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Cultural Immersion: Students Travel to Ecuador during Interim

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Click here to watch a video on the Comparative Cultures Experience

Thousands of miles away in Cuenca, Ecuador, people struggle to maintain a desperately needed school for disabled children. Bringing hope, donated school supplies, a willingness to learn, an eagerness to serve, and open minds and hearts, students in an interdisciplinary “Comparative Cultures” course traveled to the South American country during Interim to immerse themselves in its culture and religion.

Travelling with professors Brian Jennings, Ph.D., sociology, and Robert Seesengood, Ph.D., religious studies, the students stayed with host families, explored rural and urban areas, attended classes and completed a service project at Instituto Piloto de Integracion del Azuay, a severely underfunded school for children with mental and physical disabilities.

 “What surprised me the most was communicating with someone of a different language, not knowing the language, yet still being able to communicate fully with them,” said Erica McKeen ’13, a business/marketing management major.

From Guayaquil Ecuador’s largest city, to the lush tropical lowlands deep in the Andes Mountains, to Isla de la Plata, where sea turtles, colorful fish and the blue-footed boobie abound, professors and students agreed that being immersed in the culture and religion of Ecuador taught them more than they ever imagined.

“We could do more in three weeks immersing the students in Ecuador than we ever could here on campus at Albright,” said Jennings. Seesengood agreed, “The ideas that we talk about here in the classroom are not just ideas, they are supposed to challenge the way you act, believe and move through the world, and you need to be out in the world to do so.”

Participating in the service project was a particularly moving experience, said Seesengood. “Ecuador is simultaneously gorgeous and ghastly,” he said. With such an extreme level of poverty in some places, Seesengood added, he was grateful that the students had the opportunity to offer resources in the way of donated school supplies and manual labor.

Looking back on the experience, Nicholas Santoro ’12, a finance major, said he saw that although people are the same in many ways, they are also very different. “We should celebrate those differences,” he said.