A recent alum returns to her study abroad host country to teach
This week the Office of International Education sat down with Joanna Furlan, a December 2020 graduate, to talk about all things Ecuador, from studying abroad to working and living abroad there. In the interview, she shares how she fell in love with Ecuador and what a typical day in her life looks like now.
When did you study abroad? And why did you choose Ecuador?
I studied abroad in spring 2019 in my junior year at Beloit College.
I chose Ecuador for a few reasons: I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country for my major and to a Latin American country. I had never learned, read, studied, or heard much about Ecuador, so I thought it would be a perfect chance to learn about the country. I saw beautiful pictures of the mountains and beaches. The University of San Francisco de Quito is a very respected university and partners with Beloit College
What did you study while you were in Ecuador?
I studied Spanish, but the university had many course paths. Many of my friends studied economics, physics, or history.
What was your favorite part about living in Ecuador?
The people!! The nicest people I have ever met, and I am not the only one who thinks so. My family and friends who have visited say the same thing. People in Ecuador generally care about you and want to get to know you. That is what made my decision to live in Ecuador so easy. I had an amazing host family and met some great Ecuadorians through the university. I consider many of them to be among my best friends. I never felt alone for a second; I always had support and love. I have such amazing memories from my study abroad semester because everyone in Ecuador welcomed me into their life. Along with the people having beautiful souls, the country is also beautiful. Ecuador has mountains, beaches, and the Amazon. Every weekend came with a new adventure during my semester abroad.
I understand you just moved back to Ecuador. What inspired you to move back, and what are you doing there now?
I fell in love with Ecuador while studying abroad and told myself that I would one day return. I wanted to continue improving my Spanish, but I also was not ready to say goodbye to the life I had here. There are many opportunities for Americans to work here, and knowing I had family and friends waiting for me made the decision very simple. Currently, I am teaching English and working as a volunteer helping refugees at a food center. When I am not working, I am climbing mountains, sitting on the beach, or enjoying some of the best food I have ever had.
Can you tell us what a day in the life looks like?
Every day is different here, and that is what I like about this country. People live in the moment. That said, a typical day consists of working and spending lots of time with family and friends. Meals are always prepared and enjoyed with family and friends. Saturdays are days spent out of the house, enjoying a variety of nature activities, and Sundays are family days. Monday-Friday are for work, yet there is always time for a “cafecito” to talk about how you are and how your day has been. In the same city, there are people driving 100,000,00 cars and people who stand in the middle of the street selling drinks in hopes of going home with $3. Due to the vast difference in life-styles, Ecuadorians are always helping each other and always looking to have a good time. It is unbelievable how happy and positive everyone here is. Every day is treated as your last; you are expected to enjoy every second and be grateful. Everyone works hard during the week, in order to go out on the weekends and have a fun time. As much as people work, students study. Ecuador has a variety of public and private schools, many of which require an application to attend. Life feels pretty similar to the United States, as Quito is a very Americanized city. Sometimes it feels as though I never left home, but then I look at the mountains next to me, enjoy an empañada with friendly faces and remember I am far from home.
As you reflect on your time at Beloit and also look forward to your future, what role of study abroad did study abroad play?
Studying abroad was a huge turning point in my life, as it is for everyone who studies abroad. Everyone told me, “you have to study abroad, it will change your life!” Who would have guessed that it would literally change my life, to where I moved abroad to live. Even if I had not moved back here, studying abroad would still have been a powerful and truly life-changing experience. It gives you the chance to start over, be a new person, try new food, go on beautiful and crazy adventures, make best friends, and challenge yourself to live and understand a different culture. Studying abroad opened my eyes to new possibilities in the world and helped me understand a different way of life. I left my study abroad program happier and more complete. Studying abroad helped me understand what I want to do with my future and to plan for it, while also giving me some of the best memories.
Any advice for seniors who are considering working or living abroad post-grad?
Don’t think, do it! If you are considering working or living abroad after graduating, it means you want to, but actually doing it may seem overwhelming or impossible. I can say that after all the paperwork and planning, it is 100% worth it. Upon graduation, you are in your early 20s with so much energy and excitement about the world. Use that to do something new and something that will stand out on your resume. Several employers told me that living and working abroad is some of the best experience you can put on a resumes. People want to see that you are capable of keeping commitments, facing challenges, solving problems, and understanding a culture or idea that is not your own.