Forty-eight hours after I moved out of my freshman dorm, I left the United States for the first time. Through the 2015 CECH Ecuador Immersed in Culture and Education Study Abroad Program, I was given the opportunity to take a study abroad class about Ecuador (LSLS 3050) and then travel with 21 other UC students and faculty to Otavalo, Ecuador and Quito, Ecuador from May 3rd to May 11th. Our purpose was to teach in Otavalo’s schools as well as immerse ourselves in the culture of the indigenous people (lower, more traditional class) and mestizo people (middle and upper class) of the country.
One thing about the experience that differed from my original expectations in my proposal was that we did not teach English as a Foreign Language. While we did teach our lesson plan mostly in English, the purpose was not to teach the students how to speak English. Instead, the purpose was to engage with the students and teach them something about the United States while learning about their culture through interaction with students. For example, my group’s lesson plan taught the students about different types of weather and where particular temperatures and natural disasters occur in the United States. Because Ecuador maintains a mild temperature year round and tends to be either sunny or rainy, my teaching group thought it may be fun for students to learn about things like snow, hurricanes, and tornados. Our lesson plan was developed around a book we helped each student make where we made different types of weather out of paper, pipe cleaners, and cotton balls. Additionally, I bought fake snow on the internet to make our lesson plan even more interactive.
Throughout the class and the trip, I believe I worked towards the learning outcome of “possess[ing] global literacy, including knowledge of geography, history, current world issues and similarities and differences among cultures.” During the class before the trip, I read a few selected historical works about the history and geography of Ecuador. When in Ecuador, I had the opportunity to see some of the geography firsthand and learn about the history of the indigenous people from the people themselves. This was an amazing experience. It is one thing to read a chapter in a textbook about a struggle a particular group of people has faced and how it affects them today. It is a completely different experience to hear about the history and current oppression of a people from the people themselves.
In the classrooms, I witnessed the similarities and differences between schools in Ecuador and schools in the United States. In Ecuador, because quality education is scarce and many kids do not progress past primary school, obtaining a quality, advanced education is a privilege. Going to middle school and high school in Ecuador is not a rite as it is in the United States. Getting to school in Ecuador is not an easy task. Some students in Ecuador spent 2-3 hours traveling both on buses and by foot to get to school. When asking a question in the classroom, almost every child would raise their hand to answer it. When I was in elementary school (and even now, to be honest), if a teacher asked a question, only a handful of my peers would raise their hand to answer. The motivation of the children in Ecuador was heartwarming. Additionally, the students in Ecuador were also much more respectful to both their teachers and their peers than students in the United States. While teaching our lesson plan, my group utilized many typical school supplies (scissors, markers, etc). The students were amazing at sharing with one another and asking for more supplies with manners. It was opposite of my experience in elementary school when I remember students throwing fits over not getting to use their favorite color marker.
The entire trip allowed me to “interact with individuals from different cultures and express a sensitivity, appreciation and respect for the complex range of experiences of diverse peoples.” The 5th day, my progression towards this outcome really hit me. My group was riding on a public bus from an indigenous museum back to our hostel and I was sitting by myself. At one of the stops, a middle-aged man sat in the seat next to me. Realizing that I did not appear to be from Ecuador, he proceeded to ask me (in broken English) if I spoke English. He said he was trying to learn English and I responded that I was trying to learn Spanish. Until the bus arrived at his stop, we had a basic conversation about our lives using both Spanish and English. At some points I did not understand Roberto and at some points Roberto did not understand me. However, in that 20 minute period we were still able to learn information about each other. He told me about his three children and how they live in a house on a mountain (which we could see from the bus window). When I told him I was from the United States and I was here to teach in the schools, he told me about how he used to teach in one of the high schools in the community. Even though I had only taken two years of Spanish and had never truly used it, it was amazing to me that I still knew enough to connect with another human being from a different culture than my own. I will remember Roberto and that bus ride for the rest of my life.