Paul Di Salvo ’13, a Theater Arts and Environmental Studies double major, had much to say about his experience in Quito, Ecuador (SIT). He was able to make the best of many opportunities there and has many fond memories of a journey that both challenged and thrilled him.

Paul Di Salvo in Ecuador

“I went on SIT's Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation program in Fall 2011. It was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I never thought that I would have the chance to go abroad since it seemed like such a rare opportunity and therefore must be difficult to do. However, after looking into it, I realized that I could do what I always wanted to do: to travel to a country that is off the beaten path, to be able to use the Spanish skills that I have been learning in a classroom setting for most of my academic years, and to continue my studies and passion in ecological research. My trip allowed me to use courses for my Environmental Studies major and Biology minor, to continue practicing and learning Spanish, and to allow me to conduct my own research. I spent an entire month in the Cloud Forest measuring the dynamics of reforested trees and placing clay caterpillars that mimicked toxic species which defoliated newly planted trees in order to monitor predation rates by birds and insects on those caterpillars. The continuing goal is to find out what is causing difficulties in reforesting abandoned pastures and how to solve these problems. I ended that mini-research project with a 20 page scientific paper in Spanish which is allowing for the local environmental organization, DECOIN, to pick up where my research left off and further the research of PhD candidates from McGill University in Canada.”

Paul also has many pictures to envy of his close encounters with a variety of animals from the time he spent in the Amazon Rain Forest. It was scenery straight out of a documentary or a magazine and it was full of sights that will be hard to forget.

Aside from his interactions with animals, however, Paul did experience some difficulties and received full exposure to what Ecuadorian health care in a small town entailed.

“The one thing that I am most proud of that I brought back with me from Ecuador is my willingness to try new things and confidence that I can preserver through whatever life throws at me. During the last month of my experience, I lived in the Cloud Forest, a large mountainous region that contains several small towns with less than 300 people each and is separated from a major town by over two hours of travel time. My host mom was trying to give me unique cultural experiences. One of those ways was through the preparing of a traditional Ecuadorian meal of cuye, or as many American pet shops call it, guinea pig. I had never thought that I would ever consume something like that, especially since I won't even eat seafood because I find the odor unpleasant. Anyway, I gave it a try since ‘when would I ever do this again.’ I was surprised to find that it wasn't too bad, tasted sort of like an oily piece of chicken and had very little meat on it. The next day, I had found out where the real test would lie, in being able to survive the food poisoning that I had inadvertently gotten. The small town only had a clinic, where they had thought I had the flu and injected me with pain killers from what I could understand from the nurse. My host mom told me we would travel the two hour drive through the mountains and dirt roads to the large city of Cotacachi to see a doctor the next morning. Thankfully, the doctor knew what was wrong and was able to give me more injections begin to cure me. If that experience taught me anything it is that I have the strength to take on tough situations.”

Despite a few difficulties, Paul found that studying in Ecuador helped to formulate some of his plans for the immediate and long-term future. He began by making bringing back the best of his abroad experience with him to Gettysburg.

“Since returning to Gettysburg, I joined the Global Leaders of Gettysburg College (GLGC). It is a group that works to digest your experiences from abroad and teaches you how to develop those extraordinary memories into something that can be shared with others on campus and into your everyday life. My experience abroad has definitely made me want to do more traveling and see other unique places around the world. It has also made me prioritize my desire to immerse myself more in Hispanic culture and to live for a few years and do ecological research in South America. My time abroad has also made me more open to new ideas and opportunities that I may never have considered before and giving myself a chance to try something new.” 

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