Santa Fe Students Study Abroad in Ecuador

Imagine traveling to one of the best preserved colonial cities in South America, touring banana plantations against a backdrop of volcanic mountains, and living in remote indigenous villages of only a few hundred people.

To the West lie the beaches of the Pacific coast, but travel eastward, and you plunge deep into the Western edge of the Amazon.

Sound better than your Spring Break plans?

Sixteen Santa Fe College students get to do this during their Spring Break, under the supervision of Professors Heather Hall and Donna Waller, as part of a study abroad trip that takes them across Ecuador.

ANT2140 ~ World Prehistory

For five years, Hall, an anthropology professor, and Waller, a professor of social and behavioral sciences, have introduced students to several of the indigenous groups that make up at least 25 percent of the Ecuadorian population. As part of their program, they also visit businesses key to Ecuador’s economy, including palm oil factories and fishing fleets. The proposed program, offered as an extension of the ANT2140 World Prehistory course taught by Hall, costs $2,300 including airfare.

However, the experiences gained have been enriching for students on both intellectual and personal levels. One student even proposed to his girlfriend at a waterfall, and a local shaman conducted a joining ceremony to commemorate the moment.

“Every term, we get a couple of students who have never been on a plane or out of the state. A few years ago, we even had a couple who hadn’t been out of Alachua County,” said Waller.

2011 itinerary

The curriculum never remains the same: while in previous trips, the group has visited regions of the Amazon, this year Hall and Waller have proposed to travel from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito to the Sachatamia Reserve’s misty cloud rainforests, only to end up at Punta Ayampe on the Pacific Coast. At this final stop, students will help excavate a Pre-Columbian archaeological site belonging to the Manteña people near the coastal community of Agua Blanca. To fit all these new stops in, Hall and Waller have proposed to expand the trip to 14 days rather than 10 days, as in the past.

“This year, we’re going to a place where hummingbirds will bump right into you,” said Waller.

Visiting indigenous community of Turuku

However, Hall and Waller repeat one stop each year: to Turuku, a small community of 200 families. Albert Anrango, Turuku’s mayor and a founding member of the National Federation of Indigenous and Black Peasant Organization, has hosted Santa Fe students in his family’s home since the Ecuador study abroad program started.

“If you had ever told me I would feel safer and more secure there, in a place where I don’t speak either of the languages, than I do in my home, I would have said you were crazy,” said Waller. “I love these people, and they treat me like family.”

SF students stay connected year-round with Turuku

verwhelmed by Turuku’s generosity, Santa Fe students gave back by establishing an annual scholarship of around $1,000 for Turuku’s children, whose local school only services up to the sixth grade. So far, this scholarship has allowed four students to study at private schools and another to become the first person from the village to attend a university.

“Santa Fe students are not always the most privileged,” said Hall. “They’re taking their valuable time out to give back and realize the importance of education globally.”

Students also come to realize that the indigenous world isn’t too technologically far behind their own.

“You have this romantic idea of isolated groups, noble savages in the middle of the jungle, but we really are living in a globalized world, and everyone is connected,” said Hall, who is Facebook friends with some of the indigenous people.

This study abroad trip helps indigenous populations preserve their cultures by bringing in money from ecotourism, but equally important is what the trip teaches students about their own culture.

 “People end up learning a lot about themselves. They expect to learn about the ‘other.’ It’s at the edge of difference that you see yourself most clearly,” said Hall.

For more information about this trip and ANT2140 World Prehistory, please email Professor Heather Hall at heather.hall@sfcollege.edu.

~ This article was written by Allison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations