I spent the last three weeks in Ecuador. The trip was part of a year long engaged, service learning class I’m taking at Cornell. That class really emphasizes critical thinking and reflection (those topics warrant long blog posts of their own), so all students were required to maintain reflective blogs and journals throughout the semester and trip. That blog has complete documentation of my experience, learning and the evolution of my thought. I invite you to read it! If that is way too long for you, I’ll share my trip’s summary here as well.
Most of the challenges I faced during the trip were in unexpected moments – moments which had been left unplanned, unstructured or “un-discussed”. Although this could be seen as a flaw of the course structure, I’m glad for this flaw because it was such moments of flaws which provoked me, caused ideological conflicts and led to critical thinking. Overall this trip has been an enlightening, rewarding and inspiring experience for me.
• Understanding a problem in all its complexity – looking at all dimensions
In the Fall semester, we recognized that the mining conflict had many layers to it and represented fundamental differences in notions of development and wellbeing. We spent almost the entire semester trying to understand the complexity of the anti-mining struggle. In that process, I was nearly convinced that the state was the enemy. However, as I discussed in the last post, that conviction was diluted during my time in Quito. Even though we had recognized the problem as complex, we failed to see it in all dimensions. We had a thorough view of just one aspect of it.
• Personal characteristics I’d like to work on
Because of the emphasis placed on daily reflection and the blogs, I was able to know my own behaviour in unfamiliar situations. I had periods of frustration and disagreement with my team and our work, which stemmed from differing priorities and principles. There was enough structure in the course to help me figure out how I can handle these differences better in the future.
• The personal relationships formed with my teammates
At the beginning of the trip, I felt like I was in The Breakfast Club. Our team was so diverse; it was very unlikely that I would have interacted with them if not for this class. As the trip wore on, we discovered that although we were so different on the surface, we did have some fundamental common ground. Our shared experiences helped us bond as individuals and as a group. By the end, I did see them all as my friends!
• Interacting with professors in a far more meaningful way than possible in traditional classes
I’m very thankful for the wonderful course leadership we have had. We shared many meals and laid-back experiences in informal settings. We also shared conversations that ranged from life philosophy to disagreements/discussions on our perspectives of the fieldtrip. Just the time, access and freedom we had with our professors was incredible.
• Experiencing another culture, embracing their manners, knowing the food
This trip has opened up all of South America for me. So far, I’ve known little about the continent, its history and culture. I’m grateful to have seen Ecuador (its forests, rural areas, small town culture and big city culture), lived with Ecuadorians and learnt their way of interaction, eaten at Ecuadorian homes and restaurants. As Martín said, hopefully this trip is the beginning of a long relationship with this beautiful continent.
And I finally got to use my Spanish with native speakers. They didn’t speak English, so we were forced to communicate in Spanish. And my host family told me I’m “ochenta por ciento” or 80% fluent. That made happy enough 😀
Shoutout to Cornell for its amazing financial aid! Apart from regular financial aid, I was able to find funding at Cornell for almost the entire cost of this experience. I only had to pay for part of my airfare. My professors were also extremely helpful in finding funding for me and several other students in the class. 🙂
Also, this class will soon be recruiting students for next year. Email me if you have questions /want to know more /want to do this too!