Despite our hesitations as we loaded fifteen 11th graders onto a bus to LaGuardia on the last day of school, traveling with students has been fulfilling in so many expected and unexpected ways. Being removed from our routines and comforts alongside our students has created spaces for us to gain a new perspective on one another. We are learning who loves to cook, who naturally nurtures and protects others, who can spend the entire day socializing with everyone and who needs time to step away from the constant bustle of living alongside twenty three other people.
We are realizing how much expertise we all have to lend during this time together. Our students obviously come to us with knowledge and skills we might not know about and which aren’t always applicable within our content-based curriculum; but by being together in a country where we are all foreigners, that dynamic changes to one where teachers and students are able to see one another’s strengths and use them to contribute to the success and happiness of our newfound community.
As educators who travel, but lack the ability to fluently speak a language other than English, we are used to communicating with the people we encounter in a foreign country by cobbling together words into awkward phrases, ignoring tenses and gesturing to get our message across. Yet as we travel with our students, several of whom are native Spanish speakers, we are able to rely on them when our ability to speak and understand comes up short. Today during Catholic mass, which Alicia invited us to attend, we both needed help to understand the service, and our students were happy to translate. The benefit of being able to lean on one other was also apparent when several students went out to buy soda at the corner store and cookies at the panadería down the block and quickly realized they needed their Spanish-speaking peers to complete what would normally be a simple transaction.
One crucial piece of our first two days of travel has been carving out time to come together, be still, write, reflect and share. After our first busy day, we invited our students into a big room with comfortable couches and listed all of the things that we had experienced throughout the day. Once complete, the list had over thirty items and it was gratifying to see what stood out to everyone. We laughed as we recalled the boys who bought a whole chicken from a street vendor and shared it in the afternoon sun and recalled our inspiring tour of a building that was once a prison, now transformed into a school for higher learning. From that list, we each wrote quietly for several minutes about what stood out most to us and why. Then we all wrote a bit more about something that pressed us, either intellectually, emotionally, or physically and thought about how we were processing that challenge. As we shared out, Alejandro spoke first about his realization that we take many things for granted in the United States. Maribel was moved by seeing young children working on the streets. Brendin spoke about the challenge of balancing the desire to live in the moment and wanting to digitally capture everything he was seeing and experiencing. Aboya discussed the excitement of leaving the country for the first time and seeing beauty in a new place and then brought up the dichotomy of witnessing conditions of poverty alongside the historical architecture of Quito. All of the students agreed that making the time to come together, be still and reflect was so important to processing everything that was happening. As we walked away from our first debrief of many, we couldn’t help but reflect ourselves on the ways in which these conversations and moments would impact our future relationships with this group of students. We are inspired by the power of experiencing the real world alongside students and look forward to the remaining days we have together on this journey.
Congratulations on getting to Ecuador. I hope you all achieve everything that you planned to.