“A Humbling Experience:” Studying Abroad in Ecuador

A group of students who traveled to Ecuador for a CGHSR course pose for a picture.

Amy Swenson, back row far left, traveled to Quito as part of CGHSR's course, Ecuador: Social, Environmental, and Cultural Determinants of Health

Amy Swenson has been to Quito, Ecuador, twice. 

The first time she went, in 2019, Swenson traveled to the Latin American city to learn Spanish while working as a nurse. Her most recent trip, as part of CGHSR’s two-week course in Ecuador, provided a different experience. 

The second time around, Swenson was in Quito studying the social, environmental and cultural determinants of health. Between daily lectures and field visits, she learned about the impacts that development, global markets and politics have on healthcare in the region.

Amy Swenson

Swenson is currently studying public health administration and policy at UMN’s School of Public Health. She said she hasn’t studied environmental health much during her master’s program, and the trip to Quito gave her a new perspective on the subject. 

“I really hadn’t thought a whole lot about environmental health. We talk about it, but I didn’t totally understand what it was,” she said. “This course got me interested in how to visualize environmental health, because we looked at so many cool maps that showed how diseases are spread throughout the country or how deforestation influences tropical diseases.”

The experience prompted her to sign up for a fall GIS course to learn more about data visualization.  

Swenson had busy days in Quito, attending lectures in the mornings and field visits in the afternoon. The field visits took place at  numerous sites around the city, including hospitals, organic farms, a rose plantation and a rehabilitation center that made prosthetic limbs. 

“I enjoyed the lectures a lot. A few of the lectures about the political and environmental determinants of health, and how they have influenced the indigenous populations, were very interesting,” she said. 

Swenson was able to discuss the issues she was learning about in lectures with her host family. It was “useful to hear from the host families and what they thought about the health system while also talking with local public health experts,” she said. 

While she had to get used to the food and the pace of the city – “the traffic in the city was wild and it was stressful to cross the streets” – Swenson came back from Quito with a renewed outlook on global health. 

“Exposing yourself to a different culture and actually living in it for a minute is a very valuable life experience – very humbling,” said Swenson. “I learned a lot in just two weeks — more than I have in some courses over a semester.”