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Postcards: Kali Schiff’15 offers practical advice on cash, cameras, and life in Ecuador

April 10, 2014

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Name: Kali Schiff’15

Where are you studying abroad? Quito, Ecuador.

What are the three most important things you packed in your suitcase? Why?

1. Sunscreen -- Between my natural tendency towards pink, the altitude, and the (comparative) price of personal care products here this one is a must.

2. Anything that takes photos -- Whether it's your smartphone, iPad or camera (Izone, disposable, fisheye, or otherwise- get creative!) you gotta bring something to photograph your time abroad (if for no other reason than to appease friends and family who can't be there with you).

3. Small bills/change -- A good idea for the semester is to bring as much cash as you can in small bills (nothing larger than a twenty) and change (namely quarters, for the bus) as Ecuador conveniently enough uses the U.S. dollar but it's hard to break large bills. And unlike in the U.S. where credit cards rule and no one wants your change, here the cashiers will ask, wait, and ask again if you have exact change or something else that makes them return to you a dollar instead of forty-seven cents. And if it hadn't gone without saying: you will pay in cash the vast majority of the time, if not all of the time.

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What is the most unexpected thing you have encountered so far during your off-campus study experience?

Other than training myself to not throw toilet paper in the toilet? Hmm, I'll have to get back to you...but seriously, how did everyone fail to mention that one (or did I fail to remember)?

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What is the best meal you’ve had abroad?

I'm a vegetarian in a very non-vegetarian friendly country, but I've had some pretty good veggie burgers here (I'm not  particularly down with blatant meat replacements, but everytime I see one I just have to try). I had an excellent one on the beach in Montañita, and there's also a decent one around the corner from my house. Other than that most things vegetarian are fine by me and plenty of times my picky meat-eating friends end up jealous of whatever the restaurant decides to give me instead of meat with my lunch (omelettes are frequent, if I'm extra lucky there are veggies involved in that). There's an excellent crepe place right by campus. I haven't found Ecuadorian cuisine to be particularly diverse, though not particularly bad either, bland would be the most accurate descriptor, but, I do now have great fondness for many things such as: empanadas, any form of yucca (a root vegetable), fried plátano (banana), rice, soup, tomate de árbol juice (a popular tomato-like fruit), and ají (the typical Ecuadorian 'hot' sauce, often made of the aforementioned tree tomato). Though I am pretty sick of potatoes, cheese, and eggs.

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What did you miss most from home/Beloit?

Mostly my Beloit friend family, my pets (especially the cats), and all of the familiarity and confidence that comes with spending two years in the bubble.

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What is the biggest difference between Beloit and your host city/university? Similarity?

Much like Beloit, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) is a small, private, liberal arts college (we call our professors by their first names). Unlike Beloit, there is absolutely no on-campus housing so everyone is a commuter. Thus, I have learned this year how much I hate commuting to class and accordingly how much I like living on campus/20 feet away from all of my friends. Also, Faces is both necessary and amazing. Another difference is that there are many (diverse) food options both on and nearby the USFQ campus. A favorite is the bakery full of students' creations and their famous Nutella stuffed croissants. Something else to note is the diversity of Beloit's courses in comparison. The USFQ student body is about five times that of Beloit, so there are many, many more classes and majors to choose from overall. Plus, USFQ has students seeking degrees other than bachelor's. But, USFQ does not have the added diversity of the new, fun, one-time-only courses like Beloit does every semester (Dinosaurs, Big Brother and Jane Austen, oh my). It seems that USFQ rarely adds new courses (to the seriously already overwhelming course catalog) but also, it does not seem that there is enough diversity within each department to not get pretty bored by the end of your degree. USFQ has many more athletic capabilities than Beloit so you can take courses like yoga, beach volleyball, scuba diving, and mountain hiking for credit. There is also the added bonus of campus-wide wi-fi. Then, USFQ has a large amount of exchange students but unlike Beloit's more diverse group the majority come from one country, America. Finishing up, both Beloit and USFQ have beautiful campuses in their own respects but USFQ does have a lake.

Fun fact: The current President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, used to profess at USFQ (which is only 25 years old to Beloit's older-than-the-state-of-WI).

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What is one song from your host country that you think everyone here should listen to?

You've probably already heard it (probably in English) but there is one song that I have not stopped hearing since I entered the continent in August. I anticipate highly mixed feelings about it once I leave. Marc Anthony: Vivir Mi Vida. (

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What are you bringing home as a souvenir?

There are many typical and affordable souvenirs brought home such as Ecuadorian chocolate and coffee, anything made of alpaca fur (llama adorned sweaters are popular), wool scarves, jewelry, shot glasses, Panama hats (which hail from Ecuador). One more unique but more expensive option that I really like and will be bringing back is a beautifully photographed book of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (part of the Amazon rainforest and part of your time abroad if you go to Beloit- they pay for the several hundred dollar trip!). And of course, plenty of ridiculous photos and stories.

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