In the fall of 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a study abroad in Ecuador while I was a sophomore in undergrad. This opportunity presented itself right as I felt my knowledge of the Spanish language had reached the level where immersion was necessary see any additional improvement. It is one thing to learn a language, but it is something completely different to live it: to constantly read, speak, and think in it.
During my residency in Ecuador, I had the opportunity to visit the Amazon Rainforest (yes, the one with the anacondas!). As someone who is keen to embracing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, I packed my bags with the preconceived notion that the Amazon Rainforest is exactly how it appears on the Discovery Channel. A 13-hour bus ride also left me with a twisted expectation of a small campsite covered with thick forestry and that I should stock up on all the mosquito nets I could get my hands on–but I found that this wasn’t the case.
To my surprise, the dirt road transitioned to a paved street while approaching the tiny town of Nangaritza. My beliefs and predictions of the Amazon were shattered—this town of only 450 residents in the heart of the Amazon had a street lined with brick buildings, including: a full school, church, municipality and even a restaurant which opened on Saturday and Sundays.
I spent 5 days in the pueblo of Nangaritza, sampling local cuisine, playing soccer with the locals and even attending a small festival at the time. During my stay having all the usual amenities of running water, plumbing, street lights and even WiFi available to me.
Being able to engage with the people and culture of Nangaritza changed my previous bias. I went into my trip with a stereotypical belief that what I heard and saw, such as: there not being plumbing or sleeping in huts. These misconceptions I received through the filtered lens of television, blur the accurate portrayal of life in the Amazon, unbeknownst to me that they live a relatively similar life compared to me.
We often take the liberty of assuming we know the stories of others. Media that what we are constantly exposed to denotes facts and attempts to change our opinion, and whether it’s on the Discovery Channel or Facebook, and it simply cannot compare to a physical experience. As a Barbadian, I have experienced similar interactions, where people believe I spend every day at the beach or that I only wear shorts and t-shirts. My experience in Nangaritza helped me to realize that I too hold my own preconceived notions as well.
So, I leave you with one small piece of advice: Enter every new relationship with the mentality that we are more similar than we are different, and the differences we have do not make us strange, but wonderfully unique.
By LeAundre “Dre” Knight, Programs & Services Intern