I wanted a really fun exchange. I wanted to go somewhere different. I wanted to go to a completely new place that I would never otherwise visit. I was looking at the list of universities available and I saw… Ecuador. Hmm, I really wasn’t sure where it was… I thought it was in Europe! But after I got my choice confirmed, I did some research, and I realized it wasn’t, and oh, okay, it’s in South America.
Well of course, all my friends and family were extremely concerned for my wellbeing. Due to the stereotypes, they all just thought I was going to get kidnapped, have my kidneys harvested, or something to that extent.
When I first reached Ecuador, I was surprised to see how friendly and nice the locals were! Being a foreigner didn’t deter them from speaking to me. In fact, they’ll be happy to talk to you! They see it as a chance to show off their ability to speak English. However, not everyone speaks English. It’s mostly the younger generation. So learning some basic Spanish before going to Ecuador would be good, otherwise it’s quite hard to get around.
Something that really impressed me was how family oriented they are. It was compulsory for exchange students to be attached to an Ecuadorian host family. They get really protective and treat you like one of their own; though some take it to the extreme of imposing curfews for their host student’s safety. It’s not uncommon for children to live with their families until they’re married, which is similar to Singapore.
Ecuadorians have really passionate, dramatic personalities, completely different from Asians. If you’ve heard ‘YOLO’ (You only live once), they sure encapsulate this spirit. Everyone is really laid back and chill, having a more short-term oriented view as compared to Asians tending to adopt long-term orientation.
School wise, I was at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, which has a gorgeous campus! There’s artwork of all sorts fitted into the school, with even a pagoda where Chinese culture classes are held. Classes are much more relaxed in comparison to Singapore, with less structure and more discussion oriented. What I liked is that the professors are extremely passionate about what they are teaching.
Syllabus wise, it’s easier, and people are not competitive. There’s no bell curve; using the raw score where the whole class can get an A, and it’s okay! Initially I was not used to university being so relaxed but I learnt to loosen up.
One trait I realized about Ecuadorians is that they have a very entrepreneurial spirit. They’ll take opportunities anywhere! Unfortunately, the inequality present in Ecuador is pretty evident. So some of these businessmen are due to their poverty and have to find a means to make a living; while others are because of business ideas. But all in all, they seem to capture a spirit which I’ve never witness before.
Infrastructure wise, it’s pretty run down. You may not know this, but a lot of the advisory for the Ecuadorian town planning is now starting to come from Singapore! Slowly, Ecuador is going through a political and ideological shift, and the government plans to open the country up more soon.
For all those adventure types and scenic lovers, Ecuador is more known for their gorgeous scenic views and biodiversity. I did amazing nature escapades like climbing Cotopaxi – the tallest mountain in Ecuador – and went down to Tiputini, which is the Ecuadorian Amazon. Something I loved about Ecuador is that every state can be completely different, from the coastal areas with crazy beach places like Montañita, to Quito, which is cold and mountainous.
That’s right baby! 4,864m!
Travelling is very cheap within Ecuador. In fact, most things are cheap; except for shopping as most of the clothes brands are imported. But other entertainment, like partying – alcohol, entry – is really cheap. All the local food is similar to Singapore’s pricing – you can get a decent meal for three to four US dollars. In total, I spent only about US$2500 for the whole trip, for food, accommodation, all in.
The sunset view from our beach house
Grocery shopping, emeraldas style.
Of course, as with most places, there is the downside to Ecuador. Rules and regulation there isn’t very strict; so in Ecuador there are partially no rules – anything goes. Majority of Ecuadorians seems to accept that and some even embrace it! Half the exchange students were robbed; some at knifepoint, or with guns. So a word of caution – don’t carry around large amounts of money. US$20 to US$30 will get you far!
All in all, it’s really not too dangerous. If you’re a girl, it may be a bit worse. So go in big groups and of course, be vigilant. If you have to take a cab, make sure it’s the legitimate one and lock all the doors when you get in. Best is to make friends with people with cars! Mostly, thieves just want your money and things and will not injure you unless provoked. So don’t retaliate.
All in all, I had a great experience in Ecuador and came out unscathed! I really don’t regret going to Ecuador.