Like most college students, balance means everything to Nicole Funk — a junior at the University of Kentucky. From studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, to interning, tutoring, catching up with loved ones or simply relaxing, Funk attributes her newfound zen to her semester in Quito, Ecuador during the spring of 2017. There, she attended the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and volunteered at a public school called Christo Rey where she taught English. By participating in the exchange program abroad, this Wildcat established lifelong friendships, helped numerous high school students and overcame obstacles as she left her comfort zone and took flight in her home away from home.
Funk’s desire to study as an exchange student began in high school when she visited Ireland for ten days through the Sister Cities Program. “I really liked experiencing a different culture not as a tourist, but by living with someone,” Funk said. Years later as a college student, she spoke with an advisor at the Education Abroad and Exchanges office and decided that an exchange program was her perfect fit.
USFQ students are required to complete a community internship, which led to her teaching role at Christo Rey.
“I didn’t know what I’d be doing. And when I got there, they asked me to teach English classes,” Funk said. “I wasn’t very excited at first since I didn’t feel qualified for such responsibility.” Although hesitant at first, Funk embraced her new job, making light of the situation and improving her teaching abilities day by day.
“I had to basically get over myself,” Funk explained. She feared to say something wrong or see kids laugh. “They did laugh. But it was a good experience to just let it happen and tell myself ‘it is what it is’.” This Wildcat’s teaching career was highly successful as she received a certificate for best intern work at USFQ.
In addition to her internship, she found joy in her friendships with classmates and the host family. Funk lit up as she spoke about her closest friends. She mentioned Shirley from Archeology class and how they bonded over class projects, hangouts and lots of encebollado, which is a famous Ecuadorian dish. There was also Xavier. The two spent a good amount of time together practicing their English and Spanish.
Moreover, Funk praised her host family, who resembled her own in Kentucky. “I felt very comfortable, and my host family was very close and open with each other. It felt like my family here,” Funk said.
Their family-oriented attitude also gave Funk more perspective in life, helping her veer away from her tunnel vision tendencies in school and discovering balance.
“Studying is a great thing. We’re at college to learn,” Funk said. “But living in Ecuador shifted my perspective, reminding me that the moments I’ll remember in life are the times spent with family and friends — not the times I was torturing myself over an essay.”
To UK students considering the exchange program, Funk has a few words of advice, “Definitely go for it. If you’re held back by financial reasons, there are lots of opportunities to learn about alternatives on how to make it work,” she assured.
Funk hopes to return to Quito during Winter or Summer break. She plans to volunteer at Christo Rey or become involved in a program related to her major. The UK community is happy to watch students like Funk flourish from their experience and strongly urges students to follow in her footsteps. From one trip comes a lifetime of learning, cherished friendships and priceless memories.