Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series


I am pleased to introduce a long-awaited segment for our student blog series, From the Field!  Why long awaited, you may ask?  The seeds for the experiences shared in these upcoming blog posts stretch back to 2018 and involved, unsurprisingly, a pandemic delay.

In February 2018 I traveled to Quito Ecuador in my then role as associate dean of general education and common learning.  I was there to conduct a site visit to discern whether conditions and programming with a potential new partner, Living and Learning International, would allow Messiah University to again send students for semester-long experiences to Ecuador.  Not only did we end up approving LLI’s Ecuador site as an off-campus semester option for students, I learned about additional opportunities that would let me reconnect with the aspect that first drew me to the field of political science – learning multiple languages – while providing a different way for students to gain international experience.

Over the next year, as I began my transition back to faculty, I proposed a new type of course – one in which travel was an intentional but only partial component of the course.  Students would have a traditional classroom experience in the first half of the semester, learning about the arc of international relations between the United States and the Latin American region. We would then spend an intensive experiential week of learning in Ecuador. Having met our contact hours at that point, students would only need to focus on policy research during the second half of the the term.  (Note to fellow teachers – since it was a new type of experience and I was then an administrator, that process would involve developing parameters for others who would want to offer such courses and getting them approved through our university governance.)

Although the class ran for the first time in Spring 2020, our travel was canceled three days before departure due to – yes, COVID.  I was able to partner with LLI and an external funding source to host a 4 part global lecture series, in which students heard from several in-country speakers related to the latter course topics of indigenous communities, dollarization, human rights, and intraregional organizations.  Although not quite what we envisioned, we had some really enriching conversations and I would begin to build relationships with some of the non-profit directors who spoke with us.  It would be two years until the next attempt for this course, but another opportunity would arise to deepen my connections and further shape the next iteration of the course.

With travel still suspended in the 2020-21 academic year, I pivoted from plans to co-lead a cross-cultural to France and instead developed a virtual cross-cultural course on Culture and Civil Society in Ecuador.  I was determined to design an educational curriculum that could offer a meaningful cross-cultural experience despite the online nature of the course.  Partnering with LLI, the three week course included one week of academic foundations – readings as well as lectures by me and directors of several non-profits from Ecuador, along with several teams working on projects for those partners in the second and third weeks of the course.  The group projects went phenomenally well producing websites, a fundraising campaign, and research on non-profit and fundraising status in the US.  (You can read a bit more here in this article published in Messiah University’s Bridge magazine.)  This experience would have a formative influence on the second attempt to have the US-Latin American Relations course travel to Ecuador.  As planning began for this spring’s course, I learned that one of the non-profit directors with whom we had worked in the prior course  – Paúl Cevallos of the Love On Foundation – would be coordinating the meetings for the class in-country.

With the pandemic still persisting, planning remained uncertain, but on March 5, my students and I departed for Quito!  I will leave their words to share about our time in-country.  However, my very successful experiences in facilitating the group projects the prior spring encouraged me to change the planned policy research paper to another virtual group project. The students spent the remainder of the semester developing a strategic plan for growth for Love On.  Their presentation and researched information was well done; I know it will make a difference to help Love On continue their work of educating and supporting vulnerable children.  I also know that these experiences made a significant difference in the life of myself and the students.  I look forward to continuing to lead such important experiences and am thankful for the staff at LLI, including our host Israel Rodriguez, who helped manage the on the ground logistics and became a part of our class community.

Read on to learn more about the in-country journey of our students!



Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind