Students from the SOE’s school psychology, counseling and teacher education programs took advantage of a unique opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador this summer in a course on diversity, multicultural counseling and social justice competence. The 15 students studied Ecuadorian culture, history and its educational system before embarking on a 10-day visit to the province of Imbabura, approximately 90 minutes outside of Quito, for an immersive learning experience.
In addition to coursework, the students also had the opportunity to put their counseling preparation into practice in a community-based learning experience at Fundación Caritas de Esperanza outside of Otavalo, Ecuador, a non-governmental organization that works to improve educational opportunities for the young people in this rural community. The foundation is located next to the local school and serves as an after-school enrichment program, offering academic support, social services and necessities such as food and attention. For many of the children that the organization serves, these services are critical to keeping them in school and continuing their education beyond elementary school.
“The most invaluable experience for me was the opportunity to work at Caritas de Esperanza,” said Rachelle Thomas-Green, a student in the counseling program. “Some of these students walk two miles each way to school and go long periods of time without eating. I immediately related these experiences to our lectures on privilege and cultural humility. The great take-away was what the children taught us about community and commitment to each other.”
Alyssa Peterson, a student in the school psychology program, connected her experience to social justice: “My time in Ecuador gave me an invaluable perspective about progressive culture and pushing the envelope in order to make social change. Giving back to a child in need, even through a simple conversation, is so important to someone that is deprived in so many ways.”
Fisher remarked on how important an international experience like the SOE study abroad program is for anyone working in education: “For our students to be successful in the classrooms and communities they serve, they must have a multicultural orientation. This experience provides an opportunity for the openness that educators need to look at things through a new lens.”