Last summer I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador through the Geology and Geophysics department here at the University of Utah. Thanks to the Office of Study Abroad, I was given a scholarship to help pay for the class. The main focus of the class was to learn how local mining, predominantly gold, is affecting the quality of the environment, as well as the people living in these areas. The first week of the class was spent here on campus where a number of professors with specialties in economics, public health, geology and mining engineering gave lectures to provide us with necessary background into Ecuadorian history and present day issues. It was interesting to hear from experts in various fields as they integrated information about Ecuador and presented it in a manner that created greater anticipation of the physical trip to Ecuador that was approaching. The day before we left, I remember running around frantically trying to pack my bags, as well as finish gathering field supplies to collect samples to analyze back in the lab upon return. I remember being really excited, as this was my first time outside of North America. During the flight I tried to visualize what Ecuador would be like based on the lectures during the week before and on travel books that I had briefly read.
As I stepped off the plane in Quito, Ecuador I remember being immediately immersed in the new culture. What was most noticeable at first was the language barrier, as I know little Spanish. Thankfully, I was traveling with some native Ecuadorians, as well as a few students in the class who were fluent. As Quito is the capital city of Ecuador, life is fairly similar to that in the United States. It wasn’t until we traveled to more remote regions and villages that I began to realize how far away from home we were. Ecuador is a very inviting place, with a lot of diversity. It was really exciting interacting with the local villagers and indigenous people and hearing their perspectives of how they live and how local mining projects have influenced their lives. Similarly, traveling to mines and processing plants and talking to operators was also insightful and added new angles. It was interesting to see the range of operations, from those that can afford to be environmentally conscious and others who cannot.
Dr. Bill Johnson did a great job of organizing the study abroad trip, integrating classwork, field work, lab work, and tourism. I think it was a great opportunity for all of us to not only see a beautiful part of the world, but to take a class that will hopefully provide more knowledge of how mining has influenced the ecosystems and the people of Ecuador.