Carissa Harnish and Aliese Gingerich, both juniors, spent Jul. through Dec. of 2013 living in Quito, Ecuador through a Brethren-based organization. The organization, Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA), focuses primarily on global, social, and environmental issues, allowing students an opportunity to study at international colleges. Harnish and Gingerich both studied at the University of San Francisco, Quito, where they spent their weeks living with host families and attending class, and their weekends and school breaks traveling to on-site locations such as the Amazon Rainforest and the Galapagos Islands.
On Tuesday night, Jan. 28, in Common Grounds, they shared their experiences living in Ecuador.
“From feeding salt to llamas to biking down a volcano . . . it was clear that it would be an adventure,” Harnish said.
But rather than a conventional adventure, which did indeed occur, both Harnish and Gingerich remarked on the mental adventure – an adventure that brought them to new conclusions about their relationships with people.
Gingerich, an education and Spanish major, explored the area of identity while in Quito. In Common Grounds, she asked the participants to think of one word to describe themselves. From this, she transitioned to say that while in Ecuador, she found the easiest identification for herself to be “Mennonite.”
But this was restricting, she said, because in reality people are tapestries of multiple words. And when this is recognized, it facilitates connections with more people because we realize that we are much more diverse than a single word. In finding ourselves we find commonalities with others.
Harnish, a biology and Spanish major, talked about a similar subject, but her journey was different. She struggled to connect with people at the beginning of her time. While studying at the university, she mentioned the difficulties of building relationships with people. Students at the university saw her as just another exchange student. From this she came to a conclusion.
“There’s a need to step out of that comfort zone and learn something new.”
And in stepping out of her comfort zone, combined with the importance of spending more quality time with people, she made friends not only with local people but also with the people from other colleges who had joined her in the BCA program.
Harnish’s viewpoint on the issue could be summed up as such: While it’s great to have common ground with people, it’s also great to step out of your comfort zone to make an effort to create common ground with people.
-Chris Yoder, Staff Writer; photo by Carissa Harnish