Summer Study in Ecuador

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Darwin’s Window, Galapagos Islands (Photo: David Rintoul)

Over the summer I went to the Equator where the sun rises straight up and twelve hours later it sets straight down, like it really means it. Always. I went to the ancient city of Quito, high in the Andes, where a Franciscan church from the brutal Spanish colonial period lies above an Incan temple of the sun. I went to the Galapagos, the archipelago where English pirates hung out in the 16thcentury, where Darwin wondered about finches and took nearly illegible notes. And I took notes, too, because there’s always so much to write about.

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Cerro Brujo Beach, North coast of Isla San Cristobal, the Galapagos. (Photo: David Rintoul)

This was eighth study abroad trip I’ve co-led to South America along with a colleague in Biology. Students come from all over the campus—some are English majors or minors, some are biologists. A few have been dancers, one was an architect, one a photographer. Two were MA students. A few have been geographers.

One year recently-retired English professor Michael Donnelly came along. He didn’t enroll in any classes…

Students have a choice of English courses: either introductory creative nonfiction (ENGL 465) or an advanced independent study (ENGL 799); they can combine that coursework with BIOL 495 (a science without a lab) and next year we’re adding GEOG 490 (a geography special topics in environment and development). The trip itself lasts just two weeks, during which the group travels to high grasslands where the air is thin and the plants crouch shin-high in the dry air. Or we go snorkeling in the clear Pacific, where sea lions come pirouetting and rolling like a cross between a Corgi and a break dancer, where fish the colors of neon signs glide past sea urchins blistering the rocky shore. We sit in an air-conditioned classroom and listen to an Ecuadorian professor describe his research tagging and mapping the travel of sea turtles, the first such study undertaken. Or we stand, hushed, in a Jesuit cathedral where the nave shines in Baroque gold leaf and believers ignore us as they take their places in the wooden pews. Photographs, journals, conversation, more journaling… Someone saw a whale from the boat. Someone else saw the green flash at sunset.

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Students view Darwin’s Window from the water (Photo: David Rintoul)

Then, once we’re back home comes the longer writing. We draft and revise throughout the month of June, in order to maximize the time spent out in the sun and the sea while we’re actually in Ecuador. One student’s essay has been published in K-State’s undergraduate research journal, Crossing Borders. Another became a student’s master’s project. And for myself, I write from all this rich travel, too. Last summer my notes became a talk at an environmental literature and culture conference in Canada. The year before an essay emerged from the sough and surge in Darwin’s Bay to publication in The Fourth River.

In May of 2019 we’ll go again. It seems early to be planning—bathing suits haven’t hit their lowest sale prices from last summer yet. I don’t even have posters to hang up. But a new scholarship is available from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Rebecca and Aaron Graham Scholarship for International Education and Understanding. January 1 is the scholarship deadline for students who want to do Summer Intersession Study Abroad in 2019 so it is a good time to start thinking.

Elizabeth Dodd, University Distinguished Professor

 

 

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