The Path to Ibarra February 15, 2012Posted by Georgia Ennis in Ecuador, Fulbright, Undergraduate.
Tags: ETA, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, La Universidad Técnica del Norte, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, The Quito Project, university of michigan
Ibarra, the city in northern Ecuador where I live, was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1868. As my bed slowly swayed back and forth yesterday morning, I wondered—as I have during every earthquake over the last five months—if this will be the next one that topples the city. At an altitude of about 7,200 feet, settled in a valley in the Ecuadorian Andes, Ibarra is a world away from the small town in Michigan where I grew up.
I graduated in 2010 from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Anthropology, Spanish, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. As an undergraduate I volunteered at an elementary school for two summers with The Quito Project, a U-M student organization dedicated to sustainable community development in Ecuador. I also wrote my senior honors thesis about Spanish pronoun usage in Quito. When I moved here for ten months, I thought I had a passable understanding of Ecuadorian culture and the challenges I would face. In some ways I was right, but more often than not I find myself learning something new—vocabulary, customs, or norms—every day.
I am currently halfway through completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship at La Universidad Técnica del Norte. As the largest public university in northern Ecuador, many of the school’s roughly 6000 students travel by bus for more than an hour from communities in the surrounding countryside. I primarily work with students studying to become English teachers, although I also work in the English courses required of all students. I chose a Fulbright ETA because many parents I had met while volunteering and conducting research in Quito told me how they saw English as the key to a better future for their children; I thought of an ETA grant as a way to contribute beyond the 10 months I would work in Ecuador, as I would help train future educators. This time has also provided me with the opportunity to hone the research questions I plan to pursue as a graduate student.
In my free time, I volunteer at a foster home for street children and children that have been removed from their families. We currently have 10 children, who range in age from 1 to 13—many have developmental disabilities or suffer from the effects of long-term neglect. I have not given up hope of finding classes in Kichwa—the most widely spoken indigenous language in my province—though this has proved fairly challenging. I am determined to take at least one language class before I leave!
As an undergraduate, U-M’s International Institute played a huge role in my education. I was awarded an II Individual Fellowship in support of my summer thesis research in Quito, a period of time that convinced me I wanted to apply for a Fulbright to Ecuador. When it came time to apply for the Fulbright, the staff of II was incredibly helpful in providing feedback on my application and guiding me through the process. I wouldn’t be where I am today—teaching in Ecuador, occasionally afraid of earthquakes and volcanoes, immersing myself in another life—without the experiences and guidance I received at U-M.