Recent protests in Ecuador have affected San Diego State students’ study abroad experiences this semester.
It is the second instance of unrest in a South American country that has impacted the university study abroad programs. Earlier this semester, deadly protests in Santiago, Chile, affected international business students studying in the Chilean capital.
Now, students studying abroad in Ecuador may be facing the same fate.
The protests, largely in the capital city of Quito, came in response to President Lenín Moreno’s decision to cut fuel subsidies that caused the price of fuel to skyrocket, according to the New York Times. For SDSU students who chose to spend a semester at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the protests began about halfway through their semester.
International business senior Frank Feeney was one such student. He decided to return to San Diego early and finish his courses online. He said students were given the option to return home, but that he was not required to leave Ecuador.
“It was a situation where they didn’t mandate (returning home),” Feeney said. “I think if (the protests) had gone any further, then they probably would have.”
SDSU International Business Program Director John Putman said students were not required to return home because the situation had not escalated to a point where mandatory evacuation was necessary.
“Part of that was the State Department did not declare mandatory evacuation nor did the California State University System,” Putman said. “Ultimately, we let the students decide if they want to come home if they feel unsafe for any reason.”
Although the protests took place in the same city as the university, Feeney said himself and other students were not directly impacted. However, Feeney said curfews and mandatory student check-ins were required by both the government and the university.
“Not only were there curfews set by the government, but the university also set some stricter curfews just to make sure we were safe,” Feeney said. “When it got really bad, they would ask us to check-in, say where we were and that we were safe.”
Feeney said he also experienced some issues with transportation both nationally and internationally because of the protests.
“The one thing that did impact me was, because of the second wave of protests, I was on my way to Peru and I had to sleep in the airport overnight,” Feeney said. “They had roadblocks set up and what’s called a ‘toque de queda’ (curfew) that restricted movement and transportation. We were advised not to go outside of the city of Quito.”
International business senior Ryan Jones was also studying at Universidad San Francisco de Quito through the SDSU program. He decided to return to his hometown in Pennsylvania to finish the semester online. Jones said the staff at USFQ and SDSU were very communicative throughout the protests.
“Universidad San Francisco de Quito was forwarding Embassy updates to us and were giving us the most consistent updates,” he said. “Then the (international business office) was checking in with us and making sure we were okay.”
SDSU’s partnership with the host university allowed for constant contact and updates on the protests.
“We know exactly who to call,” Putman said. “We’re not just calling the university, we actually have a specific person we’re contacting who communicates with us.”
Senior Advisor and Study Abroad Coordinator Maribel Franco said the international business office was able to advise students on how to stay safe during the protest. USFQ was also available to aid students.
“General protest (information) is to shelter in place, avoid any areas of demonstration,” Franco said. “Any recommendations as far as travel is usually to ensure you stay inside and not participate as they can usually escalate. Their on-site university will usually be communicating with students directly as their first line of support with any help or recommendations they may need.”
Jones added that many of the locals whom he spoke to about the protests were apologetic and didn’t want the country’s current unrest to reflect poorly on Ecuador.
“Every single Ecuadorian I spoke to, they all used the same language,” Jones said. “They would say ‘This is not how my country is. I’m so sorry. I’m ashamed. I’m sorry you have to go through this.’ They understood the protesters but they said this wasn’t what Ecuador is like. They didn’t want us to think any different of Ecuador after this.”
The decision to leave Ecuador was left up to the students, but Jones said he made the difficult choice to return home because of the instability evoked by the protests.
“Between the information overload, the uncertainty of everything and how quickly things were changing, and then all of the ripple effects of being able to travel around, it was just super unstable,” Jones said. “But it was not an easy decision at all.”
The International Business Program is now developing a new workshop to ensure students are prepared and well equipped to handle a potential protest.
“We’re developing a specific workshop on how to handle different incidents just based on the most recent ones that we’ve encountered,” Franco said. “It’s equipping them with their resources on-site. We’re really helping students understand their support as well as what we can and can’t do for them.”