Thursday, September 10, 2009

Livin' and learnin' in another country!!

Spring semester of my Junior year I,(Zach Himmelberger) through Lewis & Clark's study abroad program, spent six months in South America. Cuenca, Ecuador became my home away from home during my three months of study. I was put up with a host family, who were absolutely amazing. My host mom was the best cook ever, my host dad was the retired head of the Ecuadorian Olympic Committee turned congressman, my host brother was ex-National Champion in cycling, and my host sister was an extremely successful businesswomen with an awesome 8 year old daughter who became one of my best friends. Besides having a great host family, my school experience was top notch. I, along with 14 other L&C students, attend La Fundacion Amauta. We took two Spanish classes along with a biology class and a anthropology class. I would have to say the Spanish classes I took in Ecuador were the best classes I have ever taken. Our professors were funny, engaging, challenging, and probably the best ever at what they do. Although I was able to speak Spanish before leaving my skills and confidence in speaking Spanish have sky-rocketed.

After the semester in Cuenca ended in mid-April, two friends, Sam and Ivan, and I headed for the rain forest. The three of us decided to do some volunteer work in the amazon with a Quechua-speaking community called Shiripuno. It was located just outside of Pto. Misahualli in the Napo province in northeastern Ecuador. I spent one month in Shiripuno as a was hands down the most amazing experience of my life. I lived alongside indigenous people who call the Ecuadorian amazon their home. We helped these people with their day to day routines of cutting and gathering cacao which is eventually made into chocolate, uprooting and planting yucca, feeding and caring for their livestock, making crafts for tourists, etc. During our stay, the people really accepted us into their community not only as driven volunteers willing to do just about anything to help but also as good friends. They looked out for us and cared for us while also making fun of us and hassling us from time to time. Overall, my experience their was great, something I will never forget. The last night we were in Shiripuno we were asked to say a short something to the people of the community. I told them, "Aunque era poco tiempo que estuve aca, la experience durara por siempre en mi corazon." (Although I was here a short time, the experience will always last in my heart). We left the next day to a scene of several crying women and children who had come to love us in such a short amount of time.

That was just one experience of many that my time abroad gave me the opportunity to have. The entire journey of being out of my element and really being forced to open up to a new and different culture is invaluable. Learning so much about the myself, so much about the world, is what made this something that, for me, has changed my life. It has opened me up to the world of travel, to new cultures, to wanting to jump on every new opportunity presented in front of me, which in my opinion, is a great way to live.

Anyways, my time abroad was life altering. I loved every minute of it and if I could do it again, I definitely would!!! I do suggest it to anyone looking to experience something great.

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