It has been 4 months since I started my study abroad semester in Quito, Ecuador, and I only have 2 weeks left. I feel that time has passed so quickly, but it has been packed full of experiences. This semester has had a positive impact on me, and while I can tell you that studying abroad has a lot of benefits, I will write about my top 4.
Experience a new culture
I learned something new every day in Ecuador. For example, greetings are very important in this culture. If you see a familiar face, you greet them one-by-one.
When I visited a small community in Amazon on a BCA excursion, we had a group dialog with the people in the community. In total, there were about 30 people including us. We made a big circle and began by listening to a story told by the chief of the community. While he was talking, a man came out from his house and approached us. I thought he was going to wave at everyone, but he began to greet every single person while the chief was talking, individually. It shocked me because in Japanese culture, interrupting someone while they are talking is considered very rude. However, in Ecuador, taking time to greet someone is very important.
In addition to this, I also experienced cultural perspectives like big lunch/small dinner, eating soup every day, bargaining, bullfighting, eating worms and so on.
Recognizing new aspects of my own culture
While exploring a culture different from mine, I found new aspects that I did not know about my own culture, too.
Last week, there was a student in my class who was celebrating a birthday. We sang the birthday song in Spanish and celebrated her. After that, we sang birthday songs from other countries since my class has international students from countries like China and Switzerland.
My professor asked me to sing in Japanese, and I started singing it. But, with a confused face, she stopped me. She said, “that is English.” For the first time, I realized that we do not have a birthday song originated in Japan or even the “Birthday Song” (Happy birthday to you…) in Japanese. Japanese people sing the English “Birthday Song.”
Now I was curious about it. I did some research and learned that people in Japan did not celebrate birthdays until 1949 when a new law about how to count age was enacted. Before the enforcement of the law, all the Japanese people became one year older on January 1st. It was a fact about Japanese culture that I did not know, and I would have never questioned it if I had not studied abroad.
Making friends all over the world
During my semester, I made friends not only from Ecuador, but from other countries as well. If you study abroad, there will most likely be other international students like you from various countries. If you’re studying a second language, you will take classes with them too. Being in similar situations, you can become closer with this group.
When you go on a weekend trips, you also meet other travelers. You can be friends with them as well. Personally, I made new friends from Singapore, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and all over the United States!
Improving language skills
Lastly, studying abroad allows you to improve your targeted language skills. As a student from Japan who goes to a university in the United States and did a study abroad program in Ecuador, I can tell you that the best way to learn a new language is to live in a country that speaks that language.
BCA Ecuador provided me the opportunity to live with a host family, so my Spanish-speaking skills improved rapidly. The improvement of my Spanish made me feel comfortable traveling to other Spanish-speaking countries where I could learn about new cultures.
Benefits vary depending on the program
There are many other benefits you can get from studying abroad in addition to my top four. Of course, these vary based on many factors such as location, how much you immerse yourself in the culture, and so on.
Having almost finished my study abroad semester, I personally think that the program impacted my experience so much. Looking back, most of the experiences that impacted me the most are things I did with BCA. Also, BCA is a mission-based study abroad program and leads students to focus on peace and social justice.
Through the excursions and the classes offered by BCA, I learned these important concepts and became more interested in them. I am glad that my program was offered by BCA and I recommend you to carefully think about which program to choose.
About the Author – Masaki Otsuka, fall 2018 Quito, Ecuador Storyteller & Soka University of America student
I am Masaki Otsuka from Japan. I go to Soka University of America in California. I chose Quito, Ecuador for my study abroad location because I wanted to go to Latin America and experience an economically different life than the one I am familiar with in the U.S. and Japan.