Abroad in Oz: How the Minerva Fellows know they’re Nott at Union anymore

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By Allie Cuozzo

Allie Cuozzo ‘10 is the Minerva Fellow stationed in Estero de Plátano, Equador. English translation: Allie lives in Little Stream of Bananas.  In Estero, where the population is just about the size of an undergraduate Union class, Allie teaches English, dances bachata, actively participates and motivates un Grupo de Mujeres (a Women’s Group) in an entrepreneurial restaurant endeavor, builds revenue for the Group of Artisans, plays with the kids, fishes, coordinates incoming volunteer groups, and administers a high school scholarship program.

There are two streets that run parallel through this village. They are about as long and as narrow as the streets from Blue House to Social Sciences and Green House to Memorial Chapel respectively.  And like those streets tucked inside our    campus, nobody here knows their names. You can ask Luis, Bladimir or Señora Carmen what street they live on and they will all respond, “Estero.”  “I live in Estero.”

This same question could be proposed to a few Union students and the answers would be similar.  “I live on campus,” or “I live at Union.” Before the 2009 school year, President Ainley addressed Union students and faculty and stressed the importance of the fundamental components in which a small, thriving liberal university is based. Those include a robust sense of community with an utmost focus on scholarly endeavors; he referred to this as an academic village. I lived in that village; now I live in this village.  I work, help, drink, dance and dream here in Estero and along the way, the ways of this tiny coastal community have become a part of me.  They have taught me what a simple and actual village life is like.

Uno. People have all the time and energy under the Ecuadorian sun for you. Nothing is more important than one another.

Dos. People communicate by walking through the woods, wading through the river, sliding in the mud and talking. Inside Estero there are no Facebook messages, BBM blah blah nor chatty gmail chat. We look each other in the eyes, open our mouths, converse and share with our fellow villagers.

Tres. People opt to have sex in fields of sugar cane and avocado instead of fields of football.

Cuatro. People greet every single person you pass by saying buenos días, buenas tardes or buenas noches and we bless every single person’s food by saying buen provecho. Imagine a campus of non-stop good mornings, good afternoons and good evenings—how lively it would be! Imagine a West, Upper or Reamer chirping with endless food blessings—how beautiful it would sound!

Cinco. People share. Money is lent from one family to another, food is passed in between kitchens, endless advice is whispered and swapped, time is dedicated to projects that are not their own, and beer is filled and refilled in glasses of all that are present.  This is all done from with the goodness of heart and without expectations. In both cases, I along with Union and Estero’s residents live on nameless streets yet we live together amongst a community.  Inside, we are all but little villagers with big dreams and endless possibilities.

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