Sustainable Summer in the Amazon by Elise Haan

This student essay was submitted by Elise Haan from Connecticut.

My Sustainable Summer experience meant a lot to me because I was able to experience a new culture, make new friends, and learn about sustainability in a different way. My trip to Ecuador was a lot of fun but it was also very educational. I tried a lot of new dishes and learned a lot about the way Ecuadorians live. I learned about the positive and negative implications of some of the hydro projects currently being launched in that country. I also really bonded with all the students who went on the trip with me.

Believe it or not, I have been to South America before. But I experienced it in a different way this time. Last time we usually ate American food, it was delicious but it was not exactly traditional cuisine. On this trip we ate just like a typical Ecuadorian citizen. I never used to like bananas but after coming back from the trip, I like them now. We also were served a different juice each day and they were delicious. I was always a very picky eater but I tried everything on this program. Everything was delicious, the rice, the filet mignon, and especially the fried bananas. I also saw real poverty and it really made me appreciate everything I have so much more. Ecuador is in economic turmoil and I didn’t see one mansion or home that looked economically stable. We also watched the high school graduation of everyone in the Kichwa community in the Amazon rainforest. It was a beautiful event to watch. This wasn’t like any high school graduation ceremony I had ever seen before. It was not outside a beautiful school in the freshly mowed grass, yet that didn’t make it any less special. It just made me appreciate my time at the Hotchkiss School; I am just so lucky to be getting a Hotchkiss education.

All of the amazing sights in Ecuador made me feel so alive. For example we saw a huge waterfall one day and stood right in front of it. The spray soaked us. The waterfall was just so powerful and beautiful; I was enchanted by it. The phrase “you only live once” is a popular one in our media centered society; but at that moment I felt like, if I only get to live once I’m glad that I can have a life where I get to experience a phenomenon like this waterfall. Also when we were in the Amazon I got to see so many incredible plants and creatures. The night hike we went on, in the rainforest, was a huge highlight of the trip. I am afraid of the dark and spiders and snakes. Yet I went on this hike, I got to see things I have never seen before. It  made me appreciate the natural world in a new way and want to protect it.

The final aspect of the trip that I loved was the lessons that I was taught. Sustainability was a major part of the program. I have always been interested in sustainability and environmental conservation, but this trip put those abstract ideas into real life scenarios for me. I learned about hydro projects and discussed the conundrum of nature vs. sustainability. It is really better to reduce your carbon footprint by building a dam if it ruins the entire stream eco system of that stream?  I have known for a couple of months now that I wanted to major in environmental studies in college and have a career in that field. On this trip I got to see many possible careers that I could enter in this field; it made me excited and it made my passion grow. Now I am more sure of my major than I have ever been before. We also made sustainability action plans while on this trip. One of my goals that I have adhered to thus far is to only eat organic/natural meat. I haven’t fish eaten in years because the issue of overfishing upsets me. Many people have tried to tell me that farmed fish are better, but they use chemicals and end up polluting the water around the fish habitat. In a way they are worse. For me, there is never a way to do right by eating fish. But I also realized that by eating meat that comes from factories, knowing full well the inhumane treatment that goes on there, was a double standard. From now on I only eat organic/natural meat. This trip has renewed my passion and made me take sustainability more serious in my daily life.

In conclusion, I had a great time on my program in Ecuador. I learned a lot, not just from the lessons that were taught but also from the communities living around us and from my peers.