Wes Brown is studying Bioresource Research through the College of Agricultural Sciences and International Studies. Last summer, he participated in the IE3 Global International Internship Child Family Health International (CFHI) in Ecuador. This entry is an excerpt from his blog post for IE3 Global about a particular experience that stood out and made a lasting impression.  

Wes with Gustavo's family memberMe and two other students in the program set off on an 8 hour hike through the Amazon Jungle. It was possibly the most difficult backpacking route I have taken. A foot deep layer of mud constituted our trail for a majority of the trek, we got stuck in the mud and our boots pulled off, we walked over steep hills and through rivers, and even got our path blocked by a poisonous snake that can jump a meter.

We hiked all this way because we wanted to stay with a Shuar family and learn about their lifestyle and culture. It is humbling to have learned that the same trail we hiked in 8 hours, a Shuar family will hike in 3-4 hours, carrying a box of chickens, and children. When we arrived we were greeted by a Shuar man named Gustavo and his family.  Gustavo has a wife and 8 children. Once his children grow up, they get married and make a home next to the original so the children and their families all live together. Traveling through the forestNeedless to say, we were surrounded by adorable children.

They let us stay in a beautifully constructed Shuar hut and provided our meals, which consisted almost entirely of bananas. The first day we spent trekking through the jungle to a sacred waterfall. The Shuar have an interesting ceremony they use when they want to know what the future hold. The person must fast for about 4 days then journey into the jungle to the waterfall. At the waterfall he/she must drink a prepared concoction of herbs and jungle plants that act as a hallucinogen. They sit at the waterfall and say that the user can see visions of themselves in the future or potential future husbands or wives and children. This is in fact what Gustavo has done before and found out who he was to marry. We said goodbye to Gustavo and his family and headed back to Puyo exceptionally dirty and covered in mud from the hike.Wes near the beach

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Fabián Espinosa has a deep love for nature and culture. He combines them both with his passion for teaching and travel through his Resident Director position in Quito, Ecuador, with SIT Study Abroad programs. Read on to learn more about studying abroad in a diverse and beautiful country!

Fabián Espinosa
What brought you to be a Resident Director?

As a freelance naturalist guide and cultural interpreter I learned about the great work of SIT Study Abroad in Ecuador, and throughout the years I did serve occasionally as Independent Study Project advisor. The program was a double RD program at that time, and when one of the directors resigned I was encouraged to apply for the position. According to my colleague, the institution was ready to hire an Ecuadorian citizen as RD.

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Ecuador is the most biologically diverse country per square meter in the Americas. It is also extremelyIMG_6932 diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity. Fourteen distinct indigenous nationalities, two Afro-Ecuadorian cultural groups and several international communities consider Ecuador their homeland. Ecuador drafted the most progressive constitution in the world in 2008, which considers nature as subject of rights and demands the construction of an alternative paradigm to development known locally as Sumak Kawsay, a Kichwa philosophical principle meaning plentiful life in harmony with nature. Quito, the capital city, was the first city to be declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO given its spectacular natural setting, colonial architecture, and rich history.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
Maybe that I have had six near death experiences all related to activities in the ocean.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
Establishing a learning community with my students, leading educational excursions, and witnessing how students become intercultural and biophilic beings.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Coping with local bureaucratic regulations, developing and revamping contingency plans on a regular basis, securing the participation of associates and lecturers, readjusting syllabi to meet the needs and/or expectations of students and sending institutions, and identifying appropriate research options for my students.

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
To learn how to unlearn and relearn.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
To be assertive without being aggressive, to be kind without being docile, to be focused without being obsessed, to suppress self slightly, and to be tolerant with ambiguity.

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Malaria prophylaxis medicine, or should I say sunscreen?

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
The notion that interculturalism is highly relevant in the US as well.