Study Abroad Reflections

Pitt in Ecuador – June Session

Summer of 2019

Courses Taken:

  • Anthropology 1713 | Health, Population and Nutrition of the Kichwa People
  • Anthropology 1548 | Amazonian Arts: Making and Meaning 

The six weeks that I spent studying abroad and conducting independent research at the Andes and Amazon Field School at the Iyarina lodge in the Napo region of Ecuador were by far, some of the most transformative weeks of my undergraduate experience.

There was not a single moment I spent in Ecuador where I either found myself learning something new, challenging my own beliefs and assumptions, or fascinated by this new world that I was immersed in:

For starters, the Amazon’s biodiversity challenges human understanding and imagination of nature. I walked along the same path every day from my cabin to the cafeteria and on each walk, discovered something new, whether it was a new spider, leaf-cutter ants, or a new kind of leaf. Later on, I learned in my Amazonian Arts Making and Meaning class how intimate the relationship is between this beautiful Amazonian natural landscape and the indigenous Kichwa people who inhabit it. As I was making my mukawas every week (Kichwa bowls made by women, traditionally used for drinking chicha, a fermented yucca beverage), the Kichwa women taught me that they are inspired by patterns of nature to design their pottery, and that the pottery should reflect the woman’s relationship with nature. They also taught me that since nature is an ever-changing force, mukawa’s should not be made in a perfectionistic way—in, fact, imperfections are valued. I truly tried to take the lesson of not worrying about perfectionism and transient change to heart, as someone who can be easily made anxious by the slightest imperfections. The way the Kichwa people valued nature also challenged me to look at my surroundings and environment in a different way—not as something to be easily disposed of, but something to be taken care of and protected so that we can cultivate a sustainable and natural world to inhabit.

An area of special fascination and challenge for me was understanding Ecuador’s complex healthcare system. Ecuador faces the difficult challenge of integrating both indigenous and Western medical perspectives into its health care, and this was an issue that I had the chance to explore through my “Health, Population, and Nutrition of the Kichwa People”. Through this class, my classmates and I were able to explore multiple facets of Ecuadorian healthcare, from an indigenous midwife organization, a large city hospital in Tena, pharmacies, to clinics that try to provide healthcare to populations that are difficult to reach and were able to witness firsthand the challenges that underlie integrating Western and indigenous medicine.

I am ever grateful for my study abroad experience in Ecuador, for I was challenged to let go of my assumptions about the world so that I could learn a completely different way of life, from food to culture to health to language and so much more. From this trip, I have taken away invaluable lessons that will continue to influence me for the rest of my life.