After three years at Gustavus Adolphus College, senior Tara Houlihan (Sioux Falls, S.D.) decided to try something new. Instead of enrolling in classes and playing volleyball in her final collegiate year as a Gustie, she decided to try a different setting. Houlihan’s new exploration is helping her realize that hot water and power aren’t essential or plentiful everywhere in the world. The location that has helped Houlihan make this discovery is Quito, Ecuador. She is enrolled at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador for the fall semester before returning home to Gustavus for spring semester and her last tennis season.
Houlihan is living with a host family who speaks only Spanish in the city of Quito. It is composed of approximately two million citizens while Pontificia University has a student population of nearly 12,000 students. This transition has been quite substantial coming from Saint Peter and Gustavus, which are made up of 10,000 and 2,500 people, respectively.
After being named to the All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team last year as a Gustie volleyball player, Houlihan is missing her final season to be abroad. She admitted that it was a difficult decision to miss her last season because “I wouldn’t want to miss anything at Gustavus if I had my choice. But, in order for me to study abroad, I had to decide to miss something and volleyball was the logical choice for me. I did decide to study abroad my final year rather than my junior year, mainly because of volleyball. I did it this way because I felt it would have been much more difficult to miss a season and then come back for my final year as opposed to playing three years and then studying out of the country.”
One of the great attributes of a Division III institution is its accessibility for students to study abroad. If she were attending a Division I establishment on a scholarship, attending Quito would be unlikely. “Having the opportunity to study abroad did have an influence on my choosing Gustavus. I wanted to study in a different part of the world where I could help develop my Spanish skills and also broaden my perceptions. Gustavus gave me the flexibility to get a quality education while playing two sports and still having some time to relax like a typical college student. I hope that this experience will help me come back to Gustavus a much more educated and informed person.”
The conditions where Houlihan is staying are different from a typical semester on a college campus. Rather than living in a dormitory or apartment, she is living in an average-sized home for this area with a host mother who does her laundry and makes all her meals. “My host family’s home is in a barrio on the north side of town. Houses here are very different in that they all have high walls and private gates because the crime is such a big problem. I have my own room and share a bathroom with my little brother, but the house is adequate for Ecuadorian standards.”
With a major in international business and a minor in Spanish, Houlihan is broadening her educational horizons while in Quito by taking classes in a variety of different disciplines. “Every morning I have an intensive Spanish class at PUCE and I am also taking an international integration class. This class is very interesting because I have classmates from Ecuador, Germany, and Switzerland which is helping me to get a lot of different opinions that I wouldn’t get at home. I am also taking classes at a graduate university through my study abroad program which involves an internship and a class on globalization and international relations of Ecuador.”
Despite having a busy agenda including class work and adjusting to the different customs and way of living in Quito, Houlihan has still found some time to kick back and relax. She has been able to catch some sunlight on a cruise in the Galápagos Islands. “It was amazing as I was able to swim with the dolphins, sea lions, penguins, and enjoy viewing numerous species of animals that aren’t found in any other location in the world.” As for classes, Houlihan said acclimating herself to all courses being taught in Spanish hasn’t been easy. “They are challenging all being taught in Spanish, but everyone has been very helpful in making sure I understand all of the information. I am a little nervous about some of the long papers and presentations, but in the long run they will help my Spanish speaking abilities drastically.”
After her extensive stay in Quito, Houlihan will return to Gustavus for her final semester of classes and her final tennis season. After earning All-MIAC honors from 2003-05′ and All-America status in 04′-05′, Houlihan will begin this tennis season in a style she has never experienced before. She will be returning from South America after not picking up a tennis racquet for months. Surprisingly, Houlihan doesn’t envision the on-court adjustment to returning home being as difficult as some may think. “I expect the same thing this season as I did from past tennis seasons. With tennis, I am used to not playing every day with the team in the off-season so getting back into shape won’t be all that difficult for that reason and one other main component. My university in Quito has a gym that I can use six days a week. Granted, it doesn’t have near the facilities that are available to me at Gustavus, but it helps me stay in shape. Once I get back to my teammates, I know they will work hard and be ready to whip me back into shape. I am confident that they will help me adjust quickly.”
Houlihan has fully taken advantage of the possibility to study abroad at Gustavus despite having to miss her senior season of volleyball to do so. A small college like Gustavus was partially attractive to Houlihan because this ability to study abroad at any point was feasible. When she returns to Minnesota in the cold of January term, Houlihan will look to get back into tennis shape en route to earning her fourth consecutive berth on the all-conference team and her third straight selection to the All-America team. Houlihan and teammate Lyndsey Palen won the NCAA Division III Doubles Championship in Kalamazoo, Michigan to end the 2005 season. Houlihan hopes to return from Quito at the end of the semester, begin training for the spring tennis season, and work toward defending her doubles title in May of 2006.
Story by Jon Quinlivan, Gustavus Sports Information Office.