Yandel Santos

Lehigh Launch: Every day is a day to learn

The "Lehigh Launch" series highlights first-semester students' experiences learning about the literature, earth and environment, and peoples of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in Fall 2022. Yandel Santos ‘26 shares their experience.

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

What drew you to Lehigh Launch?: Lehigh Launch granted me an outlet to explore the richness of diversity internationally. I desired to become a more dynamic and holistic individual by immersing myself in a different culture. I knew that in order to become a better citizen of the world and advocate/initiate real change, I must first become familiar with the customs of different people and embrace scenery other than the one I had been raised in. Studying abroad is an opportunity for me to contextualize the material I learn demonstrating the importance of learning outside the classroom through tangible experiences. Gaining this global perspective would provide me with the tools, like adaptation, necessary to evolve as a student and person in general.

What did you like most about Lehigh Launch?: The ability to experience nature firsthand while honing my Spanish skills is a component of Lehigh Launch that is enriching. I am able to navigate the issues of Ecuador and compare them to that of my home country–the United States–and internationally. The program touches upon significant dilemmas such as deforestation in the Amazon, preservation of Indigenous cultures, and waste management in the Galápagos among many others. Whether it is living in the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the middle of the jungle and spotting jaguars and caimans or buying handmade crafted goods in the Otavalo market, every day invites me to see new wonders. It has given me the chance to learn from other people with different backgrounds, ideas, and views on the world.

What was the best thing you learned?: To be inquisitive, explore, and ask meaningful questions are significant learning points I have encountered while on this trip. This also includes how to adapt to different situations like how many indigenous communities have acculturated to preserve their lifestyle when met with encroaching values of other cultures. Trying new things is essential – whether it be food like Tigrillo, experiences like canyoning, or simply speaking in a different language. Every day is a day to learn. It is vital to have an open mind and have fun.

What is a fun fact from the trip?: The group met and chatted with the protagonist (Maria Virginia Farinango) of The Queen of Water – an ethnographic novel that analyzes and tells the story of a young girl from a Quichua community as she traverses the conflicts of identity.

What is something you wish you knew before you packed your bags?: Pack long-sleeved clothes – both shirts and pants! Although Ecuador is in close proximity to the equator, Quito is situated on the Andes at high elevations. As a result, the climate can be a bit chilly at times. Locals like to joke that Quito can experience all four seasons in one day. It is always handy to carry a light jacket at all times as the weather does fluctuate often.