Student Stories: Being A Legally Blind Student Abroad

Post originally found on CIS Abroad. Guest author: Aly Hathaway, Semester in Aix-En-Provence – Institut Americain Universitaire, Fall 2018, Wagner College.

My name is Aly Hathaway, and I am a Senior French Studies major at Wagner College. I chose CIS because the staff were super helpful, and I knew that it would help me make the most of my study abroad experience.

Starting out, I had so many questions

FA18_Semester-in-Aix-en-Provence_Aly-Hathaway_Wagner-College_I-am-I-can-e1554929355797-768x769.jpgEver since I started taking French courses, I had dreamed about studying in France. However, when it came time to filling out the paperwork and moving forward with the process, fear almost got the best of me. The idea of throwing myself into an unfamiliar situation with my visual impairment terrified me.

I was interested in the Semester in Aix-en-Provence program, but I had so many questions that I didn’t know if anyone would be able to answer them all.

Will my French professors understand my disability and accommodate like my U.S. professors? How would I navigate airports? A new school? And even a new city alone?

It turns out that, while these questions may have seemed unanswerable to me, all I had to do was ask.

Support from CISabroad

CISabroad quelled my nerves, greeting me with open communication and warmth. Suddenly, I had the courage to ask my program manager these questions, and the answer was simple. I would never be alone; not in the sense that someone would be with me physically to hold my hand all the time, but rather there would always be someone willing to help.

“CISabroad staff showed me from the get-go that I would be safe and accommodated during my travels, and they were absolutely right”

After talking to my home university’s disability services office and Joan (my CISabroad program coordinator) it appeared that we were all on the same page when it came to making my academic success in France a priority.

My school sent Joan a letter listing my approved accommodations, and Joan served as liaison between myself and IAU College, where I attended school in France. She made sure that the school was aware of my condition, and in response, IAU assured us that my accommodations would be met.

IAU also told us that they would inform my host family, and that after about a week or two, I would have no problem finding my way around Aix given its small size and warm people. It was settled. I was going to France!

Arriving in France

When I arrived, I was not disappointed. And when I say that Aix-en-Provence welcomed me with open arms, I mean it quite literally.

After my cohort’s orientation in Paris, we took the train south to Aix together. When we arrived at the Aix train station, we were greeted by our site director, Christelle, who helped us find our host families. I nervously stood on the platform until a woman took me into her arms and greeted me with the famous French “deux bises” or two kisses–one on each cheek. I was startled at first, but she then introduced herself as my host mother. She then drove me to my new home for the next four months.Aix-en-Provence-France-street-scene-800-x-533

Settling into Aix-En-Provence

The next day, my host mother took me on a walk to explore the city. She told me that she wanted to make sure I could find my way around, so she showed me the route from her apartment to the school. Aix is a beautiful little city, and as we walked through the antique markets and cobblestoned streets, I realized how excited I was to be familiar with my new home.

I will never forget walking into the house after my first solo journey to and from school for IAU’s orientation. She was sitting at the dining room table, a big smile on her face, hands clapping. She was so proud (and relieved) that I found my way home.

After about three weeks, it seemed like everything was coming naturally to me. I no longer needed to use Google Maps to navigate the city, and I was getting the hang of taking five classes entirely taught in French.

My professors treated me like any other student in class, but would also routinely check-in with me in private to see if there was anything else they could do to help.

Overall, I managed to do very well in my classes, and by the end of my program, I had navigated through eight different countries.

I learned that no matter where you go, if you think you may be lost, there is someone always willing to help you find your way–all you have to do is ask.

Looking back, I couldn’t have done this without CISabroad

In retrospect, none of this would have ever been possible without the support of my family and friends (the American and the French), and companies like CISabroad, who believed in me and helped make my dream of studying abroad come true.

I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand CISabroad’s dedication to showing students that, with the right resources, no barrier is insurmountable when it comes to studying abroad. All it takes is a little spark of courage, an initial conversation, and a positive outlook. I never once felt alone throughout my time in France, and it feels amazing to know that there are now people cheering me on from another continent, while I carry them with me here in the U.S. And now I can continue to explore the world with the confidence to navigate and the courage to ask for help.

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How I Survived a Year Abroad with Food Allergies (And How You Can Too)

Margaret Geanacopoulos is a Senior at Towson University majoring in International Studies. For the duration of her Junior year, Margaret studied abroad through a TU Exchange Program at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. Margaret also works at the Towson University Study Abroad Office as a Peer Advisor.

IMG_5642Around the time I was seven years old, I decided that I was going to live in Japan someday. Growing up with Japanese movies, manga, and music, I always felt a strong connection to Japanese culture and wanted to experience it for myself. Around that same time, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, meaning I would have to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of my life. Bummer.

However my allergies didn’t deter me from following my dreams anyway. When I was a junior at Towson, I studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan for 2017-2018 academic year. Although I was aware that many Japanese foods such as Ramen, Udon, and Melon Bread (which surprisingly doesn’t taste like melon) were made with gluten, I had no idea how much of a struggle eating gluten-free in Japan would be. Things as inconspicuous as soy-sauce, miso soup, and even rice-balls had gluten snuck into them. However, after a year of trial-and-error, here are some lessons that I learned that made travelling with food restrictions much easier.

Do your research

Before I left for my year in Japan, I spent a lot of time online researching what Japanese foods I could and couldn’t eat. Not only did I learn what foods to steer clear of, but I also found lists of gluten-free snacks and even entire restaurants that were gluten-free in the cities I would be travelling to. If your allergies require medication or the use of an EpiPen, make sure you have a sufficient amount before you leave and research how they could be potentially refilled if you’re staying for a long time. Besides saving you a lot of time and stress, knowing what foods to look out for and researching restaurants in your area ahead of time will let you focus on the more important aspects of your time abroad like making connections and gaining experience.

All three of these pictures were taken at restaurants that were completely gluten-free or had dedicated gluten free options! (Pictured: Gluten-free Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, Gluten-free Carrot Cake at “Sunny Bread” in Seoul, and “Cafe Littlebird” in Tokyo, which is completely gluten-free and has dairy free options!) 

Make a plan (and bring snacks)

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Whether it was cooking a meal for myself to bring to school or stopping by a convenience store to buy some granola bars before a long day out, it’s always important to be prepared. At school, my friends usually ate at the cafeteria for lunch. I would check online what their menu would be for the following day, and if there were no available options for me I would meal prep a lunch the night before. When you’re travelling with friends who maybe don’t have any food restrictions, you never know when the group might spontaneously decide to stop and get something to eat. In case you might not be able to find something you can eat, it’s a good idea to have a couple snacks on you so that you can enjoy your time with your friends and not focus on your growling stomach.

Communicate your needs, and don’t feel bad about it

In American culture, it’s fairly common to ask for substitutions in restaurants or for restaurants to have designated allergen menus, so back home I had always been very vocal about my allergies to waiters and was met with minimal resistance. However, in Japan the culinary culture is very different. I had read online that most Japanese restaurants will be offended if you try to make substitutions to their menu or sometimes won’t allow it at all. When I first arrived I felt embarrassed having to ask if there was gluten in dishes, especially when the language barrier created some misunderstandings between me and the staff. Overtime I noticed that if I explicitly stated that I had an allergy and that’s why I was asking about their food, servers were much more understanding, and often went out of their way to accommodate me. There is nothing to be ashamed about having allergies. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs! The more you do it, the better your experience will be.

*PRO TIP: If you’re not fluent in the language of the country that you’re studying in, you can print out cards that state your allergies that you can give to servers if they don’t speak English.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I know firsthand how frustrating and scary travelling with allergies can be. For me personally, food is a huge part of my life and not having the stability of knowing when, what, and where I could eat would cause me a lot of anxiety. However, these challenging moments could never compare to the amount of life changing experiences I had while I was in Japan. While it’s important to do your research beforehand and be conscious of your allergies once you arrive, don’t let food restrictions become the main focus of your time abroad. Travel to new places, meet interesting people, and take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities in front of you.

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Some of the amazing friends I made with our homemade Japanese-American Thanksgiving!

Student Stories: Derek Margulies

In the 2019 minimester, I studied abroad in South Korea at Yonsei University. As a half-Korean, I wanted to go to South Korea to learn more about Korean culture and gain confidence in speaking the Korean language in order to communicate with my family in South Korea better. The program at Yonsei offered multiple field trips, one of which was a Korean cooking class. I chose to take the Korean cooking class because I wanted to learn how to cook my favorite Korean dishes.

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Before starting the class, we were introduced to a brief history of Korean nutrition. Here, we learned about the different meals that are prepared for different occasions in the year, how different rice grains are stored and prepared, and the value different foods have within Korean culture. Then, we were led into our cooking class.

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The dish we were preparing for the day was bulgogi, a popular meat that is served in Korea. The class was led by a chef who had professional experience cooking bulgogi for over 30 years. In the lesson, the chef not only taught us how to prepare bulgogi, but also taught us how to prepare a bean sprout and carrot mix, which served as a side dish, and how to incorporate different vegetables into the bulgogi, such as mushrooms, carrots, and onions. After savoring all the smells from cooking, each student ate their newly-cooked meal. Each student received additional food that was prepared beforehand, including rice, kimchi, and pepper paste. To enjoy the meal fully, students could wrap all foods mentioned above in a large leaf of lettuce. With this class, I can confidently say that I can prepare bulgogi independently.

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Have a story like Derek’s that you want to share? Email: mgeana1@students.towson.edu 

Faculty Feature: Professor Lynn Tomlinson

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Lynn Tomlinson is an assistant film professor at Towson University with expertise in the areas of animation, visual effects, film and media history and theory, production, and post-production. In Summer 2018, Professor Tomlinson led the “TU Crafting Fantastic Worlds: Film, Effects, and Animation in the New Zealand Landscape” faculty-led program.

Peer Advisor (PA): Why did you decide to lead a study abroad program with Towson?

Professor Tomlinson: I enjoy traveling myself. When I was a student, I spent a semester in London. So I know how exciting it can be to be in a new culture and how much you can learn just by being exposed to different ideas in different places and how exciting it is…and how you can pack a lot into a short amount of time. I think one of the best things is that kind of focused attention you get from it. You know, the two weeks of constant learning, constant excitement, constant engagement. Everything you’re doing is learning so I think that helps.

PA: What would you say are the benefits of teaching a course in this kind of international context? What kind of different perspective are your students getting on this trip rather than you know, just being back in the classroom in Towson?

Professor Tomlinson: Our subject was visual effects in the landscape of New Zealand. It was really exciting because New Zealand is a country that is building its film industry, especially with visual effects. I would have probably go to Hollywood in order to see that kind concentrated level of production. But to be able to do it in somewhere as exciting as beautiful as New Zealand…and it was much more accessible because they were very welcoming and everybody was excited to meet us, and we had some real incredible surprises while we were there. So I think that unexpected learning that happens when you don’t really know what’s gonna happen. And everybody’s learning; I’m learning they’re learning, you know, we’re learning together. I really like that.

PA: What did you find was the most challenging part about being a faculty leader like in terms of program development or recruitment or you know just managing students abroad?

Professor Tomlinson: I would say the most difficult thing is how expensive it is, and feeling responsible that if the students are going to be spending that kind of money for this 2 week experience that I wanted to make it really valuable for them. I felt responsible for that. It’s kind of a heavy weight on you to realize that a lot of the students might have three or four jobs or they’re borrowing money to do this and you know making sure its worth it for them.

PA: Was there a specific moment during your trip that you think was particularly rewarding for you?

Professor Tomlinson: So the thing that stood out the most for me was this specific adventure that we had. So in New Zealand they have these glowworm caves, which are these insects that have this glowing mucus, and when you get into the cave it looks like a constellation and you really feel like you’re under the stars. So I knew about that and I wanted to do it, even though it doesn’t really relate to visual effects I thought, “you know, it is in the landscape of New Zealand and we’re viewing this natural illusion”. So it really did kind of relate and that ended up being a really exciting adventure for everybody.New Zealand EMF 1183 Group

PA: Did you have any experience in New Zealand before and was this your first time leading a faculty led trip?

Professor Tomlinson: It was my first time leading a faculty-led trip and it was my first time in New Zealand.
My husband lead a faculty-led trip to the south of France to the Cannes Film Festival and I went along when were first engaged. I would go and sort of help and go up to young filmmakers who are now all very famous, because then they were just making their first films. I would say “Will you come talk to our student group?” and get involved in that way.

PA: Can you give an example of intercultural learning that you observed your students experiencing while you were there?

Professor Tomlinson: So I would say that’s something I would want to change a little bit the next time we go. For example we didn’t get to meet any Maori people while we were there. We learned a lot about it, but I would say probably because our focus was more on the film industry, we didn’t experience as much of that as we would have liked. That’s something I’d like to push more for in the future. For example, having a Maori filmmaker speak to our students. So probably I think the best example would be we saw the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi, who is half Maori. We saw it in this theater and we didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, we thought “okay, we’ll go see this film before going on our tour”. After the man who owned the theater came and met us and started chatting with us, and it turns out he was the editor of Lord of the Rings and he let us hold his Oscar! So that was a big surprise!

PA: Would be able to to discuss a particularly unique aspect of your program from other programs offered through Towson?

Professor Tomlinson: We got to go to production houses, including some small production companies and were able to meet producers and media-makers on a one-on-one level. The students were able to learn a lot about entrepreneurship and how you can engage in the film industry. And because it’s such a growing industry a lot of my students actually expressed interest in possibility of working in New Zealand in the future.

PA: What did you learn about TU students from your interactions with them on the program?

Professor Tomlinson: I think it was great that I really got to know the students, you know we’d sit down and have meals and really get to talk to them. I’ve always known what a diverse group of students we have. I think they all formed really tight friendships. It was cool to see how all of the students had very different tastes in food, different tastes in what they wanted to do in terms of activities. Just to see some of those friendships forming over the two weeks was really interesting. I’m not sure if I learned anything new about Towson students in general, but I learned something about these particular students.

Ask an Alumni: Lyndsi Jones

image1Lyndsi Jones graduated from Towson University in the Spring of 2017 with a degree in Mass Communication and a minor in Marketing. She studied abroad on a TU exchange program with the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Lyndsi now works as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator and the Fund for Education Abroad in Washington, D.C.

Would you mind giving a brief description of yourself? Like where you’re from, educational background, things like that?

I’m from two small towns in Maryland, one in Southern Maryland and one in Eastern Maryland. I moved to Towson when I was 17 where I got my degree in Mass Communications with a minor in Marketing. I also worked as a Study Abroad Peer Advisor while I was at Towson, and it was through talking with the people in the office that I became interested in the field of International Education.

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Where did you study abroad and what did you study while you were there?

I studied at the University of Leeds on a TU exchange program. I took three classes: Critical Theories of Media, Communications, and Global Development Challenges. It’s funny because that class was the first internationally-focused class I had ever taken, and now I’m in such an international field.

What inspired you in the first place to study abroad in the first place?

It definitely wasn’t something I had always planned to do. I’m a first generation college student, so no one in my family had studied abroad before. I grew up in very small towns and I always was very interested in cities, so naturally I wanted to explore more. I also didn’t speak another language, so although I know now that it’s possible, I assumed I would have to go somewhere where they spoke English. At the time Towson didn’t offer any exchanges in London, so Leeds seemed like the next best option. I ended up loving it.

Were there any things that you encountered once you arrived that surprised you or that you wish you had been more prepared for ahead of time?

Not really anything that I was surprised by, but I wasn’t prepared for how alone you feel those first few days after you arrive. But after I started orientation on the second day, I actually met someone who is still one of my best friends to this day. So after that first week or so you’ll be fine!

image4So right now you’re working for the Fund for Education abroad? What’s your position there and what are your responsibilities there?

My position at the Fund for Education abroad is the Communications and Outreach Coordinator. There’s only three of us in the office, and we fund hundreds of students. A usual day for me included reviewing applications, checking emails (usually morning I log on every morning to at least 50 emails). Since I’m the Communications and Outreach Coordinator, I also manage social media and coordinate press releases.

Do you think there are any experiences you had abroad that help you in your position now?

I think independence is a big one. Working with a small staff means you have to be self-directed most of the time. Study Abroad also forced me to get out of my shell more, so now when I have to do outreach or talk to people over the phone I’m a lot more comfortable.

In your interview , how did you describe you SA experience? Do you have any advice for marketing your study abroad experience to potential employers?

Funny enough, talking about study abroad actually ended up derailing my interview a little bit because I my interviewer and I got caught up reminiscing about our experiences abroad together. I think we all have something that we’re passionate about, and employers like when you’re passionate about what you do.So if you can translate your excitement surrounding your time into your interview, I think that helps you stand out to a potential employer.

I would also say it’s good to prepare direct examples of times while you were abroad that taught you a skill that would be valuable in the job you’re applying for. Like when a time you had to find a solution to a problem on your own or a time that taught you how to be more independent. Being to present these concrete examples shows employers that you’re prepared and serious about the position.

Great Ways to Stay Money Smart While Abroad

Zenab Bakayokois currently a senior at Towson University. She studied abroad with CEA for the Spring 2018 Semester in Paris, France.
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One of the toughest things about study abroad was staying financially responsible — and for those of us without much money to spend, I have some tips!

I had a wonderful semester with CEA. Paris is a truly special city and I feel honored that I had the opportunity to study there. Many of my tips will focus on being in France, but relate overall to the study abroad experience.

Maximize your opportunities:

No matter where you travel, there are many ways that you can have fun free of charge. Not only will this help you save money, it also will teach you a lot about your host country. My best experiences in Paris were at free events!

As students, many museums and sights are free — so make sure to always travel with your student ID! It will save you more money than you think. Here are some examples:

  • Musée D’orsay
  • Musée du Louvre
  • Picasso Museum
  • Salon d’Agriculture
  • Jardin du Luxembourg

Fun fact: MOST museums are free the first Sunday every month in the EU! (Exclusions do apply so make sure you do your research.)

CEA excursions are also a great way to maximize your opportunities without spending money! These include a trip to Bruges (a city in Belgium), a circus in Paris, a trip to Chantilly, a weekend trip to Provence, and more. These excursions allow you to learn so much about your study abroad location while avoiding excessive spending.

Credit Cards/Debit Cards:

From my experience abroad, credit cards proved very beneficial. I would strongly advise students to look into them and research your options. Credit cards allow you to budget and balance your expenses.

I would personally recommend the Student Chrome Card from Discover. I used it mostly to purchase transportation tickets. I think the Discover card was good to have because it wasn’t widely accepted in Europe, which prevented excessive spending. They gave a $20 student credit reward if you had a GPA over 3.0, and they had lower rates to accommodate students. I definitely would recommend it! Remember to research the best credit card fit for you.

As for debit cards, make sure to check with your bank so you know if there are any ATM fees or charges for international use. American banks normally charge a base ATM fee ($5 with PNC bank), no matter how much you withdraw at a time. Be aware that many cards will charge a small foreign transaction fee for use, and that’s pretty normal.

International Travel:

While being abroad, you’ll definitely want to visit other countries — and there are many ways to do this while remaining fiscally responsible.

Train tickets are normally much cheaper for travel than plane tickets when bought months in advance. Last-minute, train tickets sometimes prove more expensive than plane tickets.

My advice: Plan your trips once you arrive. Use a planner, write out your assignments, and plan your trips around your academic obligations. Try to plan with your new friends to save money on accommodations. Many of the activities I did abroad were free; I mostly spent money on lodging, food and transportation. Even with this, there are ways to plan strategically. You can save a good chunk of money by purchasing your tickets (plane or train) a few weeks in advance!

Want another genius steal? After looking up a plane ticket, use a “new incognito” window. This will filter out your search. Normally, air companies use cookies that save your previous searches and as a result increase the price of the ticket you’ve been looking at. Sometimes it will be the same price in the new incognito window, but you might be able to snag a cheaper ticket!

Final takeaway:

You can still have an amazing experience while living within your means. Other students may have more financial freedom, but it’s in your best interest to be wise about your finances while abroad. Everyone is in college, after all — there will be many students trying to travel and save, so plan with them!

  • Plan your monthly budgets and be strict when it comes to your spending; do not allow yourself to overspend.
  • Don’t let your finances be a dark cloud over your experience! Be smart, strategic and organized, and you’ll be shocked at how far your money can stretch.

 

Originally posted on: https://www.ceastudyabroad.com/blog/mojo/2018/12/06/great-ways-to-stay-money-smart-while-abroad

Para servirles: Making a Difference While Abroad

Spotlight Story: Meet Lexi Littlefield

 

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The Towson University Study Abroad Office would like to recognize TU athlete Lexi Littlefield. She is living, breathing proof that it is possible for athletes–or students with any busy schedule–to study abroad! Lexi went abroad to the UK during the Minimester of 2018. You can learn more about Lexi’s personal experience abroad from her 3 blog posts. See the links below:

 

http://towsontigers.com/news/2018/1/10/womens-soccer-blog-from-scotland-with-lexi-littlefield.aspx

http://towsontigers.com/news/2018/1/16/womens-soccer-blog-2-from-scotland-with-lexi-littlefield.aspx

http://towsontigers.com/news/2018/1/22/womens-soccer-blog-3-from-scotland-with-lexi-littlefield.aspx

 

We hope that Lexi’s story is an inspiration to you! If you are interested in learning more about how to study abroad at Towson, check out our website to learn more information!

 

How big is YOUR world?

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TU Abroad Stories: Samantha Miller

My name is Samantha Miller. During my senior year of high school I went to Belgium for a year abroad. In that year I grew as a person and I made friendships that will last a lifetime. I was able to study the culture of not only Belgium, but the cultures of all the other exchange students that I met on this adventure. Exchange opened my heart and mind to the world, and I am always looking for new experiences because of it.

–Samantha Miller, Belgium

Any time abroad has the ability to change your mind and open it to new cultures and experiences. It’s not too late to get your experience!

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Hidden Gems: Ecuador

ENLACE CIUDADANO No 206 REALIZADO EN EL SECTOR DE PISULÍ

TÚ Abroad (You Abroad)

The Study Abroad Office invites you to experience Ecuador! Ecuador is a part of our priority countries campaign called “Hidden Gems”. This means that we are trying to encourage students to experience and discover places that have had less travel exposure.

Please explore our program offerings for Ecuador! Studying abroad in Ecuador also gives students applying for scholarships to that program priority consideration for scholarships.

Here are some need-to-know facts for studying abroad in Ecuador:

  1. The capital of Ecuador is Quito.
  2. The official language of Ecuador is Spanish. Keep in mind that your courses will be in English unless you choose to take a foreign language course!
  3. Ecuador uses U.S. cash! How convenient! Make sure to carry small bills.money_0
  4. If you refer to yourself as “americano”, people in Ecuador will say “yo también” (me too). Ecuadorians (and most of the Latin American world) consider themselves Americans. Please be sensitive to this fact as you interact with locals. One way to avoid confusion or offense is to use to word “estadounidense” to refer to yourself. It means you are from the U.S. specifically.
  5. Be aware of the altitude change! Parts of Ecuador are high above sea level. You can use medicines or teas to combat these changes, but also be sure to pace yourself.about-ecuador-altitude-sickness

Fun Facts:

Ecuador is a place of rich geographical diversity. Of course, it is home to the Galapagos Islands, the famous islands visited by Darwin long ago.

Roasted guinea pig, or cuy, is a traditional dish served in Ecuador.

Ecuador produces some of the highest quality cacao in the world.

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Interested in Ecuador? Stop by our office in Psychology Building Room 408 to learn how you can study abroad there! Our office is open Mon-Fri from 8am to 5pm. We look forward to seeing you soon!

 

References:
  1. https://blog.cisabroad.com/2014/01/02/6-travel-tips-for-studying-or-interning-abroad-in-quito-ecuador/
  2. http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/ecuador-11-things/index.html