The students currently studying in Ecuador visited the Equator during their first few days abroad. Courtesy: Hannah Gonzalez

The Galapagos islands, the Amazon jungle and a rich South American culture are now available to APU students with the Quito, Ecuador, semester abroad program. Goals are for students to experience life in a developing nation, improve their Spanish and engage in service-learning and ministry.

Partnered with Living and Learning International, APU students can complete general-education classes while gaining the priceless value of living in a developing country. The program even includes a class that introduces the culture and history of Ecuador.

“It’s one of the most interesting classes I have ever taken,” said sophomore computer information systems major Hannah Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is one of the nine APU students currently studying in Ecuador. She is beginning to treasure the ability to learn more about a drastically different culture.

“My favorite part is being immersed in this culture. We take so much for granted in America, and through being here, I have realized that I have so much to be thankful for,” Gonzalez said.

Students often experience culture shock when moving to another country for a semester. As many students find, the amount of luxury Americans enjoy is foreign to citizens of other countries. Crystal Reed, a sophomore liberal studies major, is set to attend the program in the spring and said she is slightly nervous about the transition.

“It will be hard to be away from campus and the wonderful community of friends I have here, but I am confident that God has called me to go and it couldn’t be more clear that this is where he wants me to be,” Reed said.

Reed said she was drawn by the opportunity to serve God in a drastically different part of the world.

I applied within a week of hearing about it, and all the logistics of finances and classes offered quickly fell into place,” Reed said. “It has been so clear to me throughout the whole process of hearing about it, applying for it and being accepted that God wants me to be in Ecuador next semester.”

Because Christian families partner with the organization to provide home stays, students are able to experience Ecuadorian life firsthand. Sophomore Christian ministries major Tyler White will embark on the spring semester trip and said he is excited for his upcoming adventure.

I’ve been told how all of the home stay families have been screened, [so] I’m not nervous [about] living with an Ecuadorian family,” White said. “If anything, I’m more worried about being taken out by a jaguar in the Amazon, but as long as it doesn’t kill me, that would be a crazy story to tell my grandkids one day.”

The program in Ecuador offers students the opportunity to travel to the Amazon jungle to complete service projects. Students will also volunteer at a local organization or complete an internship with a partner ministry near or in Quito, the capital.

I’ve worked at churches in America, but I believe being a part of a congregation in another country will lead to some extreme growth,” White said.

Living and Learning International aims to spread the gospel in Ecuador by challenging students both academically and spiritually.

We spent a lot of time getting to know the staff of Living and Learning to make sure [we] are like-minded on critical issues, polices, and philosophy of learning and service,” said Matt Browning, Azusa Pacific’s associate vice president of internationalization. “We worked hard [to] make sure the elements of the program and the staff and faculty that are there are of the character and quality that APU students should expect.”

“The men and women who participate in this program will be asked to consider how they can use their gifts and talents to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ,” Living and Learning’s website states.

By attending Spanish classes every day and being immersed in Quito, students can become completely bilingual after their semester abroad. Gonzalez is taking eight units of Spanish.

“My Spanish class is in downtown Quito, and I have visited Old Quito, which is so beautiful,” Gonzalez said.

Quito is a popular travel destination. It’s located between two mountain ranges and was founded on the site of an ancient Inca city. The capital is also designated a World Heritage city by the U.N.’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in their Word Heritage Cities Programme which assists governments and states in helping to improve and manage their urban heritage.

It [Quito] is 10,000 feet in the Andes mountains. [There are] volcanoes to hike, [you can] stand on the equator, spend a week in the rain forest doing ministry and service, spend a week on the Galapagos Islands, and so much more,” Browning said. “It is a rich culture and I know students can learn a lot.”

Living and Learning started in 2006 and partners with 15 different universities, including APU, to offer study abroad programs in Ecuador, South Africa and Uganda.

Gonzalez said the program is going through transition. For example, she mentioned this is the first semester Living and Learning has incorporated online classes. She is taking her Spanish and Ecuador culture classes in Quito while taking Luke/Acts and philosophy classes online.

The application deadline for spring 2014 has been extended, good news for APU students interested in the program.

“Typically, applications for APU spring programs are due Aug. 1 … but since this is a new program for most students, we have extended the deadline to attend this spring until Oct. 1,” the program coordinator of the Center for Global Learning and Engagement, Kelly Grenfell, said.