Jenna Azotea

Jenna Azotea, MBA student, studied abroad on the winter break Sustainability and Social Justice in Ecuador program.

Sustainability and Social Justice in Ecuador is an 11 day program held over winter break. The group travelled to Quito, the Amazon region and Cuenca to explore topics such as sustainability, food security, Indigenous rights and women’s rights as they relate to social justice in a global context. As an MBA student, I was surprised that I could fit a program abroad into my degree, especially with course work outside of my program. I chose this program in particular to complement my business background and to have the chance to meet other students outside of my master’s program.

Throughout the program, we were shown incredible kindness and hospitality from our guides, hosts and the host families we stayed with. Each person and group we interacted with was warm and eager to share information about their community and answer all of our questions. I really believe that host families are some of the kindest people on the planet—they are willing to open up their home to strangers and provide daily meals, spend time getting to know you and make accommodations to make you feel as comfortable as possible. My host family also did not speak English, and I do not speak Spanish. I was able to lean on my knowledge of Italian to understand what they were saying to me, but I was so thankful for their patience as I spoke in broken, elementary Spanish, often with the help of Google Translate! (For any student considering a program abroad with a host family stay, I cannot recommend it enough. This was my third host family stay, and each one has been a wonderful experience).

One of my favorite experiences during this program was visiting a women’s shelter and giving back through a day of service. We were first given a tour of the facilities to learn about the goals of the shelter and the services they provide. We learned that part of staying at the shelter includes empowering women through activities, like gardening. We helped alongside women in the gardens by harvesting some of the potatoes that were ready (to be served in the shelter’s kitchen) and turning new land for additional garden space. It was hard work, but to gain this small bit of insight into the lives of the shelter directors and the women they help was invaluable.

The group of people you travel with can often be the difference between a good and great experience. I was so lucky to travel with an incredibly kind group of undergraduate/graduate students and program leaders who were welcoming, curious and adventurous. While each individual excursion and activity was highly interesting, it was the conversation and debriefs with the group that made it truly memorable.

I would consider myself a fairly “global” person, but this program was a reminder that no matter how much you study other cultures or travel, there is always something new to learn through connections with other people, both at home and abroad.

Being a global citizen is crucial to functioning in our very interconnected world. I believe that we tend to be kinder to the people and ideas that we are familiar with. When we put more effort into learning about the world around us, the more we are able to lead with kindness in everything that we do.