Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Written by: Daniel Vorwerk - International Programs

At the Turi lookout above the red-roofed city of Cuenca, Ecuador

At the Turi lookout above the red-roofed city of Cuenca, Ecuador

Originally set to study abroad in Peru in fall 2020, Kristin Vogel, a senior undergraduate student pursuing a BA in anthropology and Spanish with a minor in history, found herself in a waiting game due to COVID-19.

“My travel plans kept getting pushed back due to COVID,” said Vogel. “After a while, they finally said we were not able to travel to Peru as it was too much of a health safety risk given how the pandemic was playing out.”

Vogel, a recipient of the Stanley Merit-Based ScholarshipJoel D. and Sandra Barkan Scholarship, and the Naomi Gunderson Scholarship for Foreign Language Study Abroad, was still eager to travel abroad to continue her academic pursuits in a different country, and was given the option to choose to study abroad in Chile, Ecuador, or Mexico. Knowing a little bit about Chile and Mexico, Vogel opted to pursue the SIT Ecuador Development, Politics, and Languages program in fall 2021, given the country's proximity to Peru and Vogel’s desire to learn and spend time in a new country.

“Truth be told, I was a little worried about the program at first because I didn’t know much about the politics side of the study abroad program I selected,” explained Vogel. “Once I arrived in country and experienced the culture and the program, though, I knew it was the best choice for me.”

As an anthropology major, Vogel didn’t see a clear path at first as to how her degree program of study at Iowa could fit alongside a study abroad program heavily focused on the political culture of a specific country she was so unfamiliar with. However, Vogel found herself in a program directed by Fabian Espinsoa, academic director for the SIT Ecuador Development, Politics, and Languages program, who taught many of the classes Vogel would end up taking.

“Fabian ran the study abroad program in country and lives full time in Quito, Ecuador,” said Vogel. “He’s an anthropologist by trade, so while there were classes that taught the knowledge of politics, development, poverty, and progress in Ecuador, there was always this connection to cultural factors and customs being made throughout the program. At the end of the day, we were there for a cultural exchange more than memorizing things for class.” This type of learning helped Vogel continue her education centered on anthropology and studying how people in Ecuador interact with one another.

“While a lot of my classmates focused on politics itself, I found it easier to understand how different parties arose in the country over time because of different social or cultural phenomena impacting citizens,” said Vogel. “After I graduate, I’m interested in the feminist approach to history, and I want to work in a non-profit that associates with women’s rights and/or children’s rights.”

"The scholarships I received meant literally everything to me."

Vogel shared within the field of anthropology, people can study it and go into a variety of different careers, but for her, anthropology was about learning and sharing knowledge and culture in ways that help people raise awareness about issues facing society. This education, and the expansion of her global competency, was made possible through the attainment of several scholarships.

Vogel visited the towers of the Basilica del Voto Nacional overlooking a view of the valley city of Quito, Ecuador

Vogel visited the towers of the Basilica del Voto Nacional overlooking a view of the valley city of Quito, Ecuador

“The scholarships I received meant literally everything to me,” said Vogel. “I was nervous how I was going to be able to afford to study abroad but [UI study abroad advisor] Kristine Djerf was critical in helping me feel confident in my applications and comfortable going abroad. The scholarships made the trip possible for me. Once I was in the country and meeting peers from all over the world studying in Ecuador with me, I realized I am very fortunate to be at Iowa and have the financial support from scholarships available through International Programs.”

The scholarships Vogel received enabled her to travel to Ecuador, expand her education, and gain further clarity on her next steps after graduation.

“I want to emphasize to the scholarship donors that their ability to provide and give back to students during such a transformative position in people’s lives, working to further their education and given the chance to travel and gain new global perspectives, you can’t put a price tag on that,” said Vogel. “I want to thank them for donating and designating that money for this purpose. There’s a lot you can do with money, but this allowed me the opportunity to study abroad, and it made the difference on being able to go.”

Vogel has known since her second year at Iowa that she wanted to work in the realm of non-profits and academia, but her SIT Ecuador Development, Politics, and Languages program abroad gave her perspective in her own place in the world. The program taught her that she can help others no matter where she finds herself in life and reinforced her desire to be in a position in the future to help and advocate for people in need.

“If I could take one lesson away from the trip, it would be I learned to not doubt myself and know who I am as a person,” shared Vogel. “That’s the most powerful thing there is. You’re faced with so many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and it was important for me to learn about myself and to trust myself along the way. I grew more confident in myself and my abilities; to learn from my experiences and mistakes was something really powerful that came out of my educational experience in Ecuador.”