By Marina Fleites, GNN Contributor
What are you supposed to do when the first line of your pre-departure reading tells you that you’re about to spend four months in a country that is completely irrelevant? If you chose to come to Ecuador like I did, you may start to worry. If all of these things I’m supposed to study are irrelevant in a global context, how is that going to help me in the future? Am I wasting this semester?
Already committed to the program and knowing I needed to go abroad to graduate, I ended up in the little country squished between Peru and Colombia for my semester abroad.
After a month living in the capital city of Quito with my host family, let me tell you: this country is anything but irrelevant. Ecuador is the most biodiverse country per square kilometer in the entire world, so biology and environmental science majors — this is the place for you.
All of this biodiversity comes from its location on the equator and the four regions of the country: the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin found his finches; the coast, with its black sand beaches; the Andes mountains, home to alpacas and potatoes (you can thank this mountain range for French fries); and a chunk of the Amazon Rainforest, where shamanic practice has mastered healing using plants and ancestral knowledge, and anacondas can swallow people whole (it doesn’t happen often, but they could if they wanted to).
My program includes visits to each of these regions, and our home base in Quito is at more than 9,000 feet above sea level. Living in the capital, it’s easy to see that Ecuador is extremely political, and hardly irrelevant. Recently, there was a national referendum that stopped the extraction of petroleum in certain protected areas of the Amazon and threw tons of political figures out of office for corruption.
Also, voting in Ecuador is mandatory between the ages of 18 and 65. If you don’t vote, you have to pay a hefty fine, which means people tend to be more informed about politics.
In my host family, everyone is always talking about the news, which political official is on trial for corruption, which one just fled to Miami, etc. The U.S. actually harbors a lot of these corrupt politicians because there isn’t an extradition treaty with Ecuador, which is also why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is safe and sound at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
For anyone thinking about going abroad, get those Spanish semesters done and come to Ecuador! Gettysburg has two affiliated programs here in Quito, one focusing on Development, Politics, and Languages, and the other focusing on Ecology and Conservation.
Both travel extensively in the country, and in three and a half months, you will pick up some Kichwa (a.k.a. Quechua, which has around 8 million speakers), work towards becoming bilingual, see where Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection, eat tons of chocolate (which was first domesticated in southeastern Ecuador), balance on the equator and see for yourself why this country is so relevant.
Here’s some of the Kichwañol I’ve learned so far: Ñukaka Ecuadorllaktami kuyakuni, ¡y a ti también te encantará! (I am loving Ecuador, and you will, too!)