Sun, sea, surfing… and school credit?

by Kristina Ayres

Summer school has negative connotations in most people’s minds, and for a time I was no different. When I was in middle and high school, summer school was for flunkies trying to squeak by to the next grade.

Once I reached college, however, summer school became a necessary evil in order to complete my bachelors degree in four years.

Throughout my college career I developed a suspicion that my advisors were conspiring against me to eliminate any possibility for beach trips or tanning time. Convinced that spending the summer months inside a classroom would most certainly cause a Vitamin D deficiency, I was forced to seek alternatives. It was the least I could do to protect my health, right? And how often can you wrangle school credit for traveling? My South American summer school experience was far removed from the stuffy, humid lecture halls of years past and unlike the Chemistry Summer of 2007 or the August of Econ in 2008, the lessons I learned during summer 2009 are ones that I will absolutely never forget.

This summer session I opted to participate in a study abroad, an opportunity offered by the UNCG hospitality department.

Knowing this was my chance to skip traditional classroom studies and be able to travel, I was sure to complete my application early and be first in line for interviews to take part in a 22day course centered on developing community-based tourism.

Once accepted, I packed my bags, grabbed my passport and prepared for my Ecuadorian experience. Under the guidance of Professor Cardenas, or as we all call him, David, 14 students completed the application process and worked together to raise the funds to go. This was our chance to apply our lectures and textbook teachings in tangible plans for the small coastal community of Ayampe, Ecuador. We flew in to the capital city of Quito, where the group spent a few days touring the town, tasting local cuisine and mapping out our steps for the next three weeks. Shortly after, we embarked on a 10-hour bus ride to the coast. Upon arrival, we were greeted outside of the lodge at la Tortuga, the hostel we’d be calling home for the next two weeks. Our hosts greeted us with open arms, hugs and kisses, and excited fanfare — it was unlike any welcome I’d received in the states and it didn’t take long for us to settle in and feel completely comfortable. Our class first spent time observing and experiencing tourism in Ecuador; the only way to do this was to act as tourists ourselves. Days consisted of surfing, snorkeling and salsa lessons followed by whale-watching and horseback riding. In the evenings we built bonfires on the beach and practiced our new dance skills at the discotheque. We ate fresh oysters, squid and octopus, and indulged daily in fresh fruit juices. The opportunities for fun felt endless but at the end of a several days of sun, sand and surf, it was time to view how the citizens of Ayampe really live. Our first class consisted of a tour of the small village of Ayampe, which serves as home to about 300 residents. It quickly became obvious that the amenities offered at our nearby hostel greatly surpassed those experienced by the locals. The residents of Ayampe live well below the poverty line, miles from any healthcare facilities and with limited access to potable water. The one school in town offers classes through grade 5, after which families are forced to pay to send children by bus to the next town for studies. With scarce resources and lack of available work, most children will not receive any formal education after they turn 10 or 11.

This course was created to help meet theneeds of the community by developing tourism in the area. Our classstudied many of the ways that developing tourism can greatly benefitthis village by providing jobs, increasing income to the area, creatinginfrastructure that can be used by both tourists and locals, anddeveloping access to water and healthcare that they so greatly need. Wealso studied many of the negative effects that are associated withtourism development — depletion of natural resources, increases incrime and the compromise of cultural authenticity. From there, wecreated a strategic plan to develop tourism within the community thatwould benefit business owners and locals alike to improve the overallquality of life while protecting the natural and cultural resources sounique to this small coastal town.

Proper implementation of these planscould not happen overnight so our goal this summer was to strengthenour relationship with those in the community and network with theinfluential leaders in the area. During the two weeks we were there, wewere able to help local contractors develop a park on school groundsthat would serve as a common space for community members. Webuilt a library and provided a printer for the students with funds weraised in the States. We got students involved by havingthem help us clean up trash around town and on the beach, rewardingthem with popcorn and a movie for their participation. Our class alsoplanned and conducted an Earth Day event in which we educated communitymembers about water quality, waste management and recycling. Bythe end of our visit, it became obvious that the time and energy weinvested in bettering the community was well spent. The ideas wedeveloped inspired the hope that through sustainable tourismdevelopment, jobs could be created, better education provided andhealthcare made accessible to the community. We left with processes inplace to develop a nonprofit in the area that would catalyze thesustainable development plans we initiated. Participating inthis experience provided much more than the six credit hours I wasoriginally seeking. I was able to get handson experience, cultivatedeep friendships with classmates I otherwise may not have met and trynew and exciting adventures I’d heretofore only dreamt about. From nowon, summer school has a whole new meaning. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in this exciting opportunity, visit, or contact David Cardenas at 336.334.4738. Applicationsare open to all majors and are not limited to UNCG students.