With today being my first (full) day in Ecuador, I didn’t do much. The plane, driving, and altitude made me a bit sick yesterday and I need to acclimate, so I’m just going to do a whole lot of blogging now!
Maybe a future study abroad student will find it useful to know what I did to prepare to come here to Quito, Ecuador. Some of what I did was school/city/country specific, but some was general Latin American travel preparation.
In general, make sure you talk to all of your people. For me, that involved meeting with Study Abroad many times. USE THIS RESOURCE, they’re one of the best resources I had. I also talked to my advisor in the SpEd Department, the head of the Foreign Language Department, my former and current Spanish teachers, my counselor, my doctor at home, and Health Services at EIU. Obviously, I didn’t do all of this in one day, so start early, if possible. I got it all done, but I wish I’d had a month or two more to prepare and plan, especially with school to focus on while planning a trip.
Study Abroad does their job, that’s mostly self-explanatory. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t forget to submit your documents to them. Also, any document that OSA needs from you is probably a good document to bring or to make copies of. (Pro tip: don’t forget to sign your passport. OSA can’t accept it, and it’ll cause you issues when traveling, if OSA doesn’t catch it. Have that thing signed before you get to the airport.) If they cannot answer your question, it might be one to ask Yanapuma or your destination school. Yanapuma was incredibly patient and helpful. They answered all of my e-mails within a day and a half, they were very knowledgeable, just a pleasure to work with so far.
Talk to your advisor. Tell them your plan, make sure it won’t throw off your graduation or class schedule for any reason. If you have any scholarships or summer obligations, double check that the trip won’t interfere with anything. Let them know that you’re going, so that they can check in with you in the fall, and so that they can understand any different or new attitudes/beliefs/ideas that you may bring back with you.
You’ll have to talk to Dr. Eydt-Beebee, or whoever the head of the FL Dept is at the time. They’re responsible for determining which EIU classes you’ll receive credit for, and they’ll make sure that you’re actually accomplishing what you want to. For me, this meant that I would 100% sure be finishing my minor, as long as I passed classes in Ecuador. They may also know other students who have done the same trip, and they’ll have more resources or tips for you.
Honestly, I spoke to my teachers and professors for selfish reasons. They encouraged me to go, they gave me tips and tricks that made me feel more confident, and they were great resources. All of them, 2 high school Spanish teachers, and 2 professors from EIU, had traveled and they had great information about traveling to Latin America. I also spoke to my former high school teachers to thank them, and to tell them that their work to inspire us not only to learn Spanish but to travel did not go unnoticed. From what I can tell, teaching a foreign language can oftentimes be unrewarding. Students take it to get into college, parents make them, it’s hard and it can wear students down, it’s difficult to see the benefits. Tell them that they inspired you, thank them.
After a rough first semester of college, I started seeing a counselor. This was not my favorite experience, but that’s a post for another day. Regardless, I’m overall glad that I was seeing her and I’m glad that I talked to her about the trip. If you struggle with mental/emotional health, or even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to talk to your counselor. Make sure you’re prepared with plenty of any medications that you might be on, and that the trip really is a good idea for your health at the time. My counselor gave me some advice about situations that may trigger anxiety for me, and about how to cope and adjust as well as possible.
Before leaving, the OSA needs a note from your doctor or Health Services saying that you are in good enough health to travel. I did this at Health Services. It’s a quick appointment, but you might need some vaccines, as well. You’ll want vaccines for: Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, your regular vaccines, the most recent flu shot, and potentially some others. I had all of the regular vaccines, plus my flu shot, the Hepatitis B vaccine, and Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV/cervical cancer. I mention that vaccine because if you’ll be sexually active while away, you’ll want that series of vaccines, as well. This left me with the Hepatitis A vaccine and the Typhoid vaccine. Both of these can usually be gotten at Health Services. When I went, their Typhoid vaccine had expired, so I had to go to my local Health Department and get it. This turned out just fine, because the Health Dept. went over a lot of information with me that I hadn’t seen yet, and they double checked to make sure that I didn’t need a Yellow Fever vaccine. More on that to come.
WARNING: The Hepatitis vaccine is a series of 2, I believe the other (that I already had) was a series of 3. I did not know this, and I was only able to get the first one. The second one must be administered 6 months later. I’m still 85% protected, but 100% would be better… Be mindful of this as you prepare for your trip.
As far as Yellow Fever goes, you don’t need it coming from the USA. If you have a layover less than 12 hours in a country with Yellow Fever, you don’t need it, as discovered by my Health Department. HOWEVER, if you are going to do any traveling to other countries, you probably do need it. Many airlines and the customs/immigration will ask for a certificate saying that you’ve had the vaccine if you’re coming from a country proven to have Yellow Fever. Again, be mindful of this, if you’re going to travel elsewhere.
Many websites recommend Malaria protection. It is not required, and it’s not a concern in Quito because of the elevation. I spoke with Yanapuma, as I hope to travel outside of Quito, and they said that would be unnecessary in Ecuador, just to bring long sleeved shirts, long pants, and the proper bug spray for any excursions or additional trips. This does not mean all-natural bug spray, it means that you need to go to Bass Pro/Gander Mountain/a similar store, and buy spray with at least 40% DEET. I bought mine with 99.9% because of the Zika scare right now; it was expensive, but I had a gift card and I wanted to be protected.
In addition to seeing HS, I also spoke with my family doctor at home. She refilled several prescriptions for me, and we discussed the motion-sickness patch, as I get very motion sick sometimes. (I decided against them because they have too many side effects; I just brought over the counter Dramamine instead). She also reminded me to bring my knee brace. It wasn’t necessary, but it was very helpful to speak with her. Make sure flying/traveling/elevation/etc won’t cause any complications with any medical conditions that you may have. We discussed my asthma and allergies, to make sure I wouldn’t struggle while away.
As far as preparation, that’s my advice. And when in doubt, ask Yanapuma or OSA. They’ll know better than anyone else. And please don’t let the paperwork you’re given or other people scare you. Things like sickness and crime happen everywhere, but the USA does not have a travel warning/advisory out for Ecuador right now and EIU wouldn’t let you go if it wasn’t safe. The fact of the matter is that traveling, because of what it is, has some risks and you have to manage those and be smart and safe. I, personally, am nervous, but no longer scared about crime and illness. It’s easy to get bottled water here, and my host family cooks with filtered water. As far as crime goes, pickpocketing seems to be the biggest concern, and I think I’ve prepared myself well by buying a great money belt. Travel safely, be smart, and I’m incredibly excited to have fun.