Most students have to make adjustments when returning to school in the fall after a long summer break, but for senior Alex Hintz, the transition was greater than that of the average student.
Hintz spent his entire junior year studying in Ecuador as part of the curriculum for a Spanish language minor. Only a semester abroad is required for the minor, but Hitnz decided he would embark on a full year in Ecuador. He decided this not only to study the Spanish language but also because he wanted to give back to the community.
“It definitely would have been worth it going for just the semester,” said Hintz, “but I felt like going for the whole year partly because when you study abroad somewhere for more than a semester, you really get to know the people who are there better. Not just the other students who are studying abroad, but also Ecuadorians and your host family.”
At the Universidad Espiritu Santo in Samborondón, Hintz was a part of one of the university’s many programs that allow students to get involved with the outer community.
In this case, Hintz’s group during the first semester lent a hand to those in the community suffering from Hanson’s disease, better known as leprosy.
For a couple hours every day during the week, Hintz and classmates would spend time with this underserved portion of the Ecuadorian community. According to Hintz, this portion of his studies played a great role in his decision to stay throughout his entire junior year.
Other differences between life at Pacific and life at the Universidad Espiritu Santo took Hintz by surprise as well.
“I found out there is no real dorm life outside the U.S.,” laughed Hintz. He explained that the college campus in Ecuador was more similar to the layout of a high school.
The layout of the neighborhood in which Hintz stayed, however, was not one that he was unfamiliar with.
“The part of Ecuador that we were in, or more specifically, the area of Guayaquil, was a well-off area,” said Hintz. “So we weren’t that far off from a mall.”
The layout was part of what Hintz said made it very easy to remain connected to the outside world and the life he knows well, at home.
“You could still get to American media, through movies, for an example,” he said. “You didn’t really have to try to remain connected.”
But even though he was still somewhat connected to life in America, Hintz wanted to make sure that his terms abroad would help his ultimate goal of immersing himself in the culture to become more fluent in Spanish.
“There was a little bit of warming up to them at first,” Hintz described the language barrier that existed between him and his host family. “They knew some English but would not be using it with me, which was nice.”
Aside from the obvious differences such as language barriers, Hintz also said that there were more subtle, cultural differences he observed while in Ecuador.
One of these ideas was the differences in familial interactions.
For example, Hintz explained that unlike the U.S., where it is expected for students to move out after completing their schooling, it is not uncommon for Ecuadorians to live in their parents’ home well into their late 20’s.
He felt that families appeared to spend more time together, as his host family did when their older children or relatives visited.
Hintz said it was normal during these visits for the entire family to crowd together on the parents’ bed and watch TV.
“I didn’t really get into that and I wouldn’t really see myself doing that with my family,” he said. “And it’s not that we [my parents and I] are not close but I wouldn’t pile onto the bed with my parents.”
Amidst all these changes, Hintz said “it was really weird coming back to campus after a year” but he would absolutely encourage any and all students to be brave and share the same experiences that he did in Ecuador, even if it means the return to Forest Grove will leave you longing for an empanada just as it did him.
“Definitely have an open mind for whatever you’re doing,” Hintz cautioned those about to set out on their own term abroad. “Because if you go there thinking it has to be a certain way and it’s not exactly that way, then it’s going to be a lot harder for you.”