From the Andes to the Galapagos

September 3, 2013—When Georgetown students study abroad in Quito, their classes take them all over Ecuador—from the Andes and the Amazon to the Galapagos Islands.

Each summer, Associate Professor of Spanish Veronica Salles-Reese leads the university’s program in Quito. “Ecuador offers something that no other country can offer,” she said. “It has the highest mountains to the islands of the Galapagos. It’s [one of the] most biologically diverse countries in terms of flora and fauna. [Ecuador] also has a tremendous amount of human diversity, all types of indigenous groups and groups of Afro-Ecuadorians,” she continued.

Inspired by Quito’s diversity, Salles-Reese developed two programs: Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin America and Latin American Nature and Culture. Students in each program take three courses, spending four weeks in the classroom and two weeks in the field. “I want the students to take advantage of what the country, university, and people there can offer,” she said.

Salles-Reese designed all of the courses, many of which she teaches alongside professors from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and doctoral students from Georgetown’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. She created the programs to introduce students to the cultural and natural richness of Ecuador and to serve as a complement to their education at Georgetown.

“I know the curriculum of the university very well, and I can design courses that will complement what we offer,” she explained. “I also know what I want for the [students], and I’m preparing for their future—a future in terms of their ethical beings, their intellectual beings, but also their professional beings,” she said.

While in Ecuador, students had the opportunity to travel on excursions related to their coursework. Students in the Race, Gender, and Ethnicity program learned how these topics were connected to poverty, geography, and economics by visiting the Quechua village cooperatives in the mountains and a farm-to-factory cocoa enterprise in the Amazon jungle.

“My favorite part of the program was being able to travel through the country to meet and learn about Ecuadorians from different backgrounds and ways of life,” Allison Blankenship (C’16), a student in the Race, Gender, and Ethnicity program, said. [The trips] allowed me to see firsthand what we had previously read and discussed in class,” she continued.

The students in Latin American Nature and Culture were able to explore Ecuador’s unmatched diversity. “It’s not a science course that I teach, but it’s [about] how nature influences culture and how culture can destroy or enhance nature,” Salles-Reese said. Students spent one week in the Amazon jungle at a biodiversity station, which is conducting cutting-edge research on the jungle’s flora and fauna amid competing business interests.

“In the same region, there are petroleum companies. You have some people learning about the Amazon jungle and trying to preserve it and others who are trying to destroy it,” she said. In class and in the field, Salles-Reese and her students examined the interests and costs of conservation and how conversation can be good or bad for a region or community. Students continued their study of conservation during a week in the Galapagos Islands.

“The Amazon was incredible,” Corey Stewart (F’15), a student in the Latin American Nature and Culture program, said. “Never before had I seen such an array of wildlife. The people who worked at the biodiversity station were so passionate and knowledgeable about the various species living amongst them,” he continued.

For both programs, Salles-Reese tries to find experiences that students could not have anywhere else. “You cannot go to the biodiversity station in the Amazon jungle even if you wanted to as a tourist, [and] the Galapagos is being restricted more and more for only study,” she continued.

In exchange for these experiences, the students commit to speaking only Spanish while in Ecuador and completing a semester’s worth of coursework in six weeks. “They have to work hard, read a tremendous amount, and face ethical issues that are hard,” Salles-Reese said. “[But] year after year, students say their outlook on life has changed, and many students have gone back to Ecuador or gone to other parts of the developing world.”

Her students from this summer are also already hoping to return to Ecuador. “The program taught me so much, both inside and outside the classroom,” Stewart (F’15) said. “One day I would like to return to Latin America for another incredible experience, but hopefully I will be able to stay even longer.”

—Elizabeth Wilson
 


related information

The Quito program is one of many summer study abroad options offered by the university's Office of International Programs.