Reflection | The United States in Ecuador

Reflection | The United States in Ecuador

Emily Tatum.jpg

Emily Tatum

- Virtual Foreign Service E-Intern at The Department of State
- Latin American Affairs Specialist at The International Scholar

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Sometimes you have to go away to understand what you left behind. The phrase goes along something like that. While being in Ecuador over the past five months, I feel like I have learned more about my own country. The US is always in the conversation here, especially at my elite private university in Quito. I see the US involvement and influence in two ways: politically and culturally.

I had a Latin American studies professor at my university in Ohio who used to teach a North American politics course. On the first day of class, he would tell the class that he would buy their books for the class if they could answer one question correctly: who are the current leaders of Canada and Mexico? He told us that in his four or five years of teaching the course, he never had to buy anyone’s books. He then explained that if you ask a student in Mexico, Nicaragua, Chile, etc, that student will most definitely know the name of the US president. His question cleverly shows the internal orientation versus international orientation of our countries. This knowledge is more prevalent as students grow older and specialize. In my international relations classes here, the Ecuadorian students know and discuss US foreign policy with ease and sometimes US domestic policy.

Similarly, on the cultural side, the US seems to be permeating everywhere: whether it be Black Friday sales or the constant presence of Coca-Cola and Nike. The malls are filled with US brands with English lettering on the shirts. When I walk through my house, Netflix is usually on with US television shows dubbed in Spanish. The culture sifts through the language as well. There are many words that have no translation or the English word has been adopted. Here’s a few that I have heard: check-in, back to back, ladies’ night, then foreign policy words in class- rogue state, MENA, conditional sovereignty. Lastly, the most direct flow is through the travel. Many of my Ecuadorian friends here travel to the US very frequently. It seems like everyone has a cousin, aunt or brother who lives in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Miami, the common hubs of Ecuadorian ex-pats in the US.

Apart from deep knowledge of US culture and politics, Ecuadorians, and I am sure many other Latin Americans, have an orientation that allows them to understand the world in a unique way and keeps them aware of international current events throughout South America and the rest of the Americas. Going back to the early question, if you’re not reading about other countries, watching movies from other countries, or meeting people from other countries, chances are you’re not going to know who the leaders of Mexico and Canada are. It’s this orientation that my friends here have that allow them to have open ears and a world without limits. For us, the more we turn inwards, the more we tune out other countries. I want to bring back this posture of culture mixing and this awareness back to my life and studies in the US.

Banner Photo Credit:

  1. "South of the city" by Cristian Ibarra Santillan, Flickr

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