Southeast Renews Exchange with UDLA as Students Explore Ecuadorian Healthcare


Southeast Missouri State University officials renewed a formal exchange agreement last week with the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA) in Quito, Ecuador.

The agreement renews a relationship forged between the two institutions in 2012 and was celebrated last week at UDLA by Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, Southeast professor of Spanish language and culture, and Maria Isabel Salvador, UDLA director of external relations.

Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, right, Southeast professor of Spanish language and culture, and Maria Isabel Salvador, UDLA director of external relations, celebrate the renewal of an agreement between Southeast and UDLA.

“May our relationship continue growing stronger each year as together we open the doors of the world to our students,” Lee-DiStefano said.

As partner institutions, Southeast and the Universidad de las Americas Granados work closely to encourage students to participate in short- and long-term study abroad at both Southeast in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and UDLA in Ecuador.

“We have received about six students from UDLA, and we have sent about 10 students there,” Lee-DiStefano said. “We have two new students coming to Southeast from UDLA in the fall. Our students are a big part of their international promotion.”

Lee-DiStefano in collaboration with UDLA recently created a study abroad program for Southeast students to study the health professions in Ecuador. She along with Dr. Sally Spalding, Southeast assistant professor of communication studies, recently returned from a 13-day exploration of the healthcare systems in Ecuador May 19-June 1 with a group of seven Southeast student. The experience is part of Southeast’s new Spanish for the Health Professions minor.

Students visited a hospital where public health promotion and prevention is practiced.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to expand their global literacy were Jordan Allen, of New Madrid, Missouri, a psychology major with a minor in Spanish; Caleb Austin, a Spanish major from Parma, Missouri; Alisea Hibbs, a biology major with a minor in Spanish for the health professions, from Chatham, Illinois; Preston Holifield of Farmington, Missouri, a nursing major with a minor in Spanish for the health professions; Aslee Shovan of Jackson, Missouri, a nursing major with a minor in Spanish for the health professions; Lauryn Torluemke of O’Fallon, Missouri, a nursing major with a minor in Spanish for the health professions; and Lily Waswo, a nursing major with a minor in Spanish for the health professions.

“They were an excellent group of students,” Lee-DiStefano said. “They asked good questions and made really good observations as we discussed what we were seeing. They made long lasting relationships with their host families who took such wonderful care of them. They tried new fruits and foods, and they saw the wonders of the Andes Mountains and the Amazonia. They endured curves and hours of bus time. Most importantly they got a pretty good snapshot of how health is approached in another country.”

Southeast’s relationship with UDLA provided the group with expert lectures and visits on not only the Ecuadoran health system, but also on a more compassionate, intercultural approach to health and how understanding the whole person can help improve healthcare practices and a person’s whole health.

“They saw the difference between theory and practice, where government efforts have fallen short of what has been promised,” she said. “They saw the incorporation of traditional medicines and how nature can be a great ally in health. I hope they take this experience as they continue on their journeys and it helps them in their future careers.”

Student Caleb Austin said the experience was very rewarding.

“Ecuador is such a beautiful nation full of the friendliest people you will ever meet,” he said. “This has been such an enlightening experience, and I cannot express how happy I am that I was able to attend.”

Youth ages 10-19 taught Southeast students how to make bracelets at the Casa Saber Pega Full.

The students visited Jambi Huasi, an alternative medical facility in Otavalo, Ecuador, allowing patients to choose between western and ancestral medicine as forms of healing. The group spent several days at UDLA Park discussing a variety of health-related topics, including global health as they compared primary care in the United States and Ecuador. They explored the history of health systems; visited Salud al Paso; and toured several medical facilities, including the Hospital del Sur, a hospital in Tena, a rural hospital in Nanegalito and a health center in the Historic Center. They also volunteered with Casa Saber Pega Full, a social service health and sexual protection oriented municipal organization for youth from low-income neighborhoods, and visited with Archidona, a midwives’ community in the Amazonia, where they demonstrated their traditional medicines.

Students sampled fruta, heart of palm, potatoes, bamboo, beans, smoked fish, frog and grubs at a meal at a sustainable farm.

Also in Amazonia, the group visited a sustainable farm, where they enjoyed a dinner of products that came from that farm. The group also attended a presentation at UDLA Park as part of an Intercultural Approach to Health Conference. The presentation offered a comparative analysis of epidemiological profiles in the United States and Ecuador. The students also went to Mindo as well as the Mitad del Mundo (the equator).

The students also had many opportunities to explore Ecuador, including sailing the Napo River, visiting Quilotoa, and touring Quito Eterno and Museo de la Ciudad.

Lee-DiStefano says the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the culture was invaluable.

The Southeast group visited Mitad del Mundo — the equator.

“When I talk to the students, they tell me how much it changed them. Even just two weeks in another setting can change your thinking, can affect how you see the world,” she said. “When I hear them using their Spanish and are able to convey meaning, seeing their confidence grow, makes it worth it. When I see their faces, when they’re seeing something new, that look of awe and wonder is worth it.

“I have students on trips who have never flown, who have never left their region, who have never been around people different from them, who have never been in cities. The human growth that can come from these experiences is incredible and so worth it,” she said.