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JUSTINE DISTEFANO

Over the summer I attended a study abroad skills workshop for course credit through the University of Massachusetts, in Boston. The Conflict Transformation Across Borders program took place in Quito, Ecuador and particularly focused on issues facing the northern border region of Ecuador.

I learned a lot about the Colombian armed conflict and the various irregular groups such as FARC or paramilitary as well as the tensions between Ecuador and Colombia at the northern border. I got to experience firsthand the urban rural divide, living in a capital city like Quito but also getting to explore the rural provinces of Ecuador near the Amazon region as well as the Andes mountains.

Many Venezuelans are fleeing the country and migrating to neighboring countries such as Ecuador because of the crisis in Venezuela politically, economically, and socially. Ecuador is one of the few countries in Latin America that has an open door refugee policy and is working closely with UNHCR and UNDP to ensure refugee and asylum seekers are able to integrate into Ecuadorian society.

Our skills based workshops on reconciliation, negotiation, and mediation were all extremely useful for future professional careers in foreign diplomacy and international relations. Reconciliation, negotiation and mediation can be facilitated between two or more parties as well governments. Both professors that taught in the program had worked for international organizations in the past such as the UN and the World Bank, so they were able to share their first hand experiences with the students to make the course more enriching.

For example, we learned different ways to analyze conflicts to ensure that when action is taken it is informed action with realistic solutions. We also would plan for different outcomes in case best or worst case scenarios. Other lecture topics that we discussed were gendered issues of migration, such as sexual violence. We also studied economy vs ecology in relation to indigenous tribes living in the amazon region and how hegemonic capitalist powers are influencing their lives as well as the environment. We got to hear from many guest lecturers from the UNCHR or UNDP about how their organizations are tackling the current Venezuelan crisis and Colombian conflict.

Our final project consisted of a proposal for a pilot development program that would transform a conflict transnationally, therefore my group decided to propose a social integration method for Colombian, Ecuadorian and Venezuelan women through basic skills training. This has helped shape the focus of my capstone project in the Global Studies MA program because I am now exploring how to expand on this project proposal in terms of international development and human rights in Latin America, specifically for women who are sex workers, and finding ways to provide them economic opportunities in order to empower them to become contributing members of society and eliminate gender inequality.