Make The Connection

June 15, 2022 | By Cole Hatcher

Rachel Leslie ’23 explores a waterfall during her semester studying in Ecuador. She encourages other students to ‘get out of your comfort zone and experience something new.’ (Photos courtesy of Rachel Leslie)

Semester in South America

Ohio Wesleyan Student’s Experience Leaves Her ‘More Independent, Confident, and Understanding’

Name: Rachel Leslie ’23
Hometown: San Diego, California
Majors: Mathematics and Spanish
Minor: Computer Science
OWU Connection experience: Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador, with Brittani Stiltner ’23 of Tiffin, Ohio

Rachel Leslie ’23 shares a Galapagos Island coastline with some sleepy sea lions as she explores the area during her semester in South America.

Why I Chose this Experience

“I knew I wanted to study in Latin America because I am very interested in Latin American identity and cultural syncretism. I chose Ecuador specifically because there is a higher population of indigenous people here compared to other Latin American countries, plus the accent in Quito is easier to understand.

“I love that my program taught all classes in Spanish and allowed me to enroll in classes at a local university with Ecuadorian students.

“Finally, my program encouraged travel around the country. I was able to visit an indigenous village called Otavalo, a coastal town called Puerto Lopez, a town in the Cloud Forest called Mindo, and the Galapagos Islands, and many more.”

My Favorite Moment

“This might seem like a small thing, but I had lunch with a new friend shortly after arriving and had an amazing time. She is Ecuadorian and was in my literature class. I loved learning more about Ecuadorian culture while sharing about my culture.

“We got along so well instantly, and we even made plans to visit Cotopaxi together, a famous Ecuadorian volcano. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet new people and participate in such meaningful cultural exchanges. Even though I was in Quito for only a semester, I have made I lifelong friends.”

Rachel Leslie ’23 stands on top of the Basilica with a view of El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador.

Lessons Learned

“I learned so many things from this experience. I learned about the history of Quito and got to go much more in-depth than I could in my classes through trips to museums and conversations with locals.

“I also learned to be more independent and confident in myself. It was difficult to only use Spanish everywhere I went, but with practice I improved both my language skills and my self-confidence. I was able to take buses, go on trips, make phone calls, and so much more without fear.”

A Sobering Reality

“Unfortunately, I also learned how serious racism can be in Latin America. In a class at OWU on Latin American Identity, we learned about racism against indigenous and Black communities stemming from the Spanish colonization, but it was still so sobering to witness it in person. I saw more casual racism here than I’ve seen anywhere else.

“It was very difficult to hear and even more difficult to know I don’t have the power to change any of it. However, I think things are continuously improving and people are becoming more and more socially aware, which is great.

“I am so thankful I got to have this experience and learn first-hand about what life is like in different places. It is so easy to get caught up in your own world and own life, so it is essential to get out of your comfort zone and experience something new. I have become more independent, confident, and understanding as well as a better critical thinker thanks to this experience.”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“I chose OWU because I loved that the small size allowed professors and staff to really get to know the students and form close bonds. I also loved all the opportunities provided, like Theory-to-Practice Grants, Career Connection resources, and more. Finally, OWU is very generous with scholarships!”

My Plans After Graduation

“I would like to attend graduate school for math. All my professors have been so supportive in this goal and have really helped me believe in myself. I probably wouldn’t have thought that could be an option for me without their encouragement.”