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.


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.


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.




Week 1: Preparación para la Escuela, Pan y el Panecillo

Hola a todos!


I made it to Quito with few slip-ups. At the Chicago airport, my carryon bag had to be inspected because of some suspicious item. The culprit—my MCAT books. Luckily, I got the books back once the security knew that they were indeed books. When I arrived at the airport, my host mom and sister greeted me. After we got home, my whole host family— María and Javier along with their children María Laura and Mateo (both in their 20’s)— ate some delicious soup. The rest of the night I unpacked and slept.


Welcome to Quito!

The next day was all about rest. Quito is the highest capital in the world, and altitude sickness is quite common here, especially if you jump right into sight seeing. Besides relaxing, my host mom did take me on a short walk so that I could see some of the popular cafes students like to hang out in after school.

On Thursday, all the international students at USFQ had orientation. In order to get to school, I have to take two buses. While they are not that complicated, Quito is a busy place; the buses are even more hectic. That being said, even though you have to be aware of your surroundings, most of the people in Ecuador are genuinely nice. On the way back from school, I sat by this old man who I think told me his life story. To be honest, I don’t know what he said because the bus was loud and he was soft spoken. Anyways, he was so sweet, and he was excited that I could come to Ecuador for the semester. Back to orientation. We learned a lot about health and safety while in Quito, we got a tour from the Ecuabuddies team—a student organization that helps plan events and trips for the international students so that we can learn more about Ecuador and the culture—and ate some delicious lunch. More on food later. The campus is lovely and the people who help make the international program possible are so kind and helpful. I start classes on Monday, and I’ll make sure to take some pictures of the school soon.

On Friday, I actually had a chance to see some of Quito. In the afternoon, a group of us went to Quicentro Shopping, which is a really nice mall in town. After that, we took a taxi to el Centro de Quito and drove down El Calle de Siete Cruces, a street with seven churches that are all lit up at night. I can’t wait to come back to el Centro de Quito during the day, so that I can tour these break-taking churches. Our main destination was El Pancillo, an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary with wings conquering a serpent—a representation of a scene in Revelation. This statue and all of Quito is lit up at night, and all of it is unbelievably beautiful.

A Detour on Food

I was very interested to see what the food would be like in Ecuador, so I thought I would share what I have been eating most days. So far, breakfast consists of coffee, some kind of croissant-like bread with cream cheese or jam, and fruit. They have a ton of fruit in Ecuador, so I have a lot of tasting to do. Lunch and dinner have been pretty similar. Normally it is meat with rice and a side of vegetables. The diet here in Ecuador is pretty much the complete opposite of what I normally eat at home. Typically, I eat tons of vegetables and fruit. Here we eat tons of bread and other starches. I can’t really complain, though. While it probably is not the healthiest diet in the world, all of the food here has been delicious. And if we are honest with ourselves, I think we all can agree that fresh, buttery bread tastes better than spinach.

Family Life

My family has been very nice and welcoming. At first I felt a little out of place because I didn’t know the level of interaction I should have with them, but now I am getting the hang of it. If I want alone time, I can have it. If I want to explore the city, I can do that. Also, if I am bored and want to just watch tv in my host parent’s room with my host mom and sister, I am welcome to do that as well. It is definitely a process trying to adjust to a new family, but I am learning.


The view from my house

Fun Ecuadorian Facts

Some things I have learned so far: greetings and traffic. It is very common for people in Ecuador to greet you with a hug and a kiss on the right cheek. I was prepared for that, but I am still getting used to it. Then for traffic, drivers—not pedestrians—have the right of way. Needless to say, I have to be very aware of cars here. I can’t just walk in the street like I do at school and expect that people will stop.


So far I am really enjoying Quito. It is quite different than Wisconsin, but it is a very vibrant place to live. I can’t wait to explore Ecuador more!

Esto es todo para ahora. Hasta pronto!


¡Voy a Ecuador!

¡Hola a todos!

In four short days, I will be boarding a plane to Quito, Ecuador! For four months, I will be studying at the University San Francisco de Quito, taking classes (most of which will occur in Spanish) ranging from Spanish literature to research with a professor about various public health problems. To be completely honest, I feel mostly excitement and peace about the situation…maybe that will change once I actually land, we will see. I am extremely grateful that I know all three of the girls from my school who are also studying abroad in Ecuador. We are all flying together, so even if the flights give us trouble, I will not be alone. Furthermore, I have been in some contact with my host family that I will be living with. While I have not personally met them yet, they seem like wonderful people, and I am thankful that they have so graciously offered to take me in for the semester.

Even though, I feel positive about this experience, I am trying to brace myself for the challenges that will inevitably come my way. First, my Spanish reading comprehension and writing capabilities are relatively strong. However, I know very well that my listening and speaking skills are lagging. I know that once I am faced with all Spanish, all the time, I will be overwhelmed and exhausted. Also, for those you know me, I love my routine and consistency. For example, I would be perfectly content eating oatmeal with peanut butter and banana every day of my life given the opportunity 😉 . Once I step off that plane, though, my old routine will be gone—I will have to adjust to different food and mealtimes, school dynamics, and family interactions.

I think all of these challenges that could present themselves are the reasons driving me to go Ecuador. I want to be pushed with my Spanish skills so that I can come back fluent. I want to disrupt my routine so that one, I can work on becoming more flexible, and two, I can better embrace a new culture. Finally, I am really interested in seeing how I adjust to the challenge of living in a third world country, especially since I’ve been privileged to live in a very nice part of Wisconsin my whole life. Also, since I am fascinated my medicine, nutrition, and public health, I am excited to learn more about the health disparities in Ecuador, especially through the research program that I am doing.

So that is a little preview of what is going through my mind right now as I prepare to leave. I will do my best to post on a regular basis, for those who are interested in hearing about my life in Quito. I do not know what my communication situation will look like once I am in Ecuador, but anything with wifi should work: Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, etc.

¡Hablamos luego!


A Lesson in Humility: A Recap of My Children’s Medical Trip

Before embarking on this Children’s Medical trip to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, I couldn’t help but create expectations for what I wanted the trip to be like. I wanted to spend one-on-one time everyday with sick in-patients, giving them joy, hope, and encouragement. I yearned to hear stories from the families about how they were dealing with the stress of having a sick child so that I could offer a listening ear and an empathetic heart. What we got instead was little patient contact and a lot of filing, copying, and stuffing of envelopes.

The reality of this trip was so drastically different from what I envisioned, and for a while, I was bitter. I knew that other Children’s Medical trips to Iowa and Tennessee were having a very different experience than we were having. I realized, however, that I was being selfish with the service that I was willing to offer. As the week went on, my group discussed how we could all benefit from a dose of humility. We came to serve this hospital. No service (administrative or patient care) is below us. With that notion in mind, our group was able to enter the hospital every day with positivity. When we got to do arts and crafts or play games with smiling children, we cherished those moments. Other times when we were doing paperwork, we tried to use that opportunity to learn more about the behind the scenes jobs that need to get done in order to make the hospital run.


This trip was not what I expected at all. Despite the challenges we faced, I have many memorable moments with my group. My favorite child interaction was when I was running “Art Cart” for the out-patients. I saw a little boy running around, and his dad looked exhausted, so I decided to see if I could harness his energy. The little boy and I began playing a modified form of Red Light Green Light. Soon other kids were joining in, and we played this game along with Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, and whatever other games I could think of on the spot. Needless to say, the kids had an endless supply of energy, and I definitely got my cardio in for the day.

My other memorable moment was making dinner at the newly built Ronald McDonald house. This facility was beautifully renovated. It is clean, cozy, and comforting for the families who stay there. Plus, their dog Mac brings a smile to everyone. On Thursday night, we decided to make “Breakfast for Dinner” for these families since we heard that many people were sick of eating pasta or chili. After getting a tour from the wonderfully dedicated maintenance man, Ernie, we whipped out the red and white striped aprons and got to work. We flipped pancakes (topped with your choice of chocolate chips, bananas, and/or sprinkles), scrambled eggs, fried some bacon and sausage, and even made cookies. It was a great feeling knowing that we could provide a home-cooked meal for these families. I am so thankful that Ronald McDonald house exists because if I had a sick child, the last thing I would want to do is worry about where to stay or what to eat. Here, the families can just focus on being there to support their children at the hospital. I’m so glad to have been able to serve in such a wonderful facility.


Finally, my group was filled with funny, kind, and positive people. Before we began our service at the hospital, we bonded by rock climbing to the top of Pinnacle Mountain. Luckily, no bones were broken—just one scraped up leg resulted. Later we bonded further by cheering on the Packers at Buffalo Wild Wings, even though we were surrounded by dedicated Dallas fans. Luckily, the Packers were victorious, so we were able to leave with our heads held high. Whether it morale boosting Baskin Robbins runs, murder mystery podcast listening sessions, or intense games of Uno attack, our group couldn’t have gotten along better. Even when we were disappointed at times about our service, we were able to laugh it off and face each moment with the positivity needed to get through the week.


So no, this trip is not what I expected it to be, but as a result I grew in my ability to lead, adapt, and remain positive in unpredictable circumstances. I was challenged to volunteer selflessly and humbly, realizing that we were helping the hospital no matter what type of service we were giving. I was able to bond with my wonderful group and meet some of the nicest people with Southern hospitality, such as Margie from church who cooked us a meal for free, the men from the simulation center with their passion and enthusiasm, and Blake from the research center who was so excited to educate young adults like us. Even though this trip didn’t go as planned, I can still walk away feeling accomplished in the ways that I served others and built relationships with the people I met.


Swim, Bike, Run–Triathlon Fun

As some of you may know, I’m really into health and fitness. I just love feeling strong and confident in the body that God has given me. One of the ways that I have started challenging myself is by signing up for races. I’ve done 5k’s in the past, but my first real race was the Trial Assail half marathon in Nashotah during September of my senior year. I had such a blast training for the half, and it felt amazing crossing the finish line, especially since I am not the best runner. This year, I decided to sign up for the Lake Country Triathlon for a few reasons. One, I’ve been wanting to do a triathlon for a few years, but didn’t have the guts to actually sign up. Two, I wanted to push myself physically. Triathlons require so much endurance, and I thought the race would be an amazing challenge! I’m proud to say that found a training program, stuck with it, and finished this race with no flat tires or broken bones 🙂

 The Arrival

My alarm rang this morning bright and early at 4:40am. I actually got about 7 ½ hours of sleep since I went to bed before 9pm. Considering I got about 6 ½ hours of sleep when I worked over the summer, I felt great when I woke up! My mom, dad, and I left for the race at about 5:30 am. Once I got to the beach, I got my race chip and my body markings. Then I set up my bike in the transition area. After that, I just hung out with my parents until the race began.


Swim 0.25 miles

The race began at 7am, the first segment being the swim. I was the last wave, so I didn’t go until 7:40 am. Right around 7, it unfortunately began to rain–first a sprinkle, then a pretty solid downpour. So there I stood on the beach with only a suit on in the rain. By the end, my fingers were blue. On the bright side, the water felt nice and warm in comparison 😉


My wave (wave 13)–females 35 and under

I never thought that the swim would be a challenge, but man was I wrong. First of all, I had a hard time getting my momentum going. In the swimming pool, I could push off of the side to start propelling myself foreward. Here, I just had to start swimming. Plus, the rain made the water really choppy, so it was hard to get going anywhere. I really struggled to keep my breathing under control, and I was swallowing a lot of water. I was terrified that I was going to drown. I decided to flip onto my back and just float for a few seconds. Then I did a mix of backstroke and breaststroke for probably half of the swim. After that, I was calm enough to finish the swim by doing freestyle. Normally I love water, but today I have never been so happy to be on dry land.


Mass chaos in the water. See anyone floundering? Yeah, one of those people was me. 

Bike 15.75 miles

Everything after the swim was easy peasy. The bike ride was a very scenic route through Oconomowoc. There were a few hills, but where I live there are tons of hills, so I was prepared. I finished way earlier than expected, even with my slow mountain bike that has thick, heavy tires–not really the most aerodynamic bike ever. My parents didn’t even have time to snap a photo of me as I finished because they thought I was going to be a lot slower.


Me as I started my bike journey.

Run 3.1 miles

After I finished biking, I dropped off my bike in the transition zone and headed back on the course. I almost started running with my helmet still on, but a nice volunteer kindly stopped me so I didn’t make a fool of myself. The running course was super flat. I didn’t have any music, but hearing the cheers from the volunteers and the spectators were enough motivation for me.


So not my best running picture ever, but I don’t care because at this point, I was about 100 feet from the finish line!

The Finish

I finished around 9:30 am; my official time was 1:50:12. I had no goal other than to finish, and I am so proud that I did that! I have been training for this triathlon for two months; I’m so glad that all of my hard work and determination paid off!!


Done! Now where’s my victory ice cream ? (I did have victory ice cream just to clarify 🙂 )


I think I am hooked on races now. I just love how you have to push yourself both during the training and during the race. Plus, I love how races are an individual sport. The only person I am up against is myself. I am constantly amazed at all that my body can do, and for that, I am so grateful. Today wasn’t perfect, but I will will always remember this event in my life.

Lots of love,



From Observing Patients to Feeling Like a Patient


For a long time, I have been trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I have almost always been drawn to a career in the medical field– as a doctor, PA, or something else entirely. Being the determined individual that I am, I’m currently leaning towards a career as a doctor. I don’t know what type of specialty I want to pursue, but being an OBGYN sounds interesting for various reasons. One, OBGYNs get to deliver babies. How cool would it be to bring life into the world?!?! Also, women’s health is really interesting to me. Most people squirm in disgust with anything related to women’s health issues, but I think every women deserves to be educated about their health. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to shadow an amazing OBGYN near me, and through this experience, I was able to see what a day in the life of a doctor is like.

Yesterday, the doctor that I shadowed only had office appointments– no babies were born sadly. However, I did get to see pap smears, pelvic exams, pregnancy check ups, and more. I even got to use the doppler monitor to hear babies’ heartbeats. That was by far my favorite part of the day. It makes me so happy knowing that these babies are growing and developing healthily inside of their mothers. I wish I could have seen a baby being born, but hearing them in the womb was pretty great!

My OBGYN is also such a sweet person. I got to hear her medical journey– her stories of med school, residency, etc. She also gave me insight as to what it is like to be a women in medicine. She is such a role model because not only is she a successful doctor, but she is also a wife and mother of three children. I admire the way she puts family first in her life. If I decide to become a doctor, I hope that I can embody her attitude and values.

However, one event in particular made this day quite unique. I was in a room meeting a patient, and out of the blue I started feeling woozy. I immediately tried to leave the room, but the next thing I knew, I was on the ground in the hallway. Yup, I fainted. I have never fainted before, but I guess that if I’m going to faint somewhere, it might as well be in the doctor’s office. The nurses were so sweet. They got me ice packs and let me lie down on one of the patient tables. Even though, I came to observe patients, I practically became a patient myself. I quickly recovered, though. I think I just needed more food. The whole experience was hilarious looking back on it. This little setback didn’t stop me from having an amazing day observing a wonderful doctor. Here are main things that I learned today…

  1. Eat lots of food or else you might make a fool of yourself and end up on the floor in the doctor’s office.
  2. You can be a female doctor and still have a family. It takes a lot of work, but you can make it happen.
  3. I can really envision myself as a doctor. I like the challenge and dedication involved with the job. Plus, I don’t mind all the school– med school, I’m ready for you 😉

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for me. I’m so thankful for the unique opportunities that God has blessed me with. I can’t wait to see the plan that he has in store for me!


Lots of love,