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16 Incoming Students Enjoy "Experience of a Lifetime" in Inaugural DePauw-Ecuador Summer Program

August 24, 2007

Ecuador 2007 house.jpgAugust 24, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - Discovering the culture of South America, mastering a foreign language, building a house for the poor, getting acquainted with a new college campus, establishing friendships that will last forever -- can you think of a better way to spend your summer? For sixteen incoming students at DePauw University, these experiences were a few of the unforgettable memories they created while participating in the DePauw in Ecuador Summer 2007 program.

The new program was created through a major gift by Steven L. Trulaske ’79 and his wife Michelle, announced this spring. In addition to providing opportunities for students to study in both Greencastle and Ecuador before the start of their first year in college, the Steve and Michelle Trulaske International Scholarship Fund will also underwrite the semester- or summer-long off-campus study experiences of at least 30 upper-class students each year.ecuador flag.jpg

For five weeks (June 25 - August 1) incoming DePauw first-year students, guided by eight staff members, were given the opportunity to see the rigors of the academia at DePauw, focus on the service ethic, discover international sensibility, improve their Spanish skills, and have fun -- which happen to be the five goals of the program.

“We were skeptical about our ability to be successful on all five goals,” says Bob Hershberger, developer of the program and chair of the modern languages department at DePauw. “I was very pleased by our successful of delivery of all five goals. It was a very ambitious and challenging plan and very rewarding to accomplish. I was delighted by the fact the basic plan was enriched as the summer progressed.”

“We had no idea what to expect,” says Emma Minx, who participated in the program. “One moment we wereEcuador 2007-1.jpg sitting around talking in a circle, the next we were signing away our right to speak English.”

The participants were only allowed to speak one hour of English a day, at dinner time. They took two hours of Spanish class every morning, and in the afternoon they participated in various activities, such as soccer games and team building exercises, while speaking only Spanish. Evenings were often filled with “tribe” time when the students were assigned to one of four separate tribes, named after four South American countries, to participate in competitive activities.

“I learned more Spanish in the five week program than I did in four years of high school Spanish classes,” states freshman Tracey Dewland. “Giving up the right to speak English was a huge deal and I never thought I would be able to do it. You learn so much when you are totally immersed in Spanish and having to speak the language to get by. I have a new love for Spanish that I did not have in high school.”

Community service played an important role both in Ecuador and at DePauw. “The service work helped unify the team and prepared us for the work ahead of us in Ecuador," says Dr. Hershberger. "It was a vehicle to help students negotiate challenges they will face in their lives and built a sense of group identity. The service work also helped the acquisition of the language and exposed people in the community to Spanish.”East College Flowers.jpg

While at DePauw the students helped the Greencastle community by painting an elderly woman’s porch and constructing a set of concrete porch steps. The students also visited Indianapolis to collect garbage and to work with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Habitat for Humanity.

“The efforts over three weeks changed what I thought community service was,” says participant and first-year student Zak Phillips. “It was nothing new to help out, but I realized that you do not have to be rewarded. The reward that you receive is not tangible.”

On the weekends, the students participated in activities such as canoeing, watching fireworks, shopping in Indianapolis, taking salsa lessons and watching a minor league game. The students were also introduced to the amenities that DePauw and Greencastle have to offer, including the public swimming pool, a rope swing at the lake, and Marvin’s with its notorious garlic cheeseburgers.

“The time at DePauw was magical,” Phillips asserts. “Not only did I learn Spanish but I met new people and got to know the campus unlike most first years. We were the people to know when school started.”

After three weeks of rigorous preparations, the students left for two weeks in Ecuador. “We were smart to give enough time on the domestic side to offer significant exposure to the culture and the language,” Prof. Hershberger recalls. “Once in Ecuador we expected them to maQuito Ecuador.jpgke use of what they learned. The time at DePauw served us well in the long run.”

“I felt really prepared and was not afraid of the culture shock they told us about. I knew I had great leaders to ease the journey through Ecuador,” adds Phillips.

Upon arrival, the students were taken to southern Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The students worked with the Tierra Nueva Foundation, an organization that provides basic needs for the poor. During the week, the students lent their services to several foundation projects. They constructed a house for a homeless family, worked at a nursery for the mentally and physically challenged, painted a school, and played with five-year-old children.

“The service opened the students’ eyes to the all of the suffering abroad,” says Maria Luque, professor of modern languages. “People around the world do not have much, but they do not always need much to be happy. Seeing the poverty showed a different side of the world that the students had not seen before. They realized that the food, housing, and clothes that they possess are considered luxuries in other countries. They now know why foreigners would want to immigrate to Globe3.jpgthe United States and why illegal immigrants are willing to work three jobs so they can support their family and live in the U.S. The students were given the opportunity to talk with these people out of their own niche and taught them more than just how to build construction. Both sides were able to learn from each other. ”

During the evenings the students were immersed in Ecuadorian culture. They visited museums, national monuments, went shopping, took a night walking tour of the city, and dined at authentic restaurants. Says freshman Rebecca Maddrell, “I really I got a feel for the city and its people.”

“The students were able to see first-hand how people take advantage of the Ecuadorians,” Luque said. “Latin America has been exploited by the United States and is not getting richer by selling its’ goods, but is getting poorer. You could see how the students’ lives were personally impacted by this. A light bulb went off in their heads. When they returned home they talked and shared their experiences with other people. They made small changes in their lives to try to help the resources of Latin America.” Ecuador 2007 bread.jpg

On the weekends the students went on excursions to Baños, Otavalo, and Siempre Verde. While in Baños the students rode bikes down the mountainside next to raging waterfalls. They also ate freshly-made taffy and swam with the natives in the natural hot springs pool.

Otavalo, the largest Indigenous market in Ecuador, was where the students put their bartering skills to the test. They were given free reign to walk the market and spent the night with indigenous families. The students were split up and assigned to a family with whom they ate dinner, participated in a music ritual, and slept. They even awoke at six in the morning to prepare the daily bread for the family.

“As a faculty member, being able to sit down by the fire and get to know the students better was what I enjoyed the best,” Hershberger said. “Those opportunities give you the ability to see the whole student, their ambitions, dreams, interests and thoughts, more than you ever could in the classroom. I gained a new appreciation for the students as people.” 

Ecuador’s rainforests are in danger of being destroyed by mining companies due to its supply of valuable minerals. The students visited this INTAG region Ecuador Sunset.jpgunder the guidance of DePauw Professor Glen Kuecker. They spent a weekend hiking inactive volcanoes, sharing stories under candle light, and playing Ecuadorian card games like Cuarenta.

“Climbing up the mountain was the greatest hike of my life,” Phillips commented. “It felt amazing once we got to the top. We were led by the best guías ever, Nelson and Jacki Chan his dog. We also had a biological lesson by studying the nature around us that I did not know I was going to have.”

The students returned to DePauw having a better appreciation for both America and the Ecuadorian people. “When people ask me about the trip, it is hard to sum it up in one sentence,” says Maddrell. “It was an experience of a lifetime. It pushed me both to my physical and mental limits and taught me a lot about who I am as a person. I am truly lucky to have been a part of it. I have memories and friendships that will last me a lifetime.”

“When the program began, I thought it was just going to be another summer,” adds Phillips. “After the first day I realized that I was wrong. The program opened up my life to what I want to do in the future, study international politics. I realized what goes on in the world can differ from what one hears about in the United States.”

“I hope that this program can be modeled and duplicated for other foreign languages,” Hershberger said. “The outcomes of the powerful experiences that the students encounter are limitless but most importantly made the students enthusiastic about Spanish. Most students had the conviction to continue to study Spanish and that is the true testament to the program.”

“You can see the confidence in the students has grown,” adds Luque. “When the program started the students were scared. They didn’t know anyone and didn’t know how to speak Spanish. Now as college started they were more secure and relaxed to be on campus. They are able to help other students and are not afraid to try because they know what they are capable of doing. After having the international experience there are no limits to what they can do and the amount of people they can help.”

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