Study Abroad: An Interview with Thane

The Global Ambassadors, in partnership with the Study Abroad office, talked with students from DU that decided to immerse themselves in a different culture for a quarter. To start, we will share the experience from Thane Gehring, who decided to go to Ecuador. He is now an alumnus from DU and studied Biology, Spanish and Medical Physics. 

  • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’d say I kind of have a Latin American connection because I went to a Spanish immersion elementary school and spend some time in Mexico and Ecuador. I like to speak Spanish, listen to Latino music, eat Latino food and stuff like that.

My major pastime is the outdoors. I love skiing, hiking, backpacking. From that outdoor connection I enjoy studying ecology, plants and animals

  • How was your study abroad experience?

I studied abroad in Ecuador during the fall of 2019. It was the SIT Tropical Ecology and Conservation program that is based in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Quito is a city at 10,000 feet of elevation in the mountains in the middle of Ecuador so that’s where we originally were but with the Tropical Ecology study, we did a lot of fieldwork and excursions, so we went to bosque nublado (cloud forest) for a week and then went to the Amazon for a week and then we went to the Galapagos for two weeks, and then did an independent research project.  My project was about in the cloud forest, and I studied fungi, so it was every day in the forest, sampling in the rain forest.

I stayed with a family that lived in the area of the rain forest and the whole program was in Spanish.

  • What are cultural differences that you notice between the US and Ecuador?

I would say that one of the biggest ones is the family. Independence collectivity kind of thing.

My homestay, for example, I had a brother who was studying for PhD who’s 26 and then a sister who was 28, and they both lived with their single mother in their house. Which is a lot different from what I imagine I will be doing at 26 with my parents. But that was just something totally normal to them and they seemed like they enjoyed it, it is part of the way it is.

  • Do you have a fun story that happened to you in Ecuador?

A fun story is that I would take the bus every day, and these buses are super-fast, you get on and you get off, and when you’re getting on it is absolutely jam packed. You hold yourself up basically holding yourself and your backpack to occupy less space and not maybe get pickpocket. They tell us about that, that you have to hold your backpack in front of you.

I am tall so everyone is shorter than me, so I am like a head taller than everybody every day, so I just like stuck out like a sore thumb all the time. It was just interesting feeling that I was out of the ordinary there and it was cool.

  • How was the adjustment period for you?

It was fairly easy for me, I’ve always been pretty independent and I lived in Mexico when I was 10 years old for two months so I enjoy the cultural differences a lot. The biggest adjustment is just living in someone else’s home. It is interesing trying to make a connection while treading carefully not to step on anyone’s toes. 

The taboo topics are a little different, so some things we as Americans be comfortable talking about like sexuality, are not things you generally talk about in there.

  • ­Was there any food that you liked?

Yeah! It was Cuy, which is a guinea pig. It was very interesting, the flavor is like a mixture between chicken and fish, and the meat is kind of tough. So that was something that that was very different from here and it was like a tradition in there.  

  • What is something people did that made you feel welcome?

My host mom, specifically to make me feel welcome, she devoted one of her Sundays where just her and I went around to see the churches and the traditional places that tourist enjoy.

I would also say that food connects a lot of people, so my host family took me to local restaurants to try dishes. That was a nice gesture of them, on their free time, devoting it to do something that I wanted to do, like try ceviche. 

  • Did you have any concerns while you traveled?

My program, specifically, was very intense. It was very science based and it was a lot of work. I had homework every night and it was something I wasn’t prepared for. We had class from 8 am to 3 pm every day, plus excursion. 

  • Why did you decided to go to Ecuador?

It was for the Galapagos. I wanted focus on ecology and biology, I wanted somewhere biodiverse. I also wanted a Spanish speaking country, so it was basically deciding between Ecuador and Panama. 

  • If you had any advice for a student that is thinking about doing a study abroad program, what would you say?

You need to find a program that you want to do. There’s a lot of different possibilities of what you can get out of the experience so it’s just what you want to do and find the program that fits you. I would not have been as pleased with my experience if I chose another place, it was an impactful experience. Another advice is do your research and be prepared for what you are expected to do.

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