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christine beitl, ecuador, 2009-2010

Fulbright Year: 2009-2010
Country: Ecuador
Proposal Type: Research
Field of Study: Anthropology
Proposal Title: Collective Action and Social-Ecological Resilience on the Ecuadorian Coast
UGA Graduate Department: Anthropology
Graduation Date: PhD in Anthropology
Hometown: Hasbrouck Heights, NJ

Working with Ecuadorian artisanal fishers who depended on their native mangrove wetlands for their jobs and subsidence, Christine Beitl learned during her Fulbright year that there are many different and effective ways to communicate.

“Essentially, the Fulbright program enabled me to do research within an international context, influencing my worldviews about how to work, interact socially, and achieve my goals on both professional and personal levels,” says Christine, whose doctoral dissertation research probed the role of collective action and cooperation in the sustainable use and conservation of coastal resources.

“Working in an international context with diverse cultural groups has taught me to communicate in several ways, from different ways of greeting to culturally sensitive problem-solving.  I learned that communication is beyond language and that ways of communicating also reflect cultural norms, some of which are different from what I am accustomed to.”

Christine says she was pleasantly surprised to find so many people in Ecuador who were willing to jump through hoops to accommodate her.

“One of the most interesting parts about being a Fulbrighter was setting up an institutional affiliation during the application process, which taught me a lot about the importance of social networks and personal relationships in Ecuadorian society,” she says. “During the summer before my research began, I went to Ecuador to carry out this task. To my surprise, my Ecuadorian contacts went above and beyond any of my expectations in facilitating my collaboration with others and actively incorporating me into their network, encouraging me to branch out and reach as many sectors of Ecuadorian society as possible.

“Presenting my research ideas and interacting with so many different people ultimately helped me to further identify the needs of the country and see my own research project from different angles. It was an excellent orientation, providing life-long lessons about how to work, what to expect, and how to make things happen in coastal Ecuador. The insights I gained from the experience are beyond the scope of my project and I will remember them for the rest of my life.”

Christie adds that she found it ironic that in these times of virulent commentary and legislation regarding immigration in the United States, she was made to feel among family in Ecuador.

“During one of my last days in Ecuador, I was explaining my research project to my friend Francisco from Guayaquil, and he thanked me for what I have done for his country and then corrected himself, ‘Sorry, it is your country,’” she says. “At first, I thought he was joking or being sarcastic. But he was not the first Ecuadorian I met who thanked me for being in Ecuador — there were at least two others before him.

“It made me reflect on where I came from and wonder if I had ever heard a U.S. citizen speak of their appreciation of foreigners, especially immigrants. Have we thanked our immigrants for contributing to the growth and prosperity of the United States of America, ironically, a nation of immigrants? Have we thanked foreigners for their introduced ideas and innovations, cultural diversity, and new opportunities? Have we thanked them for the ways they have enriched our American cuisine, music, popular culture, and arts? Instead of criticizing foreigners for not being willing to learn English, how many of us have moved beyond this bizarre resistance to bilingualism and made an effort to learn other languages to truly appreciate the difficulty of such a task?”

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