Students change lives in Ecuador


Taylor Ferguson


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Submitted photos
IUS students spend time in Ecuador. While there, they helped hone their teaching skills while educating others.

Thirteen IUS students are eating a cooked meal of pig skin soup, fried chicken, fresh cut French fries and a salad. They have just been given a tour of San Gerardo, a small rural community in Ecuador. When they are finished eating, one student notices something.

“I saw that the mothers and children were huddled in a crowded room, eating the food that we had left on our plates,” Katherine Clark said. “It made me notice things that I take for granted daily.”

This happened when Clark, accounting junior, and 16 other IUS students travelled to Ecuador this past summer as part of a service learning project.

The students, along with three professors and an aide, left on June 2nd and spent three weeks teaching at three different schools, America-Latina, Quitumbe, and a rural school in the community of San Gerardo.

Clark said the trip had a huge impact on her life.

“When my friends and family ask about my trip to Ecuador, I have found there are no words to effectively describe the influence of this experience on my life,” Clark said.

Alex Giesler, business senior, said as a group their job was to learn how another culture educates its youth.

“Our job was to hone our educating abilities through the classes we were given and also to pick up on differences that we observed,” Gisler said.

Clark said in each of the schools they were able to teach the students lessons of confidence and giving.

“I was able to observe the difference between private schools, public schools and indigenous schools in Ecuador,” Clark said.

Another thing the students took part in while in Ecuador was visiting the small Quichua community of 500 people in the central Andes, San Gerardo.

In 2003, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) facilitated the first trip to San Gerardo and since then the community has become the ongoing service-learning project for IUS’ Diversity Education Program.

“San Gerardo gave us their best,” Clark said.

Clark said she is continuously thinking of the students in San Gerardo and what she can do to help.

“I remember when I brought out my hand sanitizer and how they treated it as if it were gold,” Clark said. “I wish I could give them all hot showers, warm clothes, a hot lasagna meal and a warm house to sleep in forever.”

Dr. Magdalena Herdoiza, program director and professor of education, said although they are only able to visit with the community for a few days of their trip, the repeated presence of IU Southeast has really impacted this community.

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Before the trip, students gathered supplies and organized care packages.

“This year we focused on children’s literature with some of our students reading to the children,” Herdoiza said.

Amy Zink, senior lecturer in Spanish, said the students also brought a collection of bilingual books with them.

“We were just trying to help them build up their library and spark interest in reading and literacy,” Zink said.

Giesler said they prepared care packages which included books, supplies and toys for each class.

“It was great seeing the children receive those packages,” Giesler said. “Their faces just lit up.”

When they were not out exploring, the students were connecting with their host families.

“We still keep in touch,” Giesler said. “We’re friends on Facebook.”

Herdoiza’s home country is Ecuador and had networks and connections that allowed the trip to fulfill its purpose.

“The purpose of this trip is to familiarize students with a world other than their own,” she said.

The group was also able to raise money for the community of San Gerardo by distributing fundraising forms and advertising on Facebook before leaving for Ecuador.

Students from IU Southeast have been traveling to the South American country for 12 consecutive years. The trip was originally geared toward education majors, but is now open to all students and is also in the works of adding two more tracks for Spanish majors and informatics majors.

This summer was Amy Zink’s first time accompanying the group.

“I was really impressed with the work that the students do down there,” Zink said. “There are a lot of opportunities for them to practice their Spanish.”

Although both Clark and Giesler said their Spanish speaking skills improved while down there each had a funny mix up with the locals. Giesler’s happened during an outing one night at a local bar with her friend Morgan Szabo, international studies senior. While out, a man walked up and introduced himself to Szabo.

“When introducing herself instead of saying ‘Me llamo es’, which means ‘my name is’, she said ‘Me gusta’, which is ‘I like’,” Giesler said. “Basically what she was saying was that she liked herself.”

With the new track, Zink said she wants to see Spanish majors working in teams with the education majors helping them with translation, developing their lessons and Spanish in the classrooms.

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Spanish students and education students work together to teach students in Ecuador.

“They’ll actually get to apply their language skills and the benefit of the cultural exposure,” Zink said.

Zink said if the new Spanish track goes through they will then have an intensive conversation course three weeks prior to departure. Zink believes this will prepare them and allow them to make the most of their time in Ecuador.

Dr. Herdoiza is excited with the progress the annual trip has made over the last 12 years and looks forward to the future.

“We hope to grow more students from different majors each year,” Herdoiza said.

Clark said she will not be going again next summer but that is only because she does not want to take a spot away from another student.

“I would love to go again, however, I think other students should be able to experience this opportunity,” Clark said. “I have been blessed to go once.”

Scholarships are available for the upcoming trip in summer 2014. Information sessions will be held Oct. 2 and 9, Nov. 8 and Dec. 11 at 4pm in the Housefeldt Building 109 with pre-departure seminar workshops starting in May.

Clark said she encourages students to take part of this “life-changing experience”.

“Take the chance to step out of your comfort zone and develop a greater appreciation for diversity,” she said.

For more information students can contact professor Herdoiza or visit the summer in Ecuador website,

or if you would like to help the next trip fundraiser, check out their site at