Exchange Diaries: Ecuador

By Meaghan Wray (ArtSci ‘ 14)
Staff Writer

Meaghan Wray is in Ecuador on exchange for the upcoming year. She will be sharing her experience as a regular contributor for QJBlogs.

Life in Ecuador has, so far, been like a game of chess. I make this analogy mainly because I don't know how to play chess. I want to learn, but it also intimidates me. I know the basics, but anything beyond seems remote and out of my control.

My program at Queen’s, Global Development Studies, is by and large a cynical one. From day one we learn that the white man (and woman) have historically and continue to oppress all those who don't fall into the category of "western". Every class in Kingston left me with a feeling of helplessness— I can't provide aid without colonizing, and if I don't help I seem heartless. The only method that defied both was educating myself. As a white and privileged student from Canada, viewing the world through an unavoidably filtered lens, I decided to immerse myself into a culture as quietly as possible. This is how I ended up in Quito, Ecuador.

I sit here in my bed: to my left I look out to rolling mountains (and volcanoes) crammed with houses and high rises from what my friend Juan refers to as the financial district of Quito. Writing this makes me wonder how I even ended up here. It's an overwhelming feeling, being positioned in the third world as a privileged Canadian student who has the financial ability to take part in a program like this, in a house where only one 14-year-old boy speaks a word of English.

Although many comparisons can be drawn between a city like Toronto and Quito, the divide between the extremely wealthy and extremely poor is uncomfortably visible. The nearby shopping mall, the QuiCentre, boasts commercial stores such as Zara, meanwhile impoverished citizens sell mandarins for 10 cents just to get by. I constantly find myself in a divide – do I give what I can because I can, or do I adapt to the Ecuadorean life, which is for the most part rather frugal regardless of income.

Our academic coordinator, Juli Hazlewood, comes from a dynamic background with many degrees in the United States and a strong connection to Ecuador. In our introductory lecture, she said something that more or less went like this: "As a researcher from the United States, I am a colonizer. But I am also colonized because I'm from the United States." Because she is white, it’s assumed by many that she is a part of the problem; white people, in general, are seen as those who have historically oppressed and colonized parts of the world.

I have made this my goal: to decolonize myself from the rhetoric we are fed in the first world and seek to learn more, for example the dynamic histories of Aboriginal peoples of Canada, or the truths behind the oil industry here in Ecuador. I imagine being in Ecuador is a decent first move towards the bettered me. So begins my journey. Not quite a checkmate, but it's a start.

Keep track of Meaghan’s journey. Her next post will appear on Sept. 17.

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