Ecuador has claimed a special place in my heart and life since high school. My high school Spanish teacher connected me with a girl my age in Loja, Ecuador to communicate with in Spanish as a pen pal. We shared stories and trinkets from our hometowns for several years. In college I received a collaborative National Science Foundation (NSF) and University of Idaho undergraduate research position, which happened to be based out of Loja, Ecuador at the Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja. This gave me the incredible opportunity to live in Loja, meet my long-time pen pal, as well as lead a genetic research study on the Andean bear.
I have maintained my connection in Ecuador, and have been communicating with the Yasunidos in hopes of continuing collaborative work to fight oil drilling in the Yasuni National Reserve.
In 2012, shortly after living in Ecuador, I moved to Cusco, Peru. In Peru I had the opportunity to study Spanish and Quechua at the University of Salamanca while living with a local host family. My time there was life changing and enlightening, and has informed much of my work since then.
After graduating from my undergrad in 2014, I traveled to the Republic of Georgia to work as an English teacher. I was placed at a public school for grades 1-12 with 500 students, in Khutsubani, Georgia, near the Black Sea. I co-taught all grades with three Georgian English teachers, and lived with a host family who welcomed me as their own daughter and sister. I was moved by the country’s overwhelming sense of community and reliance upon each other, but was disheartened by the economically depressed state.
The school I taught in is a hundred years old and has seen Soviet occupation and independence without remodel or updates. I visited Alcatraz in San Francisco shortly after my time teaching, and was surprised by the condition of the prison being better than most schools in Georgia. What I noticed most in Georgia was the omittance of art, particularly in the schools. Through a few experiments with my students, I found that art was a tool I could use to connect and engage with them across culture and language barriers.