Hannah studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador and spent six months in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica completing an internship with MayaTech Learning Centers. She is currently finishing her last semester at Ohio University.
Where do you go to school?
When and where did you study abroad?
August 2008-June 2009: Quito, Ecuador
July 2012-December 2012: Social Media and Consulting Internship with MayaTech Learning Centers in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
There are some moments when, between all the packing, planning and focusing on the next steps during travel, you breathe and realize “I am here.” And you’re here because you made it happen. It’s a remarkable sense of accomplishment and independence. I also snorkeled by myself in a huge ocean and got within 2 feet of sharks and a sting ray in the Corn Islands, Nicaragua. Utterly unforgettable. Moments like that remind you that fear is the only thing to hold you back.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I learned that, as young female traveling alone (and all of the fear that comes with that…) I am more than capable of taking care of myself in new and exciting environments. I also learned that people will very often help you if you ask politely, especially middle aged women (cross cultural motherly protection?). A huge realization came when it dawned on me that it’s okay to need help once in a while – directions, clarification, or a friend. I used to think needing help meant I was a failure, but this is not the case at all. Asking for help makes people feel good about themselves and allows you to connect with others. This is important because solo travel can be lonely at times, although I have learned how to be alone with myself and be fine with it too.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
My biggest challenge was letting go of control and going with the flow of the culture, the travel, the adventure, and the moment. You can make a million plans (I sure did…) and envision what it will be like (never have expectations of what you think it will be like, your expectations are always wrong) but when it comes down to the moment, always say ‘yes’ and challenge that need to control an outcome. In Costa Rica this past July, I went bungee jumping the day before my 23rd birthday. I felt it was an appropriate way to send off year 22. I acted pumped and hid my real fear from my friends, but I was honestly terrified and didn’t know if I would go through with it. I decided to create a mantra: “I relinquish control.” As I stood above that 300 foot drop, I said this aloud and gave my entire self over to that jump. Fear evaporated and I was left with total and complete exhilaration for that moment and the next 5 months of travel I had yet to do. It felt so great that I jumped a second time.
How did studying abroad change your life?
The first time I studied abroad for a year in Ecuador before starting college was an experience that rocked my world view. Before that trip I really had no concept of the wider world. I became fluent in Spanish, integrated so much into Ecuadorian culture that I could barely function in my own culture upon returning (at coffee shops I kept trying to order in Spanish and would awkwardly move to kiss everyone hello…). Because of that trip, I wanted to make my latest long term travel experience something really unique. Mainstream Hispanic culture is quite separate from the diverse indigenous cultures of Latin America. So I went to the remarkable town of Nahuala, Guatemala to live and work with K’iche speaking indigenous peoples. Being the only white girl (I am not exaggerating) in this town for four months again expanded my world view by forcing me to experience the extremes of Nahuala- the beauty and richness of its culture as well as the poverty (and the many problems it creates) forced upon Guatemala’s indigenous peoples by a corrupt and brutal government. It made me consider my privilege as a white, middle class American and challenged me work cross culturally in my internship to build the only existing children’s library in Nahuala. It has prepared me to work with many different types of people in diverse environments, to be adventurous, flexible, and to initiate and complete projects.
What are your future plans?
I plan to go into Public Relations and Advertising after graduating from Ohio University with honors this Spring.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
You are capable of more than you know and will realize this while traveling. There will be boring moments and moments when you miss the familiarity of home. But those moments will pass and in them you find strength that will allow you to embrace opportunities and live more fully than you thought possible.