Our Goodbyes to San Clemente

Outside the home of a San Clemente host family
Written by Nicole Wells

This morning (8 July 2017) the students of our seminar in Ecuador woke up for the last time in the indigenous San Clemente community. The air was warmer than the night before. With the persistent wake-up call of roosters outside our window, we quickly got dressed and ready to eat breakfast with our temporary family and complete our minga project.

At breakfast Sara, Katie and I got the unlikely chance of speaking with our house dad, who was often out late and gone early for work. Sara spoke Spanish fluently with our house parents, who speak Quechua and Spanish. Katie fumbled her way through her Spanish knowledge, and I listened as Sara translated into English for me. I can understand about half of the Spanish I hear from my knowledge of French and was later able to use my French and English to communicate with a Canadian who moved into San Clemente the night before. Clearly, language has a lot of influence in this community, and our breakfast conversation naturally shifted to the topic of bilingualism. We learned from our host dad that the 60 children in their community were being taught in Spanish at school by two teachers, their twelve-year-old daughter being one of the students. Spanish, many people of the community agree, is helpful in communicating with the rest of Ecuador and with travelers. It would have been more difficult for our group to have stayed in this community and we would have had a much shallower understanding of their community without the shared language of Spanish. However, our host family expressed a worry that the children of this community, including their twelve-year-old daughter, were losing their ancient indigenous language of Quechua since they must be taught Spanish at a young age to succeed in school. From Professor Wishard Guerra’s classes this quarter, we have learned that bilingual/bicultural education is a very complicated subject - not only in this community but in the rest of Ecuador. Supporters of bilingual/bicultural programs in public schools believe it will preserve the understanding of the native cultures of Ecuador, while others contest that this type of education alone will only be a “band-aid” solution to an issue (the loss of understanding of indigenous cultures) that requires much deeper intervention. Although our students have read about, heard about, and experienced the effects of language education in Ecuador, we are left with many more questions that can hopefully be discussed by our San Clemente guide and guest speaker Juan Auslestia, Ph.D. this Thursday. This discussion carries over to my thoughts on cultural influences on language. Our host family expressed that their daughter was hoping to learn English, which would be helpful for future business and communicating with other travelers. It is interesting to see how different ideas of success, which is often influenced by the culture a person grows up in, determine which languages are seen as important to study. For this family, Quechua was important for their daughter to study because they value their ancient cultural roots and hope for future generations to preserve them. This could be their definition of success. For my friend from Canada, English was important to learn to communicate and conduct business internationally, as well as preserve French because it was part of his upbringing. This could be his definition of success. I imagine there are similar stories to be heard from all parts of the globe, and I am grateful to see such diverse values, ideas of success, and ideas on bilingual-bicultural education through my experiences in Ecuador as well as at home.

After our breakfast, we met up with the rest of our study abroad students and their host families to complete the community work, or minka/minga, together. With effort and diverse ideas from the whole group, we were able to refurbish a previously created mural and create a brand new mural at the school of the San Clemente community. After a couple hours, the work we had started was finished, which meant it was time to say our goodbyes to the community many easily fell in love with. With translations, Riley spoke for our group in a farewell ceremony thanking the community for all the fun we had and for they had taught us.

We hugged our temporary hosts, hopped on the bus, and made our way through the narrow, bumpy dirt roads to a nice lunch over San Pablo Lake. After lunch, our group left to go to the the traditional Mercado de los Ponchos market in Otavalo. This market had everything for tourists, from alpaca blankets to magnets to traditional ponchos. As some students rushed to find souvenirs and gifts, others chose to sit back and observe Ecuadorian children in the market (as part of our homework assignment) to understand a child’s development through his or her interaction with the environment around him or her. With much less money in our pockets, we took a final three-hour trip back to Quito, where our host families were waiting to bring us home. Exhausted, we jumped into the cars of our host families, answered their many questions about our weekend excursion, and rested well. Waking up the next morning for our first free day in Quito was when the reality of our trip finally settled in: we’re in Quito!

Stay tuned for updates on Week Two of the 2017 Global Seminar in Ecuador.


  1. I was so sad to leave! I wish I had the opportunity to speak more to our host family and ask them all the questions I wanted to ask

  2. I already miss our family in San Clemente. Our time spent here is unforgettable.

    I'm so glad we were able to participate in their daily routines and have them welcome and encourage us every step of the way.

    I'm never going to forget the beautiful hikes we went on, the cuy ritual, and the fireflies that twinkled at night!!

    Great recap, Nicole. :-)

  3. Nice job Nicole!!! What a wonderful experience for all of you!


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