My Current Reads

For those of you who don’t know, I’m always reading a book. In middle school, I could sit down and read all day. I don’t quite have the time for that anymore, but I still love to read right before bed to help me relax. Recently, I have been reading a wide variety of books, so I thought it would be fun to update you all with what I’ve been enjoying lately.

For a Feel-Good Book:

download

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this book while I was in India back in January, and it was the ideal book to read. This is a very popular book, but if you are unfamiliar with it, it’s about a woman who abruptly undergoes many life changes. As a result, she decides to take a year to travel to Italy, India, and Bali in an attempt to make her life more fulfilling, especially in a spiritual sense. This was a super quick read, and I thought hearing about her spiritual progression during her time in India was fascinating. Also, since I was in India during the time I read this book, I enjoyed this read that much more.

For Some Food for Thought:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithidownload-1.jpg

This book was recommended to me a while ago, but it took until this spring for me to read it. It is a memoir about Dr. Kalanithi, who at the time was in his last year of neurosurgical residency. However, he finds out that he has a terminal form of lung cancer, and he passes away at age 37. This memoir was extremely insightful. Dr. Kalanithi grappled with the meaning of his life, especially since he lived his whole life trying to pursue a career that took 10+ years of education and training. As he was battling with cancer, he had to assess and determine what he most valued in his life now that he wasn’t guaranteed the future he had always dreamed of. I loved this book because it reinforces the reality that our lives are temporary, and although we should have goals for the future, it is also extremely important to not live in the future. It’s so crucial to not forget that the only thing we are guaranteed in this world is what we have right now in the present moment. It’s good to reflect upon the people and things we have currently in our lives  to see if we are appreciating them to the fullest extent.

In the Company of the Poor by Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrezdownload-2.jpg

This semester, I was talking to the new priest on campus, and when he found out that I am interested in medicine and public health, he lent me this book. Right now, I am about halfway through the text. Each chapter is either written by Dr. Farmer or Fr. Gutiérrez, and they talk about the intersection of medicine, social justice, and liberation theology. This book speaks about standing in solidarity with the poor. It talks about not just giving the poor the “crumbs of charity,” but to actually make changes to their current condition through works of social justice. The text really challenges me think about my daily actions to see if I’m in any way perpetuating a cycle of oppression for people in our society. Dr. Farmer and Fr. Gutiérrez challenge the readers to actively demonstrate the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. It makes me reflect about how I want to practice medicine in the future to aid those most vulnerable in society. Just for a taste of the book, here are some quotes that really spoke to me:

  • “The condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak”
  • “Liberation from sin of social injustice and exclusion is thus a clear sign of evangelization and the reality of God’s reign on Earth”
  • “True love exists only among equals”

For an Escape from Reality

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sandersondownload-3.jpg

Just a few weeks ago, I finished this trilogy, and I am so sad that it’s over. I normally don’t read much fantasy anymore, but after this series, I may have to give fantasy books another shot. This trilogy is about a fantastical empire where there are certain people who can produce powers by ingesting different metals. The story mostly follows Vin, the leading female protagonist, as she tries to save this empire. I loved this series for many reasons. One, the main character was a strong, female figure which I loved. Two, the characters were so well developed throughout the series. They all have their own unique personalities that really enhance the story. Of course, I loved the romance between Vin and Elend. Finally, the ending of the final book was phenomenal. It was a whirlwind of events that incorporated action with love and also theology, surprisingly. This was definitely not how I imagined the series to end, but I loved it for that exact reason.

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldondownload-4

This is my current read right now, so I don’t know much about the series as a whole. Currently, the story is about Claire and her husband who travel to Scotland in 1945 as a way to rekindle their marriage. On this trip, Claire ends up traveling back in time to 18th Century Scotland where she ends up finding a new lover, Jamie Fraser. I’m very intrigued by this series because it incorporates historical fiction, fantasy, and romance all in one. It’s a VERY long series, so I don’t know if I will read just this book or continue on. I guess time will tell.

These are the books that I have been reading over the past few months. If you have any book recommendations, please leave a comment down below 🙂

Peace,

Hannah

Advertisements

Studying for the MCAT

Just like that, I am done with my junior year of college! In comparison to my semester in Ecuador, this spring semester flew by. I think it was my favorite semester of college, thus far, but also one of the hardest because the 11 weeks I spent studying for the MCAT—the medical school entrance exam. This week I got my scores back, and I was extremely happy with the results. I had hoped to get at least a 514 (roughly 90th percentile) in order to complete for some out of state schools, and I managed to surpass that goal. For that reason, I thought it would be helpful to write about the study strategies I used to prepare for the MCAT. Hopefully this will be useful for any pre-med students out there.

MCAT Basics

The MCAT is roughly a 7-hour, online exam created through the AAMC. The test has four sections, each lasting about 90 minutes. The first section focuses mostly on chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. The second section is CARS, which is a critical reading section. Third is the biology and biochemistry section, and last is a psychology and sociology section. The MCAT exam is held at a Pearson VUE testing center that is very highly monitored to prevent cheating. After taking the exam, the score is scaled, and the results are posted online about one month after the test day.

MCAT Study Materials

For my content review, I used the Kaplan MCAT prep books. When I bought the books, it came with an online Kaplan program that had review videos, passage-based questions, and 3 practice tests. There also was a booklet containing the most important MCAT study material for a quick review. For supplemental content review, I used the Khan Academy MCAT videos. Then for the most authentic practice questions and practice exams, I purchased all of the online prep materials from the AAMC. This included 4 practice exams and many different passage-based questions for each of the sections.

Study Strategies

-Make a Game Plan

I first made a calendar on a Google doc to outline how I was going to study each day. Each calendar will look different depending on how long you are devoting time to study. I personally would recommend taking 3-6 months to study for the MCAT. When creating a timeline, I would look at factors in your life, such as work, school, extracurricular, etc. The busier you are, the more time I would allot for studying so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed each day. I personally started studying the Kaplan books over the summer. Then once I returned from Ecuador, I started studying again at the end of January. Then I took my exam on April 6th. On my calendar, I planned to take Sundays off, as well as spring break and Easter break. However, I studied during all of those planned days off. So I would suggest to plan in breaks from studying because one, it’s important to rest every once and a while, and two, if you do get behind, you can use those days off to catch up on studying. Finally, make sure to relax the day before the exam. Maybe do some quick review in the morning, but in the afternoon, just take a practice drive to the testing center and then spend the rest of the day with friends or family.

-Diversify the Study Schedule

I personally enjoyed reading a different Kaplan chapter every day or every other day to keep the material fresh and interesting. For me, I found that I would take 1 day to read a chapter from chemistry, organic chemistry, and CARS. For the remaining books, I usually allocated two days to read one chapter because there was more material to learn.

-Review

While I was learning from the Kaplan books, every day, I would also review a Kaplan chapter that I had previously learned. I did this by reviewing flashcards about key terms from that chapter, watching Khan videos, and making handwritten review sheets about that chapter. For the psychology and sociology section, I also searched for flashcards online, and I found tons of Quizlet flashcards that people had already made. This really helped me review for that section and also learn new terms.

-Practice Questions

A few times a week, I allotted time to do passage-based questions. Not only is this a good way to get the feel of the question styles, but it also is a way to learn new material. If you miss a question, note that topic so that later you can review any relevant material. Don’t be afraid to google different topics or terms you come across. The Kaplan books do a great job at reviewing the most important material for the MCAT, but they do not include everything. That’s why it’s important to briefly familiarize yourself with any new topics you come across during your practice time. Lastly, I would recommend reading a CARS passage a few times a week. This section was always difficult for me, so I think the more time you spend reading and practicing these types of questions, the better results you will see.

-Practice Tests

I cannot stress this enough, TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS!! I took 7, but you could make your own practice tests of sorts by timing yourself with the various AAMC passage-based questions if you would like more practice. This is a test of knowledge but also a test of critical thinking and endurance. By taking practice tests, you are learning how to navigate passages and how to understand the types of questions being asked. You also get practice sitting and working hard for seven hours. Staring at a computer screen for that long is very difficult and exhausting, so you have to train yourself to get used to that. I know taking 7 practice exams sounds extremely painful (and I don’t disagree with that statement), but I think that dedication really paid off in the end. I would also recommend to take a practice exam on one day, and then spend the next day or two reviewing the questions. Like with the passage-based questions, note any topics that could use a review.

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 8.52.10 AM

This is a sample monthly calendar that I created for myself. Each day normally had material to learn, material to review, and opportunities to practice.

Final Thoughts

These were the main ways that I studied for the MCAT. During the whole process, I adapted my schedule as I went along. I suggest that you all be flexible with your schedule too because as you study, you will start to learn what works for you. Also, as hard as this may be, DO NOT compare yourself to others during this process. Take the MCAT when you feel ready. Study in ways that you are comfortable with. Focus on how you are doing on the practice exams. Other people should be there to support you and lift you up—not to make you feel intimidated. When you finally reach test day, just be confident in the fact that you did all you could do to prepare. Have faith in your abilities, and you will do great! The MCAT was tough and exhausting, but I see it as a crucial step in pursuing my goals. So if you approach it as an opportunity, rather than a roadblock, I think you will have a lot more peace about this exam. Good luck to anyone who is studying for the MCAT. If you have further questions, comment down below, and I will gladly answer them 🙂

IMG_0469

This was how I chose to celebrate after the MCAT exam. Do something fun to relax afterwards!

 

Lots of love,

Hannah

Chasing the Wind: The Battle of Envy and Comparison

Well, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? The last time I posted, I had just gotten back from a semester abroad in Ecuador and a trip to India. Now, I’m halfway done with my spring semester of junior year. Life has been so crazy since being back. After having six months of life centered around cultural experiences and exploration, rather than work and rigorous studies, it was extremely difficult to get back into the studious routine that I have lived my whole life. Now I’m back into the swing of things. It’s been one of the happiest, yet most strenuous semesters of my college career. I’m happiest in the sense that I’m reunited with my friends and professors who I’ve missed, and I’m back in a community that feels like my second home.

28685624_2460372483988280_5871631605470068736_o

My classes in Biochemistry, Systemic Physiology, and a History course on Poverty, Charity, and Welfare are so intellectually stimulating; they have made me begin to think about how I can use my future in science to provide a voice for those who are less fortunate.

The biggest weight on my shoulders is the MCAT, the entrance exam a person needs to take to apply for medical school. I’m taking the exam in less than a month, and this semester has been a roller coaster of feelings from peace to anxiety to confidence to inferiority. When I got back this semester, I realized that more people in my class are applying to medical school than I thought, and immediately I felt threatened. I felt like now more than ever I have to prove myself to others. That mentality quickly spun out of control. I would get these thoughts saying that I needed to be the best, not only for the MCAT, but for my other classes as well. If other people did as well as me, or almost as well as me on exams or anything that had a grade attached, I would get mad at myself and I couldn’t feel happy for the other person. Then one day, I began thinking, why do I get upset if other people, especially my closest friends, achieve something good? As their friend, shouldn’t I be happy that they are happy and succeeding? If I worked hard and achieved something, wouldn’t I want others to be happy for me? I realized that I had let comparison and envy obscure my perception of the events occurring around me.

In Ecclesiastes 4:4 it states, “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” This verse resonates so deeply with me. Because I let comparison and envy take control, I lost sight of why I want to attend school and pursue medicine and public health. When my head and heart are in the right place, I know I want to pursue this career because it combines my interest of science with my desire to fight for social justice, especially in regards to access to quality healthcare. Plus, I believe that a large aspect of faith is not only what you believe, but also how you conduct your life in order to bring love, joy, peace, etc. into the world. Especially with all of the horrors occurring recently, I feel especially called to take action by doing everything I can to bring goodness into the world; for me, I think medicine and public health is one way I can achieve that.

However, when I let envy and comparison creep in, I find myself wanting to achieve not with the hopes of fulfilling my vocation to serve others, but to impress others. I either want to be as successful as other people, or I want others’ successes that I do not have. This cycle truly is like “chasing after the wind.” These negative thoughts don’t make me a more successful person—they bring me down and threaten my relationships with others. These thoughts never make me feel satisfied because they force me to believe that my worth stems from how I compare with others, and I forget that my worth comes from God, who created each of us to be unique individuals.

So throughout this last month, I was reminded that it’s pointless to try to compare myself with others because God intentionally created us to be different individuals, pursuing God’s will for our lives in different ways. They only way that I can find peace and joy is if I become content with who God created me to be, not by how well I appear in comparison to others. This is still very much a struggle, and I think it always will be something that I have to work on. However, acknowledging that envy and comparison are areas of my life I need to address has already helped me start changing my actions towards others. For example, I’m trying not to talk about grades or any scores with people because that can just turn into a numbers game. Also, when something good does happen to one of my peers, especially if it’s something that I wanted as well, I don’t offer up a shallow congratulations, but tell them how happy I am for them after I have processed the news to the point where I genuinely feel that emotion.

Like it said in Ecclesiastes, envy is meaningless, and I can attest to it first hand. We live in a culture that thrives on competition and success, but I realize that if I can resist the temptation to look to others for self-worth, I can find peace in the fact that God made me for a specific purpose, unique to anyone else, and with that in mind, I can focus on becoming the best version of myself.

y2nrO1520860379

Lots of love,

Hannah

To Grandmother’s Village We Go: India Part 2

If your read my previous post, then you will know that I went on vacation with my friend Madhu to India. I spent several days in Hyderabad, and during the second half of my trip, we traveled to Agra and then to her grandmother’s village near Bhimavaram.

On Tuesday, we woke up around 3:30am to go to the airport. From there, we took a plane to New Delhi and then a taxi to Agra. In Agra, our first stop was the famous Taj Mahal. I was prepared to be slightly let down since the Taj is so touristy, but the palace went above and beyond my expectations! The size, the white marble, and the intricate carvings and tile inlays of the palace were breathtaking. The marble was carried by horses for months to reach the building site of the Taj Mahal. It took 22 years of fine craftsmanship to construct this palace by hand. All I know is that Shah Jahan must have really loved his third wife if he put in all this time and money to build this tomb for her.

After the Taj Mahal, we visited Agra Fort, which is where Shah Jahan lived. This fort was beautiful with a mixture of red stone and white marble. Our final stop was an artisanal market, filled with tile inlay art made by the descendants of the workers who built the Taj Mahal. I bought I pink marble traveling chess set, which I have already used quite a bit.

The next morning, we took another flight to a city near the village, and after a two hour car drive, we arrived. I ate lunch with a few of Madhu’s family members, and for the first time, I learned how to eat rice and curry with my hands (as opposed to curry with chapati or naan). There is definitely a learning curve, and while I still am no pro, I can at least eat and not make a giant mess everywhere. Like I said before, everyone is very impressed with how well I am adjusting to the food here. After lunch, a few of us went to a cow competition of sorts. There were various cows that competed in different events; although I couldn’t really discern what was going on. I did notice, though, that I was the only non-Indian person there, and wow did I get stares. I also got asked to be interviewed twice, which I declined. People also placed this chicken in front of me so that they could conveniently take pictures of the chicken while still getting me in the background.

On Thursday, we got up early to visit Madhu’s grandpa’s farms. We first visited some shrimp ponds where we witnessed a beautiful, tranquil sunrise. At one of the ponds we were able to take a boat ride on this small, rickety, metal boat. Later we saw some of his cows and visited with some family members. Once we returned to her grandma’s house, we found out that I appeared in not one, but two newspapers. I guess they don’t get a lot of  foreigners to their village, so I was a bit of a celebrity here. In the afternoon, we went to maybe 7 or so houses to visit with family and friends. Side note: this village is basically one big family. Everyone seems to be related in some way, and since family is very important here, going on house visits is common. At the houses, I met more family members (who often stated that they saw me in the paper) and ate a lot of new Indian snacks and sweets. While I was stuffed the entire time, the food was delicious. I particularly loved the desserts. Most of the sweets I have tried here are a baked or fried pastry dessert that is very sweet, and they sometimes have nuts or dried fruit.

The rest of my stay was mostly characterized by family time. Even though I don’t understand the language, the family did their best to make me feel comfortable and welcome (I really did appreciate all of their sweets 🙂 ). As far as other unique outings, Friday afternoon, we went on a quick boat ride in one of the rivers to see some native birds. On Saturday, Madhu and I got henna on our hands. The henna comes from the leaves of a plant. These leaves were ground up by Madhu’s grandma and then a family friend applied a design onto our hands. After about two hours, we removed the paste, and we were left with a bright red design. Apparently, if the dye turns bright red, it is a sign that you will have a good marriage. Hopefully that turns out to be true 😉. Our time in the village ended, and we took a night train back to Hyderabad where later we hopped on our respective planes to head back home.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have had this authentic Indian experience. While there is a fair amount of poverty here, I’ve felt an outpouring of joy and compassion from the people I have met. Living in two, third-world countries over the past six months has started to impact the way I think about my life now that I am back in the States. While I don’t know fully how these experiences have changed me, for one, it’s making me think about how I can live a more full life and how I can spread the joy and love that I received in both Ecuador and India to those around me here.

Unfortunately this is the end of my travels for some time, but I will still be doing my regular blogging from now on 🙂

Lots of love,

Hannah

New Year, New Travels: India Part 1

After being home for less than 2 weeks, it was time for me to embark on another journey: India! I have always been intrigued with Indian culture, such as their food and religion, so when my friend invited me to stay with her family in Hyderabad, I couldn’t refuse.

My poor mom had to once again drive me to O’Hare International Airport on January 3rd. I flew with Etihad Airways, and it made the 20 hours of travel bearable. On the plane, I received a plethora of Indian food, which I was extremely happy about. I didn’t end up sleeping much. Instead, I read quite a bit, which made the time pass rather quickly. The journey definitely was long, but I made it just fine. My friend Madhu picked me up at the airport, and after eating a delicious meal of butter chicken and naan, I tried to sleep (which I actually did do until about 4:20am…good enough)

In the morning, we had a traditional South Indian breakfast, idlis with chutney and coffee with milk (The coffee here is instant coffee and the milk, I found out, is actually buffalo milk. While that may sound odd, I really enjoyed it because the milk is very creamy and it didn’t upset my stomach!)

IMG_2983

Afterwards we went to Birla Mandir—a beautiful, white Hindu temple decorated with intricate carvings. I love learning about theology, so I was thrilled to experience this worship space.

In the afternoon we visited Golconda Fort where we explored the ruins and climbed to the top to see a lookout of the whole city. While there, MANY people asked for a selfie, both young and old. I felt like some people were more interested in me than the tourist attraction that we were at, but I tried to just roll with it. I definitely stuck out here, but it was all part of the experience. At night, I met some of Madhu’s friends from high school at a really cute, French dessert place. I was in food heaven 😊.

On Saturday, we got a taste of royalty. Madhu’s family treated us to a lunch at Falaknuma Palace. When we arrived, we were taken in a horse-drawn carriage to the palace. Then as we walked up to the palace, the employees dropped fresh rose petals on top of us. We were spoiled for sure. For our meal, we had soup, lamb appetizers, and various entrees with halibut, lobster, and curry. The dessert was my favorite, as I got to try three ice creams: mango, honey and saffron, and chai. Mango was my favorite!

Afterwards, we quickly stopped by the monument, Charminar, which is in the middle of a HUGE bazaar. In general, the traffic in Hyderabad is awful, especially since there are no rules. Traffic lanes aren’t respected, so there is a lot of swerving and honking. At the bazaar, however, there were people, scooters, and cars coming in every direction. Thankfully Madhu’s family’s drivers are pros. The whole situation was slightly overwhelming, but it was a very authentic Indian experience.

IMG_2463

Sunday was very relaxed. We spent most of the afternoon visiting relatives. In the span of a few hours, we went to 4 different houses. Four! While I could not keep track of who all these family members were, I did have a good time. I also learned that Indian families love to feed you. I got offered food at every house, and by the end I was stuffed. Later that night, Madhu and I went to the mall so that I could buy some traditional Indian tunics to wear while in her grandmother’s village. After that, we got ice cream, of course.

Monday was our last day in Hyderabad. In the morning, we went to Madhu’s grandpa’s hospital to shadow. We went to the cath lab, the cardiology outpatient unit, and the wellness unit. I was very surprised to see how modern this hospital was! I loved hearing about the current healthcare situation in India. Now that India is becoming more advanced, more people are dying from non-communicable diseases like diabetes rather than transmisible diseases, so it will be very interesting to see what public health programs they implement to educate their patients about preventative care (which is what I’m very interested in) Okay, enough about medicine and public health 😉. The rest of the day was spent reading and running errands. During those errands, I tired chat for the first time. Chat is a variety of fast food snacks. I tried three different types of snacks: one was bread dipped in a curry, the second was a puffed rice cereal snack with spices, and the third (my favorite) is hard to describe, but it’s a concoction of chickpeas, fried chips, different sauces, and yogurt on top. After our errands, we headed to bed because we had a 3:00am wake up call to begin our journey to the Taj Mahal!

I’m extremely grateful for this authentic experience in India. By living with Madhu’s family and interacting with all of her extended family, I have learned so much about the culture. I’ve slowly learned some Telugu, which is vastly different from English and Spanish. The one phrase I have memorized is a response to “How’s India?”. I always say, “Chala bagundi!” (translation: It’s very nice). I love all the food, and all of the grandmas are really impressed that I can tolerate the spice. The religion and spirituality is fascinating, the clothes are beautiful, and the love and hospitality I have received from family here is unlike anything I have experienced. These first few days were the biggest culture shock I have experienced, even more so than my four months in Ecuador, but I loved every second!

While my time in Hyderabad is over, there are still more adventures to come. Stay tuned for part two of my travels in this beautiful country.

Lots of love,

Hannah

Saying goodbye to the best year of my life

And just like that we are in 2018. 2017 was probably one of the best years of my life. It was a year of adventure, growth, and meaningful connections. At the end of this year, I feel extremely grateful and happy for the opportunities that God has given me. Like I have mentioned in previous posts, faith and spirituality is a key part of my life, but it is complex and confusing. Oftentimes I don’t know what to believe because there are so many different belief systems in this world. But throughout this year, I cannot deny God working in my life. I do struggle with all the hardships that are occurring around us—mass shootings, sexual assaults, natural disasters, threats to go to war, etc. At the same time, though, there is a ton of good happening. There a lot of people standing with those being oppressed or starting conversations about issues that need to be addressed. In my own life, a lot of good resulted too.There were moments that occurred during this year that I can’t take credit for; I owe those experiences to God. These briefly were the highlights of the past 12 months.

2017 Highlights

  • January: Being able to lead a group of students to volunteer at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and starting my second semester of sophomore year
  • February: Lunch dates with my friends at Phils, study sessions in the library, attending my friend’s bridal shower
  • March: Making the most of our late night Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy labs with my best friend Kelly, spontaneous trips to Dairy Queen with my friends, leading discussions about faith and vocation for my job
  • April: Volunteering at the YMCA and teaching toddlers to swim, late night hangouts with my friends, presenting research at my school’s research forum, going to Royal Family Kids Camp training
  • May: finishing finals, giant ice cream cones at the caf, visiting Rachel in Edinburgh!
  • June: Shadowing a family medicine doctor, Royal Family Kids Camp!, Maine!
  • July: Trip to Appleton to visit friends, volunteering as a Spanish interpreter, Mary’s wedding
  • August: Leaving for Quito!
  • September: Going to the Amazon and Mindo
  • October: Galapagos!!, Timmy Global Health, Volcán Corazón
  • November: Traveling to the coast, hikes galore, Baños
  • December: Cotopaxi!!!, celebrating my 21st birthday, coming home!

2017 was great, but I am even more optimistic for 2018. My hope is that on a global level,  the devastation occurring in the world will move people to get educated and to take action. This year, I want to place even more emphasis on reducing my waste so that I can help conserve this beautiful world. I also want to continue exploring topics about faith and social justice so that I can try to create small positive changes by living with compassion, empathy, and dedication. On a more personal level, this year I hope to travel, challenge myself with new races, and dedicate more time to reading. I believe this year will be truly monumental. I will finish my junior year and start my senior year of college. My best friend will get married. I will have applied to medical schools, and hopefully I will have maybe gotten in to one. While I will never know for certain what lies ahead, I can’t help but feel optimistic and also open to however God is going to work in my life.

Lots of love,

Hannah

¡Chao Ecuador!

Hola a todos!

I am finally back in the United States. All of our flights went exactly as planned, so it was a smooth journey home. Right now, it is hard to describe the emotions that I am feeling. Of course I was slightly sad to have to leave such a beautiful country, but I honestly left feeling very grateful and content. These past four months have been quite the challenge—from the language barrier to the culture shock to having to live with a whole new family. There were moments when I desperately wanted to be home, but despite all of this, I’m so happy for the opportunity to study abroad. My favorite part of Ecuador, by far, was the nature. During my four months abroad, I was lucky enough to experience, all four regions of Ecuador—the Sierra, the coast, the Amazon, and the Galapagos. Throughout all of my adventures and travels, I really developed a sense of freedom, courage, grit, and just love for life in general. “Ama la vida” is actually Ecuador’s slogan, and I really hope that this can stick with me back home, especially since it’s so easy for me to get wrapped up in productivity, efficiency, and achievement.

So leaving Quito on the 21st, I left feeling happy actually. Instead of feeling sad for what I would have to leave behind in Ecuador, I felt extremely satisfied with what I had experienced. If I had to rank my top three experiences abroad, they would rank as the following:

  1. Summiting Cotopaxi
  2. Going to the Galapagos
  3. Being a Spanish interpreter for Timmy Global Health

 

It was an amazing four months, but I was ready to go home. Plus, I know I’ll be back one day, so this was just an “Hasta Luego” not an “Adios.”

Being home is wonderful! I love seeing my family and friends. I finally met my new kitten. I love seeing my house decorated for Christmas. Being home is so comforting and familiar. I’m just so excited to re-establish a routine here in Wisconsin. And since I don’t plan on working over break, I can just relax, read, and spend time with as many people as possible. So far, my favorite things about being home (other than seeing family and friends) are the following:

  1. Meeting baby cat
  2. Having a fridge/freezer stocked with both ice cream and healthy foods (especially vegetables!!)
  3. Getting in the holiday spirit with cookies, music, and decorations

26027081_1629963333728884_323817457_o

I don’t think reverse culture shock has hit yet. I’m not sure what that will feel like or if I will experience it. I’m assuming that once I get out of this honeymoon phase, I might miss my life in Ecuador a little more. I do already miss the warmth that’s for sure 😉

This is my life right now. I need to unpack, and I have a big to do list to tackle. In case you forgot, I hop on a plane to India January 3rd. Stay tuned for that adventure!

Chao,

Hannah

Week 18 Part 2: La Cumbre de Cotopaxi + Mi Cumpleaños

Hola a todos!

The adventure I have anxiously been awaiting finally came and went: climbing Cotopaxi on my 21st birthday! These past 24 hours have been filled with a wide array of emotions—from excitement to nervousness to pure awe. Here is how the trip went down.

Saturday, December 16th: mid-day

On Saturday (my actual birthday), our group of 10 headed out for Cotopaxi National Park. Since we exchange students are running low on money, we decided to take a series of buses that eventually got us to the park. Once we arrived, our group along with our guides drove to our hostal, which was located in Cotopaxi National Park. There we unpacked and then practiced how to put on our crampons—basically an attachment with metal spikes that hooks onto the bottom of your boots so that you can hike on the glacier. At 5pm, we ate dinner, and then it was lights out from 6-10pm. I slept for maybe an hour or two at most.

Saturday, December 16: night

At 10pm, we woke up, packed our bags, and ate a light “breakfast”—tea and some bread. We left at 11pm to drive to the parking lot where the start of the hike is located. Side note: In case you are wondering, yes, this hike did occur at night. This occurs because part of Cotopaxi is a glacier, and if you hike too late in the day, the sun melts the snow which could cause avalanches. We started our hike roughly around 11:30pm with our warm clothes, backpacks, harnesses, helmets, and headlamps. First of all, we had the most perfect night. There was not a cloud in the sky. Instead, the sky was lit up by millions of stars, which we were able to see perfectly since Cotopaxi National Park has little to no light pollution. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars before. It was breathtaking. You know what else was (literally) breathtaking? The beginning of this hike. It was a brutal 45 minute hike up a sandhill to the refuge (4800 m). What made it worse was the fact that I was carrying a backpack with the following: 2L water, a coke, 3 bananas, a PB&J, granola bars, 2 chocolate bars, metal crampons, leggings, a thin jacket, snow goggles, and extra hat, gloves, etc. It was HEAVY. Right off the bat, people were passing me up—including my partner and my guide. I just kept thinking, Well this isn’t good. I’m not even 20 minutes in and I’m already struggling. How am I going to hike for 6+ hours to the summit?

Well, we made it to the refuge at some time, and then continued onward. Side note: this hike was a complete time warp. My fitbit was covered up by all my layers of clothes, so I never knew what time it was during the entire hike. It was probably for the best. That way, I couldn’t fixate on how much longer I had on this mountain. After the refuge was more sand/gravel for probably and hour. YAY! The struggle continued. Eventually the sand ended and the glacier began. However, at this point, I hit a very concerning roadblock: my partner got altitude sickness, as in she vomited and couldn’t walk straight. Normally the rule is, if your partner gets sick, you and your guide have to go down. We were barely 2? hours into the hike, and I was not ready to quit yet. However, all of the guides knew it was my birthday. As the cumpleañera, they made an exception and let me join another group. I was bummed for my partner who trained to do Cotopaxi with me, but at the same time, I was so happy for the opportunity to keep hiking.

Sunday December 17th: middle of the night

I joined two other exchange students from USFQ along with their guide. We hooked on our crampons, got tied up to a rope, and headed up the glacier. For probably 4-5 hours we hiked in the dark in silence. This hike was steep too. All of it. For a while we kept wanting to take mini water breaks, but our guide quickly told us that we had to keep moving and only stop at designated break areas. Otherwise, we wouldn’t summit in time. So, we continued, slowly, but continuously—ice pick, step, step, and repeat—for hours, stopping only at the appropriate break areas. This time for me oddly flew by, maybe it was because I lost track of time? The inclines were insane, but somehow I managed to keep on trekking. I never thought about turning back either. Perhaps it was my sheer determination? All of the sugar that gave me energy? The cocoa tea? Who knows.

Sunday December 17th: a bit after sunrise

Eventually, we neared the summit. However, this part was the steepest section yet. Every time we hiked up a steep hill, I thought we had reached the summit…but that only lead to another steep hill, which still didn’t lead to the top. I experienced 2-3 false summit moments that were really disheartening. I knew we were so close, but every step was very difficult due to the incline. I just wanted to summit so badly.

DSC01098

Then we made it. The views were STUNNING. It was a clear day, so we could see other surrounding mountains.

We also got to see Volcán Cotopaxi’s steaming crater—yes, this is an active volcano. Reaching the summit was such an amazing feeling. I couldn’t believe that my body and mind was able to get me to the top of a 19,347ft/ 5,897m mountain. It was unreal! Plus, since I was the cumpleañera, I got a plethora of hugs at the summit, which just added to my already elated state.

DSC01115

Sunday December 17th: morning

The summit of Cotopaxi was quite cold, so after snapping a few pictures, we headed back down the mountain. We were pretty tired by this point, so the descent was slow going. The worst part was trekking down the sand/gravel between the glacier and the refuge. I think I fell at least 10 times on those stupid pebbles. Much like my experience with Iliniza Norte, a couple of times after falling, I just sat there for a while pouting. I considered just sliding down this portion, but I didn’t want to ruin my rental snow pants. Eventually, we made it back to the parking lot, and we returned to our hostal to pack up, eat real breakfast, and go back to Quito.

What can I say? I have fallen in love with the mountains of Ecuador. During my semester, I have hiked Rucu Pichincha three times, Guagua Pichincha, Volcán Corazon, Iliniza Norte, and now Cotopaxi. Every time I hike, I am amazed by the variety of nature that exists on this planet, and I’m astounded by what my body can do. I would have never thought I that I could hike a mountain that is over 19,000ft, but Sunday I did just that. I honestly couldn’t have imagined a better 21st birthday. To me, it really shows how this semester I’ve grown to be more independent, courageous, and open to challenges. If anything, this hike has given me a glimpse of what I am capable of, mentally and physically. So reflecting on my 21st birthday, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in the beautiful country of Ecuador with wonderful friends doing crazy adventures like hiking Cotopaxi in the middle of the night. Writing this now, leaving Ecuador is slightly bittersweet. I want to go home, but now after four months in Ecuador, I finally feel like my Spanish is improving, I’m meeting more people, and I’m finding the aspects that I really love about Ecuador (one of them obviously being hiking). Now that I feel more established in this country, it’s sad to have to leave, but I guess that means I will have to come back some day.

Chao,

Hannah

Week 18: School’s Out + Iliniza Norte

Hola a todos!

Just like that, I am done with my final exams. I honestly couldn’t be happier. My classes were by no means hard, but I didn’t find them to be incredibly interesting (besides my research, which I very much enjoyed). As odd as this sounds, I’m ecstatic to take science classes again. Call me a nerd if you want; I won’t deny it by any means 😉 Besides taking finals, on Tuesday, my friends and I went to a band concert to watch our friend CJ play piano. It was a great night with wonderful Big Band music (CJ if you are reading this, you rocked it!!).

Even though I’m still enjoying my time here in Ecuador—whether it is going to concerts or getting ice cream with friends—each day, I grow more and more eager to go back to Wisconsin. I miss the familiarity and routine of home. Plus Christmas is approaching, and I miss the snow (crazy I know!), real Christmas trees, and traditions like decorating Christmas cookies. As I write this now, I have one week left! However, I can’t leave just yet because I still have Cotopaxi to climb.

This week as my last training session, I decided to summit Ilinza Norte. We had a gorgeous day! It was sunny and clear, so we could see other mountains like Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi. In my group, there were 2 guides, a young woman from Columbia, a guy from Guayaquil, and another woman from Romania. Right off the bat, our group separated, and I ended up hiking with one of the guides, plus the woman from Columbia and the guy from Guayaquil. Our first task was to hike to the refuge, which was at 4700m. It took about 2-2.5 hours to hike to the refuge, and during this portion, it was a typical hike.

After we rested at the refuge, we continued another 2-2.5 hours to the summit. During this portion, we had to wear a helmet and a harness because we had climb over a lot of rocks. The feat was not as scary as it sounds, and soon we made it to the summit—5126m/ 16,818 ft!! I was really happy because after 5 hours of hiking, I only had a slight headache.

The descent was not as nice. As expected, we had to climb down from all of those rocks. The big rocks soon morphed into a section composed of sand/gravel/loose rocks. Every step for an hour and a half felt like I was going to wipe out—and I did fall quite a few times—none of them were bad falls because, thankfully, sand is soft. However there was one point in our descent where I very gracefully fell onto the sand. Since I had fallen about 10 times already, I just sat helplessly for a while because I was so annoyed. That annoyance and anger (plus some hunger) fueled me to get my butt moving again. Eventually we made it to flat ground, and from there, it was a quick walk to the entrance. We finished at 5:30pm… so the hike ended up being 7-8 hours. It was very long, much longer than I anticipated. But hey, I made it back in one piece. Today, I feel fine too. Nothing is majorly sore, so at this point, I feel ready to conquer Cotopaxi. Today and tomorrow, the plan is to rest up for the big hike, which starts roughly at 11:30pm on Saturday. If you are reading this before the summit, I would love prayers/good vibes for me and my team this weekend—that everyone stays safe and motivated, and that we have a clear sunny day!

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-13 at 9.14.33 PM

Chao,

Hannah

Week 17: Last Week of Classes + Cotopaxi Training

Hola a todos!

I am counting down the days until I get to hop on my plane…as I am writing this now (Thursday, December 7) , I have two weeks left!! I have loved my experience in Ecuador. I have fallen in love with nature and adventure here. Through this experience, I have new-found confidence, courage, and independence. Ecuador has shown me how to truly live life, rather than just going through the motions of life. While I will still be the same type A, motivated Hannah when I return to the States, I can only hope that this experience will help me to loosen up just a bit 😉

That being said, I just want to be home. I miss my family, my friends, my bed, my own food. I also miss my cat and dog, and I really want to meet the newest addition to the family—Millie, a sweet, crazy, black and white kitten that my parents recently adopted.

This week, I finished up my last full week of school. On Tuesday, I gave my final presentation for the research I have been working on this semester. I analyzed the nutritional data of 128 adolescents in Ecuador. I was curious to see how factors such as gender, region, and socioeconomic status affected the nutricional state of these adolescents. I also looked into how the consumption of macronutrients varied according to gender, region, and socioeconomic status. I loved doing this research. My professor was so kind and helpful this semester. Plus, I learned a great deal about statistics and got my first taste of public health research, which I much prefer over a traditional science lab. Later that night, my friends and I went to a free concert in Centro Histórico and then went to farrear (to party) as part of the Fiestas de Quito celebrations—although, I didn’t stay out too late because I had to train for Cotopaxi the next day.

Speaking of training, on Wednesday, I hiked Rucu Pichincha for the third time with two other students who are also climbing Cotopaxi with me. We managed to finish the whole thing in 3.5 hrs—30 minutes faster than when I hiked Pichincha last week. I still am the slow one, but training with people who are faster than me is a great way to push myself. Plus, everyone I have hiked with has been extremely supportive and motivating. Afterwards, we went to Quicentro for lunch and ice cream. It was a great day off!

Thursday was my last day of real classes (I just have to take my final exams on Monday and Tuesday)! Later that night, my friends and I went to Mr. Joy. How would I describe Mr. Joy? Well to me, it as a hybrid between Chuck E. Cheese mixed with a McDonald’s play area. I feel like the target audience is children ages 5-12. However, the slides, skating rink, and “ropes course” of sorts were actually pretty fun. In the end, I enjoyed myself at Mr. Joy, even though we were clearly far too old to be there. Afterwards, we went to all you can eat sushi, and although it was very expensive, it was delicious!

Friday, I did absolutely nothing apart from run, sit in bed, and read. I finished the first book of the Mistborn series (I highly recommend for anyone interested in fantasy 🙂 ). However, on Saturday, I climbed Guagua Pichincha with Jessica and CJ. This was actually a pretty easy hike, despite the fact that the summit is at 15,700 ft. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes roughly to summit and only an hour to climb down. This was my favorite hike by far because we had a crystal clear day. We could even see Cayambe and Cotopaxi (which we are hiking in one week!!). What a wonderful morning! I’m praying that we get views like today when we summit Cotopaxi next Sunday!

Stay tuned to see how my time here in Ecuador ends…I’m hoping to share with you all a successful summit story. Fingers crossed!!

Chao,

Hannah