The Importance of ‘Where’

From Pachaysana: As we move from one semester to the next in our Rehearsing Change program, and think about our international students who recently left us, we post this reflection from Spring 2016 student, Stephanie Kridlo, who just graduated from American University (felicitaciones). Thanks for your thoughts on the very important topic of "where" we do education.

When talking about a university education, ‘where’ often takes a backseat. Don’t get me wrong, a gorgeous campus can make or break a college hopeful’s decision. But I’ll bet my money that if all of the best professors moved to Alaska or the best science program was the middle of the Sahara Dessert, students would flock there. Because at some point in the history of university education, ‘where’ stopped being important.

Javier Cevallos teaching class in Pintag with Nina Shunku

What’s so special about Pachaysana Institute’s Rehearsing Change study abroad is that it renews the value of ‘where’ and its power to impact university-level education. Pachaysana’s campus is mobile, meaning that students don’t stay and study at a traditional university campus. For example, during my study abroad with Pachaysana this past spring, I studied in a number of unique places with local counterparts. In Quito, I took two classes at Nina Shunku – a “casa de cultura” (house of culture) close to the Plaza 24 de Mayo in the historic district. While in the Amazon, I studied in shared community spaces. In Mariscal Sucre, I took classes in their open-air, communal pavilion nestled in the heart of their local primary school, and in Tzawata, I had classes in their communal dining area and meeting space.

Daniel Bryan talking with students after class in Mariscal

Pachaysana’s mobile campus was refreshing. Well, it was for me anyway. I was so thankful to get out of the stuffy, academic setting of the traditional classroom. More importantly, I received, in my opinion, a better education at Pachaysana’s campus. I studied with locals in THEIR world, injected myself into their lives in an almost ethnographic sense. But I didn’t come there to study them. I came to study WITH them.

Pachaysana’s campus also benefits the counterparts by creating new opportunity. Like in the U.S., getting a higher education in Ecuador can be expensive. Most young people can’t afford to dedicate that much money or time to pursuing a degree, especially in the more agrarian communities in the Amazon. Rehearsing Change is unique and innovative because it brings higher education to people, so they don’t have to leave their families or their jobs. That, overall, is Pachaysana’s model: to extend the opportunity of an elite, higher education to those who typically would not have the chance to pursue it.

I left my program feeling like I actually rehearsed change, and I did it in brand new settings and on brand new stages: the makeshift theater of Nina Shunku and the community spaces of Mariscal and Tzawata. Those stages were the physical foundations for the education and success of both the exchange students and the counterparts.

Javier Cevallos and Daniel Bryan leading class activities in Tzawata

It’s going to be hard going back to the quadrangles, flower-lined sidewalks, and classrooms of my university. After Rehearsing Change, it feels like I’m going back to some kind of academic gated community. However, I’m carrying with me the experiences and knowledge of a new kind of higher education that aims to revolutionize the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘how’, and, of course, ‘where’ of university education.

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