An entire academic year may seem like a long time for a college junior to spend out of the country, but University of Mississippi student Scarlett Andrews of Carthage, Tenn., is doing just that.
On a study abroad in Ecuador – her fourth learning experience in another country – Andrews is living with a host family in Quito and taking classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Cumbaya, a section of Quito. She is earning academic credit toward her UM major in international studies, as well as taking Spanish classes to help meet her foreign language requirement.
The arrangement is made possible under an exchange program sponsored by the UM Study Abroad Office. Andrews is also traveling throughout the country on weekends.
“Ecuador is amazing because of its social and geographic diversity,” she said. “This makes it a phenomenal country in which I can study, live, travel and learn so much about Latin America and the world.”
A student in UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies, Andrews had a perfect 4.0 grade-point average at the end of her freshman year. In fall 2008, she won the Croft Institute’s competition for the prestigious Rose Bui Academic Excellence Scholarship, which provides $24,000 over three years. She is also a member of the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
Since arriving in Ecuador, she has visited Quito University’s Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon rain forest and other places in the South American country, including the historic city of Cuenca, known for its museums and churches; Papallacta, a village in the Andes famous for its hot springs; and Otavalo, a town with the country’s largest food and arts and crafts market.
“I am learning about lifestyles and cultures very different from my own,” Andrews said. She is also using this time to help her decide on the topic for her required Croft/Honors College thesis.
“I am taking a class in rural sociology in Latin America, and we are doing a research project, which I hope will help me focus on my thesis topic and get a jump start,” she said. “I am thinking about the theme of agricultural policies in Ecuador and how they have affected society and the environment in the last few decades. Our class will be visiting some agricultural areas to learn more about rural Ecuador. Next semester, I hope to do some actual work on my thesis, perhaps getting interviews and traveling more.”
“It’s pretty hard but also very interesting,” she said. “I especially enjoy that it is taught by a professor from Venezuela, and the students are majority Ecuadorian, so I get the opportunity to hear some very different views on Latin American politics than those I hear in my classes in the States.”
South Korea was Andrews’ destination in summer 2008, when she was a participant in UM’s Lott Leadership Exchange Program. She and nine other UM students spent two weeks in the States with 10 Korean students, they then traveled together to South Korea for two more weeks.
Last summer, as an intern at Voices on the Border, a small nonprofit that focuses on sustainable development in El Salvador, Andrews traveled to El Salvador for two weeks. Besides talking with some of Voices’ contacts about environmental and social issues, she was able to travel around the country.
“That was a life-changing experience and made me more confident about coming to Ecuador this year,” she said.
Andrews took her first trip abroad between her junior and senior years in high school, when she and several friends spent two weeks touring Costa Rica. While the sojourn wasn’t a study abroad as such, it has figured prominently in her academic career decisions.
“It was an experience that shaped my mindset about the world and spurred my interest toward international policy and society,” she said. “I was already thinking about international studies as an option for my major in college because of my interest in the Spanish language and in political science, but this first experience outside of the states pointed me further in that direction.”
Andrews expects to graduate from UM in May 2011.
“I hope my experiences abroad will help me to determine how I can best use my capabilities and resources to benefit other parts of the world.”
While her career plans are indefinite, she is thinking about graduate school and pursuing a degree in either international development or global public policy.
“I am still looking at different universities to compare programs,” she said. “I may try to get some work experience for a year or two before going to graduate school.”
Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Andrews is a fearless, young adventurer, she sets the record straight.
“Traveling abroad has definitely not been easy,” she said. “I have mostly fabulous things to say about my experiences, but it is always hard to leave your comfort zone. Adjusting to a new language, school and society is a big step for anyone. I still miss my friends and my family every day, but I know that when I get back I will be a better person.”
Andrews plans to spend the Christmas holiday with her family in Tennessee, then she will travel back to Ecuador to continue her study abroad until May 16.
A 2007 graduate of Smith County High School, Andrews is the daughter of Pam and Mark Andrews of Carthage, Tenn.