my budget as I am a keen diver and spent all of my spending money diving about once a week. Quito and the Galapagos is generally really cheap as long as you don’t eat/drink/buy anything form touristy areas. Make friends with locals not only will it save you money you will get an amazing experience and have great lifelong friends.
In Quito I used the buses and taxis if I was going into the city (which was rare) but most of the time I walked. Buses were 25c-$1 taxis ranged between $1-$10. Every weekend in Quito was spent with my host family as they had a ranch about three hours away from Quito with horses and llamas/alpacas etc (in Quito I was living with another student) the family were quite happy to take us there and show us their country.
In Galapagos I spent a few weekends with my family in a neighbours farm decorning cobs of corn/getting eggs from chickens/cutting down bananas and playing with the children which was great fun, other times I spent with friends on the beach or went for walks to Progresso (a township on the centre of the island). All other weekends were spent diving.
Two cultures, really. In Quito at first I felt very odd as my family was very upperclass and I am from a working class family however the family made me feel very welcome and at ease. Then Galapagos was another culture shock as the family were not well off by any standard however the family in Galapagos was so friendly and open and immediately called me daughter and made me feel comfortable very quickly. I met a lot of people through going out to cafes at night. I used to spend a lot of nights drinking coffee and playing/watching chess at a café on the esplanade with a few local guides and a few friends working for sea shephard over there. I know a lot of students met people by going surfing and I met a lot of people through diving.
Did you experience any difficulties?
There were numerous language problems, but none that didn’t end in everyone laughing and making reference to it every now and then such as a funny moment whereby my host mum came home to me and my host brother mopping up the washingroom “ah your officially part of the family ,you’ve flooded the washingroom” as their system for washing clothes started with a pool pump went on to a concrete slab with a hose then into a washing machine which didn’t actually work and then ended in buckets of water to rinse.
What was the highlight of your exchange?
Living with two very different families with two very different ways of life/going to the Amazon and finding one of my favourite creatures (Amblypygi) a tailless whip scorpion version which is about twenty times larger than what I have encountered in Aus/stepping off the plane on San Cristobal island and seeing a finch and thinking that’s one of Darwin’s finches just there, I’m here, I’ve made it!/ watching in awe at 5 or 6 hammerheads off Isla Santa Cruz then realising that I’m surrounded by 30 or 40/ finding my ultimate marine creature Glaucus atlanticus a nudibranch which to me looks like a baby dragon/ and all of the inspiring new friends I made.
Your No 1 advice to students thinking about exchange
If you are planning on going on an exchange to a non English speaking country, learn as much of the language before you go as you can. It really helps in meeting people and having the locals feel at ease and you are I found exposed to so much more. And when you are there don’t worry about screwing up with the language most of the time locals are impressed that you’re trying.
Oh and never say no to any (safe) opportunity