Oberlin Blogs

Greetings from Ecuador

September 6, 2009

Charles Grim

Sunday, September 6
En route from Quito to Santiago via Lima

We had a great 2 days in Quito. We met a number of good students and had a wonderful dinner Friday night with counselors from five Quito schools. But just the fact that we actually had two whole days in the same country was astounding and refreshing.

Yesterday we took a two-hour drive to the small town of Otavalo. Meandering through deep cuts and along precarious mountain roads in the volcanic Ecuadorian peaks, stopping off at a lake nestled into an extinct volcano, noting the deep pocks from wind erosion in the sheer faces alongside the highway gave me a new appreciation of geology and the people who study it. It was nice to find that my theory that the sedimentary rock was, in fact, the accumulation of volcanic rock rather than an ancient sea bed that had been lifted by crashing tectonic plates. Enough about geology; if you want to learn more about this field consider a course or two or even a major in geology when you get to Oberlin.

The town of Otavalo is known for its huge open-air market. We did our part to support the local economy by purchasing shawls, ponchos, beads, and even a llama hand carved from lava! After a lunch of hornados (meat pulled from a whole fire-roasted pig) served with corn, potatoes, and a delicious tomato salsa, we headed back to Quito, where I had an appointment to meet the parents of one of our new students.

Oberlin parents are just amazing. Even if they only provided the financial support necessary to study at Oberlin and gave us the grave honor of trusting us to care for and educate their children for four years, we and their children would be forever indebted. However, parents often do so much more. Each spring a group of current parents - including a few international parents - volunteers to speak with the parents of prospective students. One parent of a past student happens to be an independent college counselor in India. She has counseled many students toward considering Oberlin and even invited me to contribute to a book she was writing that has recently been published. The book is designed to help Indian students prepare for and adjust to study in the US. Another parent arranged a driver for me last year in Korea and when the cost was more than he anticipated volunteered to cover half of it himself.

But today's parents of note live in Quito. When I called to offer to take them out for coffee, they instead invited me into their home for a delicious dinner. The father (C) is an agronomy professor at a top local university. He showed me around a park he was developing with the help of his students that will eventually consist only of indigenous Ecuadorian plants. In his own backyard, C has possibly the highest coffee "plantation" in the world. Ok, it only has a few plants, but he will be harvesting soon. The mother (M) was a most gracious hostess, showing me her original canvas and pottery creations and sharing stories of her family's migration to Ecuador. While the company and the absolutely delicious homemade lasagna were a welcome respite from restaurant food, the highlight of the visit was hearing how welcomed M and her son had felt when they first arrived at Oberlin. Her memories of her own college experience and those of her brother who also attended our international orientation in August made me proud that Oberlin is so committed to making its new students feel at home from the moment they touch down. M had also been comparing notes with other parents who had recently dropped their students off at other colleges and universities in the States. She is convinced that we are the most welcoming around. I plan to take her up next year on her offer to help with a presentation to parents of other students who might be interested in sending their sons and daughters north. With supportive parents like these it is a real treat to work for Oberlin. I hope you and your family have the chance to learn just how welcoming we can be!

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