Student exchanges - the world is open, and what about Ecuador? (Issue 5, 2011)

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Alice (on the right) and her friend Sarah in Ecuador

Are you interested in doing a semester as an exchange student at one of La Trobe's 130-odd international partner universities, and gaining credits towards your degree while you're at it?


Some 250 of your fellow La Trobe students are doing just that in 2011, and the number has been rising steadily in recent years.

The most popular destinations for exchanges are Europe, North America and Japan. But a growing number of students, interested in the challenges and experiences available in different parts of the globalised world, are going off the beaten track to combine study with adventure in fascinating, little known countries.

One of them is Alice Weston, a law and international relations student, who spent a semester in 2010 at the Universidad des Especialidades Espiritu Santo (UEES), in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Alice is not alone in choosing UEES and Ecuador, and in fact this agreement is one of our most popular: since 2008 we have sent 16 students there and received five of their students in return - and there is a waiting list of others interested in going.

Why is this so; after all Ecuador is not usually first in Australian minds when looking overseas?

Alice says word of mouth is the main influence on students selecting an exchange destination. 'Students have a tremendous experience at UEES and Ecuador is a lovely country. Classes are smaller, teachers are great and the university takes a close and friendly interest in its guest students,' says Alice.

‘I stayed with a lovely host family and spoke Spanish all the time. The person in charge of the exchange program there is Chris O'Donnell – an Irish national – and he gave us terrific support, with particular concern for our safety and living conditions. He also arranged cultural sessions for the 25 exchange students there at the time, in which we could raise problems and work through issues arising from familiarisation with a new culture.’

The generosity and friendliness of UEES is demonstrated by the fact that although La Trobe's exchange agreement with them provides for only two student exchanges in each direction annually, they have been willing to accept up to six of our students a year. However, La Trobe has recently secured government funding to enable more UEES students to travel to Australia.

A significant factor in Alice’s decision to choose UEES was her interest in international relations and studying Spanish as a second language. While Alice’s Spanish was not up to academic learning standards at that time, this did not matter as UEES teaches a large range of courses in English, so even non-Spanish speakers can think of going there. Another great advantage of UEES is its fleet of buses which ferry students around the city of Guayaquil to and from their accommodation.

Alice received a La Trobe mobility grant of A$2000 to help with her travel to Ecuador. Her living expenses in Guayaquil came to about A$500 a month, but her Centrelink student payments contributed to this.

Another attractive feature of UEES is their service learning program, which arranges volunteer placements for foreign students in different sectors of Ecuadorean society. Alice chose an attachment to a converted hospital in Guayaquil which provides care for people suffering Hansen's disease (leprosy). Although she was unable to take part in any of the medical treatment carried out, she performed numerous care and support functions, and helped to ease the plight of people of all ages suffering from this terrible disease. ‘This was a truly uplifting experience for me,’ said Alice.

So there is a thumbnail sketch of the experiences of one La Trobe student who decided to go to one of the world’s lesser known countries for her study abroad journey and had a life-changing experience as a result. Are you interested in studying somewhere overseas as part of your degree? If so, speak with an advisor at the La Trobe Global Lounge - Level 2, Agora West (next to the Contact Office). Alternatively, call + 613 9479 2112, or email: studyabroad@latrobe.edu.au

La Trobe Abroad is constantly extending the range of choice for our students through new agreements, particularly in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, China and South Korea. Lately, an agreement has also come into force with the University of Nizwa in Oman — our first exchange partner in the Middle East — which opens even more doors. The possibility of exchange is also open to international students doing courses at La Trobe.