Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

The truth about the weather in Quito, Ecuador

Today I woke up to 5 inches of snow. It was 65 degrees three days ago. Where I live, unpredictable weather is normal - and it means I rely on the forecast a lot.

But in Quito, Ecuador the weather is surprisingly reliable: Sun in the morning, a few clouds in the afternoon and a rain shower to keep everything green! The temperature varies between 50 and 75 degrees fahrenheit each day and rarely is colder or warmer than that.

The strange part? The Quito weather forecasts you might see on your phone are often inaccurate.
If you’re like many, you’ve probably added Quito to your favorite cities, like this:
And that is what has me worried!

Most days if you look at the weather for Quito it will say something like “mostly cloudy” or “thunderstorms” - all doom and gloom. And yet, those of us who have been to Quito know that it is almost always beautiful with the sun shining. (At least part of the day, right?)

So, on a recent visit to Quito I set out to prove that the weather forecasts in Quito are not very accurate and any student planning to come to Quito shouldn’t put too much faith in these reports.

Here is the proof:

The weather forecast captured at 9:26am. Currently “mostly cloudy.”
And here is a photo taken at exactly 9:26am. Maybe you call that mostly cloudy? There are clouds coming down off the mountain. But to meet it looks pretty sunny! When I took this picture students had just finished up some last-minute homework in the garden and headed into class.
You may also note on the weather forecast that there is a 100% chance of thunderstorms by the afternoon. Let’s check in: 
This was the weather forecast at 12:35pm. It is a nice, warm 73 degrees (as it is most days) but it still says mostly cloudy with 100% chance of rain any moment!

Here is what was happening at ACLAS in our garden. Looks pretty sunny to me! And it felt pretty sunny. I had to sit in the shade because the sun was too intense to stay in for long.
(An interesting side note: you will notice in this photo that the shadows of the chairs are directly under the chairs. This is because Quito is on the equator and this photo is taken at noon, so the sun is directly overhead.)

This is a photo taken in one of our hallways that has a “sunroof” of sorts. A nice place to relax or read when the sun outside is intense.
Here is a photo of another part of Quito about that same time. Maybe this fits your definition of “mostly cloudy”?
Finally, around 4:00pm, a few more serious clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle. But, if you were looking at the weather forecast you would think that it was dark and gloomy with lots of thunder!
Here is a photo taken out the window of ACLAS. By that point a few drops had reached the neighboring roofs.
 It is true that it does rain in the afternoons in Quito often. But it usually lasts about 36 minutes and then the sun and cloud combination is right back until the sun sets around 6:30pm.

To conclude - the weather in Quito is pretty great most of the time. Bring a rain jacket or an umbrella and you’ll survive the worst of it.

And don’t put too much stock in what your phone says!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Talking to underrepresented students about your study abroad program: career focus social media
photo contest winner Desiree and friends.
For many years now the education abroad field has worried about the disproportionate rate of participation in study abroad programs by students of color, male students and first generation students. This chart by the Institute on International Education will give you a glimpse of the numbers and this article by USA Today and this article in the Atlantic give a good overview.

The 'whys’ and ‘what do we do about it’ have been topics of many a conference presentation and, although there are a variety of solutions as complex as the questions, one answer has the benefit of both better speaking to underrepresented students and focusing on an important outcome of all education: career readiness.

The idea is that focusing on a concrete and outcome-oriented reason to study abroad better encourages students to work through the common ‘barriers’ they face that are outlined in the USA Today article cited above. Namely, the cost (and the opportunity cost of not working), family pressures (positive and negative) and the question of “is study abroad really for me? Do people like me study abroad?”

So what to do?

As faculty you have a really important and effective role in recruiting students for study abroad programs. They trust you, they want to learn from you! Here is an article from the Diversity Network on the importance of your role:

Step away from "It will change your life!"
Almost anyone who has had a significant international experience wants to encourage others to do so because we know, it WILL change your life! But for many students this idea may seem frivolous or selfish. “Why would I spent all that money to go change my life when I could change lives by working here?” Or, for some, simply going to college has already been an overwhelming and life-changing experience and the idea of another may be too much.

Share the statistics
The idea that study abroad contributes to career readiness is not invented! Here are a couple of articles that talk more in depth about studies that link success in finding jobs to their study abroad experience:

Focus on the academics
What will your students be learning on the study abroad program? How will the program be different than what they could learn if they stayed on campus? Why is this an extraordinary learning opportunity? How will the academic content help prepare the students for their future?

Highlight career-enhancing skills
And the Office of International Education at Willamette University’s website talks about marketing the skills acquired while studying abroad to potential employers. Examples like 'taking initiative and risks,' 'utilizing time management skills', 'self-reliance' and 'flexibility' can be used to explain to students about the variety of 'soft-skills' they can practice, intensely, while abroad.

Share your own story
Your own story is often the most meaningful and motivating. How did an international experience impact your career trajectory?

In a future blog post we hope to elaborate on how to support underrepresented students while they are studying abroad but for now here are a few resources:
Diversity Abroad Network: Advancing Diversity & Inclusive Excellence in International Education

A tour of the Andean Center for Latin American Studies - ACLAS

Welcome to ACLAS! Here is a quick video visit of our home and your home away from home in Quito, Ecuador. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inexpensive excursions and activities for faculty-led study abroad programs

Although the trips to the beach or famous monuments may seem the most sexy to students, keeping costs low is also very attractive. But just because the big excursions aren’t in the budget doesn’t mean fun experiences (with a little built-in education) are out of the question. Here are a few inexpensive and simple excursion or field trip ideas for faculty-led study abroad programs:

Pick a seemingly superficial theme and explore
¡Futb├│l! Ask students to study something
 they love while abroad.
Before departure ask the students to share ideas for a theme they’d like to explore while on site.
Something simple like fountains, recycling/trash centers, traffic signals, stadiums, McDonald’s, whatever. It really doesn’t matter at all. Then ask them to interact with their theme once a day or week, whatever fits best for your program. And, perhaps you can even give them a small budget of money for travel, admission fees, snacks along the way or to explore their theme further.

Ask them to really look at their theme. What are the similarities and differences between fountains in Quito and in their home city? How do people interact with the fountains differently? What is the history of fountains in the city. What stories does the host mother have of fountains? Ask them to try to go deeper and deeper with their theme. How can they see the culture of the country or city through these theme? The point is to help students to really dive deeper into something that seems common on the surface and find the value in exploring.

Common fruits in Ecuador
It might seem a little cliche, but exploring new foods is often a big winner with students. Plus, there is a richness to stories and connections between food and culture. Pick your favorite food from the site or ask a local for a recommendation. Then grab some students and go! Small family-run restaurants are often a great stop but we always recommend trying to meet the restaurant owners or staff prior to bringing in a large group of students to feel out their interest level in hosting and speaking to groups.

Historical marker scavenger hunt
Students in a short rainstorm at a soccer game.
Pick a few historical markers around the city and write clues to see if students can figure out the site by doing research and asking questions of locals. Dividing the group up in teams is great way to inject a bit of competition and fun into the mix. Surprise them with snacks or treats along the way and prizes at the end.

As we’ve mentioned before, students gain a lot from seeing your energy and interest in the study abroad site and culture. So what is your favorite thing to do in-country? Take the students. Share your passion!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

4 tips for personal and professional development while leading a study abroad program

As educators, we are always telling the students to take advantage of their time in a new country or environment and expose themselves to as many opportunities as possible. But what about faculty members guiding those students? What opportunities can we as educators and academics take advantage of during our time abroad?

Such enriching experiences should offer reflection and growth opportunities for all parties involved - including group leaders. Here are four ways we’ve seen faculty capitalize on the experience.

1 - Present at conferences
Teachers receive flowers from their students at the end of a
a study abroad program at ACLAS. 
Teaching abroad is a busy time - but also a great opportunity to network and gain exposure in your field. Conference presentations are distinctive additions to your portfolio and tend to create unforeseen alliances and opportunities.

2 - Connect with other institutions
The possibilities for your own personal and professional growth - and benefits for your institution - are immense. International collaborations are responsible for countless research programs, faculty exchanges, student exchanges, and more. Here are some examples of places to get started:
  • Engage the department of your discipline at the local universities.
  • Reach out to the international affairs office (or international education office) at the local universities - this group is often very motivated to meet foreign academics and will have many ideas and suggestions for connections.
  • Even if you are not language faculty, get in touch with the foreign language department. These departments often have a lot of international connections and are eager to make more.

3 - Explore professional associations
Beyond academics, are there many professional associations that can be fruitful to you as you make your mark in your field. For example: teaching associations, business associations, bioengineering associations - it just depends on your field and interest.

4 - Document your skill development
We often tell the students to reflect on and keep track of the “soft skills” that they are learning while abroad - beyond the academics. You’ll have a good handle on many of these skills, but it doesn’t hurt to take a minute to think about how you are putting them to work while organizing and leading a group of students in a new environment. How might you apply new insights to your teaching? What are the unexpected benefits of the experience? These lessons can touch on many aspects of your work:
  • adapting to new environments
  • leadership
  • taking initiative and risks
  • responsibility and follow through
  • stress management
  • perseverance
  • flexibility

Although there is rightfully much focus on academic achievement in our field, the “soft skills” will serve you well in future leadership positions and other roles.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keys to Promoting Your Faculty-Led Program: Part 2

In Part I of this post we shared some strategies for getting attention for your program and buy-in from students. Part 2 continues with more details on how to create interest and encouraging students to take the next step of signing up!

Be transparent with price
There are very few students and families out there who are not concerned about the price of a study abroad experience. Answer this question for your students when promoting your program: “What am I paying for?”

Additionally, be sure to communicate what is not included in the price. It is also nice to point out potential costs that may be required for them to participate in the program, like purchasing a passport, optional immunizations or supplies for class. Listing what is included in the program price and what is not will reduce the apparent risk around money for both the students and, in many cases, the parents.
The program page on the University of Washington, Tacoma's site.
Make sure your program is on your institution’s website
Sounds easy, but doesn’t always happen! This not only will act as a recruiting tool (attracting students already looking for programs) but will help students, parents, faculty, academic advisors and others find important information about your program easily.
Start early
As soon as you have all the basic information about your program (dates, price, what is included, basic itinerary) start promoting! This allows students and their families the time they need to process the opportunity and plan for it. If students are aware of the program soon enough, they can apply for scholarships, talk to employers, and plan the rest of their life around your program - instead of the other way around.

Talk openly about credit
In our experience, programs popular with students often have one thing in common: students can earn credit towards their major or some other institutional requirement. If this is true for your program, be sure to promote it in your written materials and when speaking with students. If this is not the case, talk about the credit that will be earned and emphasize the other educational benefits, like career development and personal growth.
Talk about graduation and career development
Whether we like it or not, students and parents want to know what’s in it for them. It is simply not enough, in many cases, to remind them how formative and challenging the study abroad experience can be. They want a different kind of value.

With that in mind, connecting the study abroad experience to student’ future plans is beneficial in many ways. Most of all, it increases the value of the program in their eyes. Remind them, for example, that today’s business leaders must have intercultural competency.

It also helps students frame their experience as part of their overall education, and not just a nice “trip” that their parents (or whoever) have to pay for. And finally, when students return from studying abroad, they will be better able to articulate the meaning of their experience.

We would love to hear what has worked for you! Please use the comments section below or email Stacy at