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Living in Ecuador: Articles, Key Resources and Websites

Study Abroad in Ecuador: Post-Arrival Orientation

Intercultural exchange programs in developing countries present special challenges as well as rewards. Students usually participate in orientations and receive materials from their sending programs before leaving to study abroad, but the experience of encountering the simultaneous beauty and ugliness of a magnificent and enigmatic country like Ecuador, for example, raises questions for students that no orientation session could anticipate or answer.

Once on site, after students have had some experience with the wealth-poverty dichotomy of the country, orientations serve a twofold purpose: to dispel the false confidence that students may feel in their new surroundings and to develop a support network. Students are now receptive to information they have heard before but which bears repeating.

The first rules are basic: do not walk alone or even in pairs, at night. Men should keep wallets in front pockets; women should carry purses with the clasp facing the body. Such simple precautions may help protect students from being mugged in the Mariscal bar district in Quito as well as in Chicago or New York.

Abroad as in the U.S., crime is more prevalent where need is more pronounced. Thoughtful students will consider why the extra preparation and precaution is necessary: What are the causes of increased need in developing countries? What are the structures that preserve the rigid class system? In what ways, if any, does this system benefit the host society?

The first thing the administration of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador tells international .students is: “Don’t be fooled. This may seem like a developed country, but it is not.” The law is vague and its enforcement is corrupt. Police may not be willing to help North Americans who have been mugged or beaten. Even after several months, students may not have the instincts or language ability necessary to get help from local Ecuadorian police. Visitors should carry copies of their passports at all times in case they are approached by policemen eager to solicit a bribe.

Not all potential dangers are external, however, and some are invisible. The astounding variety of fruits and vegetables in Ecuador is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Local people are accustomed to these “exotic” treats; students are not. And some sickness is unavoidable. It is imperative that students be told again and again about the importance of periodic evaluations of their physical and mental health.

Situations can also arise which are completely and utterly beyond the control of the students, their directors and administrators. As students learned in Ecuador this year, a whiff of tear gas can be a catalyst for an important realization:the citizens of the host culture ive with such experiences on a day-to-day basis.

The everyday perils students face in Ecuador and other developing countries give rise to strengths that their counterparts in Europe (81,000 in Europe as opposed to 20,000 in South America during the 1998-99 school year, according to Open Doors) may or may not develop.

Among the reasons students give for having chosen a relatively challenging destination for their foreignstudies two are the most common: they want experience distinct from what they imagine they would find in Europe, and they want the opportunity to live in a country where they can learn about development issues while honing their proficiency in a second language. Former students laud the vibrant, sensual culture of Ecuador as particularly rewarding.

As students begin to discover the answers to questions in developing countries like “Why does an increase in gas prices paralyze this country but cause only grumbling in the States?” they uncover powerful insights about their own histories, global interconnectedness, and social justice.

Exchangees in Ecuador, as in other countries, are wise not to challenge the facts of daily reality in the host culture. Instead, they need to wrestle with the complex interplay of factors that make the country what it is and challenge their own attitudes about power, as well as what constitutes “right” and “wrong.” For the student who has become a participant rather than a passive observer in the culture of a developing country, redefined concepts and changed attitudes can translate into positive personal and social action when the student returns home.

TIFFANY HENDRIX is a program assistant for Brethren Colleges Abroad in Indiana.