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Koret Fellowship Program

Areli Hernandez

Political Science, Spanish, and Ethnic Studies major, Class of 2019

My semester abroad in Ecuador was more challenging, rewarding, and full of learning experiences than I could have ever expected. My program split my time in Ecuador into two portions: one taking theoretical international development classes in Quito and the other pairing me up with an internship at the Misión Scalabriniana in Ibarra, Ecuador working with the integration of migrants and refugees and influencing public policy for the social inclusion of these groups. As the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, and having grown up in a Mexican immigrant community, I thought I knew what I was doing. At the Misión, I quickly realized I had it all wrong. My tiny little perspective of Mexican-U.S. migration could not be generalized. I cannot lie, many nights after my work, I would walk home in tears, angry and confused on why things like losing a son to Colombian guerrillas had to happen. For my research project, I conducted interviews with migrant and refugee women from Colombia and Venezuela. Their kindness, generosity, and strength in gladly sharing their stories amazed me. The women invited me to their homes, brought me traditional baked goods, and told me all about their experiences.

Now, I am leaving Ecuador, more confused and curious about migration patterns and refugees in Latin America.

I leave here yearning to get to know the lands and cultures of the home countries of the women at la Misión. I leave here wanting to see those beautiful places of Cali, Caquetá, Caracas, Mérida, and all the towns and cities of which I heard many stories of.

I leave here scared and nervous for my return to the United States where the people do not know how to savour the present moments. Where one cannot sit down to eat their ice cream cone, “sabor taxo, por favor” with their friends. Where one glorifies their exaggerated use of caffeine & brags about the lack of time they have.

I leave here praying to God that I never forget these moments so unique that torment me with feelings and thoughts that accompanied me to sleep each night.

I leave here, but I take with me such beautiful memories and a raging motivation to continue learning from & retelling the stories that I hope to never leave behind.

All in all, I am eternally grateful for all of the encouragement from the LEAD program that motivated me to apply and absorb as much as I could from this incredible experience. I am also thankful that LEAD helped me make this experience financially possible. I hope to be able to give back to this program someday so that other first-generation students can take advantage of unique international experiences like these.

Areli on a bridge in Ecuador.

Areli with other students on a Ecuadorian mountain top