The year 2019 marks the 10th iteration of the UW Winter Quarter Quito program. This immersion program is hosted by the Andean Center for Latin American Studies (ACLAS).
Quito, or San Francisco de Quito, as it was formerly called, is the capital and the most populous city in Ecuador. It sits on a geologically rugged plateau at an altitude of 2,850 meters (9,350 ft.), which can be a challenge for visitors not used to such elevations. In 1978, the UNESCO declared Quito’s well-preserved historical center a World Cultural Heritage site.
This year, 13 students came on board. One of them, Emma Martínez-Hayes, a Heritage Speaker of Spanish, commented that, “yes, my trip has been valuable even though I am a native speaker. Because I grew up in the United States, my Spanish was never perfect so there's always room for improvement in my language skills. I have learned a lot.”
This program offers students a variety of options including three Spanish language courses at the intermediate and advanced levels, as well as culture and literature classes. Additionally, participants engage in Service Learning, “a teaching model that promotes critical reflection and civic responsibility, combining work in the classroom with community service.” Students perform a variety of activities in daycare centers and hospitals, and follow a strict protocol established by ACLAS in tandem with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies (SPS). For Miles Seinfeld, a UW sophomore and a volunteer at the Entrega daycare center, “service learning has been very fun and rewarding. I enjoy working with kids, and it feels amazing to see how happy the kids at Entrega are every time they see me. It’s odd that something so minor for me can seem so positive for them.”
In order to enhance their cultural immersion, students live with Ecuadorean families, whose size varies. Sometimes it is just “mom” and “dad.” Some other times there are “brothers” and “sisters.” Students become family members and share meals, celebrations, and outings with their host families. Regardless of the number of family members, students are delighted by the constant visits from the extended family. This experience allows them to understand what it really means to belong to a Hispanic family. Madeline Kessi, a sophomore majoring in international relations, commented that: “My experience with my host family has been wonderful thus far. They are sweet, respectful, and I truly feel like I am a part of their family. It has also been really helpful to practice my Spanish with them and I feel that I have been able to get to know Ecuadorian culture a lot better by living with them.”
Guided visits in Quito and trips outside of the city are an important component of this program. The first week, students had an opportunity to visit the historical center and to appreciate the marvels of Latin American baroque architecture and art. We also visited Otavalo, an indigenous market town two hours from the capital. Our next trip will be to Mindo, one of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world. The trip includes a visit to a butterfly garden, birdwatching in the mountains, a chocolate tour, and, to top it all off, a Salsa class!
To everyone’s dismay, the program will come to an end on May 15th. Everyone will be sad to leave this great country but will be fulfilled having had such a rich learning experience, both in an academic as well as cultural and personal sense.
By Jorge González Casanova