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Ecuador Trip Broadens Horizons and Perspectives for KSC Students

July 24, 2013
Students line up at 0 degrees to take photos at Mitad del Mundo
Students line up at 0 degrees to take photos at Mitad del Mundo

From rolling hills of rich green forests to the vibrant and colorful markets of town, students at Keene State College were enriched with wondrous sights and new perspectives on their trip to Ecuador in May.

Co-led by Dr. Dottie Morris, Chief Officer of Diversity and Multiculturalism, and Dr. Skye Stephenson, Director of the Global Education Office, the trip fulfilled an Honors Program requirement for students to travel internationally.

“I was interested in Ecuador because the trip focused on the social equality of indigenous populations as well as the mining struggle,” says Joanna Oko, now a junior at KSC.

Students began their trip with a visit to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, where they were welcomed with a ceremony organized by students from the Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi. Together, they helped renovate a meeting room in the university with money that had been raised by Keene State students during the semester. They sanded and painted walls, participated in a soccer game, and shared a meal together.

The students also visited the pyramids, a museum, and even the equator, lining up at 0 degrees to take photos at Mitad del Mundo, translated as “Center of the World.” They spent time in Otavalo, a town with a strong indigenous influence and a lively market.

The next several days were spent in a small town in the cloud forest, located in the Intag region. There, students saw presentations conducted by activists involved in resistance to the copper mines based on their impact on the natural resources of the forest and its biodiversity.

While in the Intag region of the cloud forest, the students also lived at home stays with host families, many of whom did not speak English. “I liked that because it pushed me to remember and practice my Spanish,” says Oko, “which surprisingly made me realize the depth of conversation I could have with the little Spanish I knew.”

“In Ecuador, included in the constitution is the concept that society isn’t just about material development; it’s about good living,” says Dr. Stephenson. “So students were in their rural home stays and the people lived pretty simply, but the question is what’s happiness? Is it getting more cars, the bigger house? How do you define poverty? I don’t think there’s any answers to that but you begin to see it from a different perspective.”

With a PhD in Latin American Studies and a working relationship with the Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi, Dr. Stephenson was responsible for translating for the KSC group and scheduling for the trip. “I tried to bring more of a cross-cultural element because I know Latin America and Ecuador pretty well, so I tried to facilitate the dialogue and help them see things from that angle,” she says.

Dr. Morris also facilitated discussions during the trip and notes, “I think it opened students’ eyes to a lot of things that they didn’t even know existed, so it really changed their worldview. We talked a lot about ethnocentrism and how to step out of that kind of place in order to value the experience. So I think a lot of them did challenge themselves.”

“There was certainly a pressure to adjust perspectives as the culture and standard of living there are very different, and you really have to put the views you are used to aside,” says Oko.

“Part of what students brought to Ecuador was representing a human image of the United States,” Dr. Stephenson says.

“They were open, they were honest, they were trying hard, and that’s important. They weren’t telling people what to do,” adds Dr. Morris. “I think one thing they can bring back to Keene State is the willingness to talk about their experience and deepen conversations in classes...therefore pushing their classmates to learn more.”

“After my experience, I hope to bring back to Keene a sense of wonder,” says Oko. “If anyone ever has the chance to travel abroad for any reason, take it! Whether you are nervous, have never travelled, or don’t know anything about the place, go for it because it will teach you about the world, life, and yourself.”

Written by Anthony Munoz '14, who is interning with the Marketing & Communications Office.