Jackson Hazen is a rising junior studying politics & international relations, as well as Spanish.

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

When I traveled to Ecuador this Spring Break, I was not sure what to expect. How different would the social norms and customs really be? Would I be expected to act or behave in ways that I had never done before? How would I interact with people who had such different world view and life experiences than my own? All these questions and more were swirling around in my head in the weeks leading up to our departure. When I stepped on the plane headed to Quito one word could describe how I felt: anxious. I certainly was feeling some level of fear, this was a completely new country, I was traveling during a pandemic, and I had only limited knowledge of what to expect when we landed. But there was also excitement, I was going to experience and learn a new culture and see the Lord work in ways I never imagined.

When we finally touched down in Ecuador and we met our guide, Israel. I knew that the week was going to be transformative. Immediately we were greeted with the Ecuadorian hospitality that would come to surprise us again and again during our stay. I felt that if this was Ecuador, maybe things would not be so bad. And even though I did continue to have fears each day, I learned to face them, and most importantly, to learn and grow from them. On this trip, I believe that I was able to grow in two ways. First, my understanding and level of comfort with using the Spanish language grew immensely on this trip thanks to being able to use it on a daily basis with native speakers. Second, I learned how to appropriately interact with and learn from people who come from vastly different backgrounds than my own.

To better illustrate each area that I grew in, I will share a story that I believe explains what I am talking about. For my growth in my use and understanding of Spanish, I will share our story about when we toured the National Assembly and for my growth in understanding people I will share our story of helping the elderly in an indigenous community.

When we toured the National Assembly (or Asamblea Nacional in Spanish) we were given a guide who spoke only Spanish and a translator who was to help translate the tour for those who did not speak Spanish. When the tour started I could notice that the translator was trying his best to keep up with the guide’s information, but he was falling behind and missing a lot. Unfortunately for me, that meant that I could not rely on the translator to understand everything that the guide was saying, I had to listen intently and in some instances, even translate for my classmates. This experience was incredibly helpful. It forced me to immediately adapt and use the skills that I was less than confident in. I learned so much during the tour, and a surprising amount of that was not about the National assembly, but it was about my language skills. At the end of the tour, our guide ended by asking if we had any questions and I was able to ask a question about something, and then hold a conversation with our guide, while both of us understood what the other was saying, even with a certain barrier in place. And this tour was just one example, many times on the trip I had to help translate and use my skills which I felt were inadequate for the task at hand. I am so glad to have gone on this trip because it helped my confidence grow in my use of the Spanish language.

The other way I grew on this trip can be best shown by our trip to a local indigenous community. One day, as part of our trip, we visited this indigenous community and met with the elderly population to help them. That was all the information we were given going into this situation, so needless to say we were anxious to see what we would encounter. It was definitely a culture shock. When w arrived, we walked into a room full of elderly people and they all started clapping for us. We were a bit taken back considering we hadn’t even done anything yet. Then, after they introduced us, and the program (called Hope Hands) we were instructed that we were going to be “helping” by playing games, coloring, and dancing with the elderly. So we did just that, we went around the room asking about their pictures, playing games, and eventually dancing and by the end of it all, it was time to say our goodbyes. This was another moment of culture shock. Several of them came forward and expressed their gratitude for all we did for them, it brought some of them to tears. I don’t tell this story to make our group sound so great, like we did these people some kind of great service, after all, all we did was play games and color and dance, but I tell this story because it shows the hospitality culture of Ecuador. Everywhere we went in this country we were welcome, everyone we met offered their home to us should we ever come back, and this was shocking to us. We had to learn that hospitality and generosity were customary in this country, and we also had to learn that just because someone says that you can come and stay with them does not actually mean they want you to accept their offer, it just means they are trying to respect you. I learned that in this culture respect was important, and even strangers you just met deserve a high level of respect. This is not something that we necessarily practice here in America, so it opened my eyes and taught me about a new culture and how to navigate it.

In all, this trip was transformative. I can safely say that I left Ecuador a different person than who I entered as. I know that I will carry the lessons I learned while on this trip for years to come and I will cherish the experience and the memories made along the way.


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