Newly graduated alum, Alyssa Reiff majors in Politics and International Relations

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

Over spring break my United States and Latin American Relations course had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador as part of our studies. As with any trip, you never know just what to expect and actually being in another country felt wildly different from what I expected. The Lord used my time in Ecuador to teach me so much and to grow my understanding of who He is. Prior to arriving in Ecuador, me and my classmates had read eight different articles about social and political life in Ecuador. These articles, though helpful in teaching me about Ecuador’s history, could not have prepared me for the conversations we would have in-country. One of the ELI goals that I made before we left for Ecuador was to be able to come up with at least one question for each interview.

I hope to develop interviewing skills by participating in interviews with various leaders in Quito. I will develop my ability to formulate questions by coming up with at least one question for each interview. This will help me to grow skills in active listening and critical thinking as I thoughtfully formulate questions.

As I look back on this goal I realize that this is something that I did accomplish in Ecuador, but in a very different manner than I expected. Our interviews were much more intensive than I expected. We spoke with some of the most passionate, brilliant, and inspiring community members in Ecuador. What they told us about Ecuador and the role they and their organizations play in Ecuador was steeped in far more social and political context than I ever could have learned in a few journal articles. Additionally, with most of the speakers we communicated via a translator which was a venue of communication I was not used to. In addition to the delays between communication, it was hard to know who to make eye contact with and how to honor both the speaker and the translator. Over time I became comfortable navigating this tension and separating the translator from the speaker. I had anticipated preparing questions ahead of time, but I did not know enough ahead of time about who we would be speaking with and what they would be sharing about to be able to do so. However, this ended up being a good experience to come up with thoughtful questions on the fly based on whatever the speaker shared. I learned to be adaptable in situations where I didn’t know what to expect and where I couldn’t speak the language.

A view of the volcano Cotopaxi, from the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador

During our week in Ecuador there were many opportunities to grow in adaptability. I have traveled out of the country before, but never to a country where English was not widely spoken in addition to the native language. I am so grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes to how difficult it is to navigate a place where you do not know the language and are unable to communicate with others. I became acutely aware of this difficulty during our time visiting Hope Hands, a nonprofit that serves elderly Quichua people in Riobamba. We were volunteering with the organization by playing games with the elderly and handing out materials for other activities. I was able to introduce myself to a woman named Alinda, but was unable to speak with her beyond introductions. Each of the people there were so kind to us. We, rather awkwardly, tried to help them with their activities and make conversation and they smiled back at us kindly as if to encourage us.

The visit to Hope Hands culminated in dancing with the elderly members of the indigenous community in celebration of International Women’s Day. Afterwards, many members of the community came to us to shake our hands and share words of gratitude. I remember feeling uncomfortable with how kind and grateful they were after how little we had done. That moment taught me so much about grace. The people we met that day were so generous with grace, giving us gratitude and kindness we had not earned. I left Hope Hands full of joy, because of how the people there had blessed us. Their spirit and their generosity is not something I will soon forget.


At the entrance, the Puerta del Sol, of the Pucará Tambo Cultural Center of the Cacha Community, near Riobamba, Ecuador

One of my favorite things about the Ecuador trip was being able to observe the communities we visited. I was struck by how committed the people in Ecuador we met were to their communities. Paul in particular, the director of Love On, was so passionate about his city, Riobamba, and seeing it changed for the better. Love On is a nonprofit that seeks to promote the development of the most disadvantaged in society through education. Paul is helping to better children’s lives through education, fueled by his love for the Lord. When I spoke with Paul about his work with Love On he was always quick to point me to Christ, saying that none of this could be done without Him. Paul’s love for his city inspires me to be engage and invest in my own community.

Meeting with Melania Toledo (Mela), the founder of Casa Mis Suenos, an organization that helps women out of prostitution and fights sexual exploitation in Quito enlarged my sense of vocation within community. Mela shared her vision for the restoration of women in Ecuador and how the Lord has instilled this passion for justice in her. Her passion for her work and vision for the city of Quito was so contagious. Listening to her speak gave me a new perspective on calling. It was so clear that the Lord had called Mela there to do the work that she was doing from the way she spoke about it. I began praying that the Lord would give me the same passion for and confidence in my own call.

Before I went to Ecuador I expected to learn a lot about culture, politics, and develop professionally. Although I did learn those things, what stood out to me the most is how much the Lord taught me about Himself. The way the people we met serve the Lord whole-heartedly is such a clear testimony to His Kingdom. As I step into the call the Lord has placed on my own heart to serve in my community in New England, I am continually reminded of the commitment and passion of those I had the privilege of meeting in Ecuador.


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