When I went to Ecuador, I never unpacked my suitcase. We moved from place to place about every two days. I was a traveller. Some of the rooms I slept in were not luxurious, and I forgot that air conditioning existed, but when I was in Ecuador, I didn’t mind. I learned a lot, and truly feel like I grew personally, academically, and professionally. Everyone close to me will hear “When I was in Ecuador” or “Well, back in Ecuador . . .” for the foreseeable future because of the impact Plus3 Ecuador left on me.
The two week Ecuadorian tour of chocolate and roses was packed with seven company/site visits, a mid-week presentation, 5 travel days, and numerous cultural immersion experiences. The journey started in Quito, where we learned about the history and culture of Ecuador through the lens of its predominant religion- Roman Catholicism. We had a chocolate tasting with a boutique fine chocolate company called Yumbos followed with a factory tour and tasting of Bios. We also scaled the Andes by Quito to visit the rose hectare and processing building of Casanto Miray.
Our first travel day consisted of three stops. First, we pulled off the road in the Andes at 13,000 feet to take in Ecuador from a high elevation. Next, we relieved some stress in hot springs at a small town in the middle of nowhere. The sight was really cool and we got to talk to some really interesting people. One local business man spends most of his time in Tennessee where he is working to build a foundation that will work to give back to the rural communities in Ecuador. Finally, we went on a hike through a beautiful cloud-forest; giving me my first taste of the Amazon Rainforest.
Our set location was the Iyarina lodge in Napo. There, we met with the Kallari fine chocolate, went on an insane river hike, and learned about the current state of the Indigenous people in Ecuador. Before I knew it, we were a week into the trip and on our way to visit the Gomaton community for a couple days. My experience with them was a true turning point of the trip and maybe of my life (I know, that sounds dramatic but it’s true.) From there, we returned to lodge for a couple of days to wrap up reflections and presentations. The last leg of the trip was our journey to the coast. We got to know a more touristy side of Ecuador and experience more of the country’s biodiversity by visiting Isla de Plata. We topped of the trip with a final company visit to Hacienda Victoria which was also a major highlight of the trip.
I have been home for a week now. At first, leaving Ecuador felt like a breakup- too soon, and for no good reason. But, after sifting through hundreds of photos and sharing stories with my family and friends, I have come to terms with the breakup; I guess it was for the better. Personally, there were highs and lows to the entire experience. Though we were only in-country for two weeks, we had been preparing for it for an entire semester. Through all that time, there was cycles of doubts, stress, and discouragement. But, I learned very quickly that there is a cycle to traveling, and the good always outweighs the bad. Now that I am home, I am more willing to put myself in stressful and unfamiliar situations. I had mentioned in my very first post that a personal goal of mine was to speak as much Spanish as I could muster. I tried my best, and I am not ending that goal just because I am home. My summer is being spent in Florida, and I just got a waitressing job at a Mexican restaurant. It’s stressful at times, but I am learning a lot about communication and working with people (in two languages!) I don’t know if I would be so eager to put myself in that environment if it wasn’t for the trip. My visit to the Gomaton community also gave me a new perspective on decolonization and the environment. That perspective will be put into my work going forward and the choices I make in my personal and professional life.
Academically and professionally, I put a lot on this trip. Prior, I intended on majoring in supply chain and global management and wanted the trip to verify that was the path I wanted to take. Thankfully, my experience did nothing but inspire me to keep going. I would like to focus on sustainable development in my global studies certificate, and now I have an idea of some classes I would like to take on that path. For example, sustainable food systems is first on my list for spring semester. Professionally, I am excited that I had gotten some contact information during the trip so I can further explore career paths in this field. Even if I do not end up working with these companies, the people I met are really interesting and I am positive I can learn a lot from them.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have such an impactful experience. The past two weeks were challenging and enlightening. I will apply what I have learned to every aspect of my life and continue to grow the seed of inspiration that Plus3 has planted. Without a doubt, I will vouch for this program and encourage anyone and everyone to take the leap to not only Plus3 Ecuador but any global program they can get their hands on! When I went to Ecuador . . . I had the best time of my life!