By Nabilah Khanam, Hyatt Bao and Vikram V.
A few weeks before Ben Rapsas had to present the freshmen convocation speech, he was 2,368 miles away in
Ecuador. Other than having to deal with almost being stuck in the middle of the ocean, almost falling down a volcano, and some very iffy wifi, Ben had the best six weeks of his life!
Ben was on the Spanish Language, Business and Technology (LBAT) program in Ecuador that also included a weeklong exploration of the Galapagos Islands. The program is faculty-led, so Georgia Tech professors teach courses at the local university. Furthermore, participants are fully integrated into Ecuador by living with a host family and using their spanish daily.
Ben was very nervous about having to live with a host family, but luckily he had a great time! They welcomed him like he was their own son. If Ben was running late to dinner, they would leave a pl
ate out for him with instructions on how to heat up the food. He went on picnics with his host family, played soccer with them, and they watched soccer matches together. To Ben, his host family became his family.
Ben also gained another family from the other Georgia Tech students who went on the program with him. From having to work on group projects together and traveling together, Ben got to know his peers. However, he felt like they developed the closest connections when the group traveled to Galapagos Islands. With hardly any technology available to them when they arrived, all they had could do was talk. Ben said that he, “gained some of [his] closest friends on this trip.”
Most importantly, Ben grew as a person – he came out of the program with a higher maturity level. Studying abroad in a non-English speaking country taught him how to take care of himself, be independent and helped him gain more self-confidence.
Ben completed this program because he is pursuing a Spanish minor. As a prospective medical student, he wanted the ability to effectively communicate with his patients in their first language in hopes of making them more comfortable. However, he was very honest that at first, he didn’t think he could do this program because he had only just completed his first year at Tech. But after doing some research, Ben realized that it was the perfect time to study abroad for him, and so he seized the opportunity.
His advice for anyone thinking about studying abroad is this: “To anyone [who] thinks it is not possible to go after your freshmen year or [who is] having any doubts, just do a little research. It might surprise you how much fun you [will] have, all the people you will meet and how the experience will influence what you do five to ten years from now.”