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After four years as Coordinator of the Office of International Programs at West Kentucky University, Andrea Cheney had the opportunity to launch the inaugural International Year Of Ecuador. The International Year Of (Ecuador in this first edition) program is intended to be an annual series—each year featuring academic courses and co-curricular programs, such as lectures, performances, exhibits, among other events and curriculum featuring the target country.

“The International Year Of (IYO) program is a compilation of various efforts with a single country serving as the common thread,” said Andrea Cheney. “The selection of Ecuador for the inaugural country of focus was, in many respects, a natural one. Ecuador’s diverse geography and rich history and culture have proven absolutely ideal for our inaugural IYO. This program could be viewed as another strategy to ensure that every WKU students’ academic experience has international dimensions and one that does not require a passport”

Andrea also explained that both WKU and Kentucky boast a number of connections to Ecuador, many of them decades long. Prominent among the state connections is the Kentucky-Ecuador Partners, one of the most active partnerships in Partners of the Americas. WKU linkages to Ecuador include a student exchange partnership with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, a small liberal arts university in the capital city, along with a host of faculty members with long-standing professional connections to the country.

Through her work at the Office of International Programs, Andrea helps drives WKU towards comprehensive internationalization in several important ways. One of those approaches is to invest in the international development of faculty, staff, and students in order to expand their opportunities to engage with other cultures, whether in their academic courses or in their campus dining! For example, last spring, WKU partnered with Aramark, WKU’s food service provider, to send District Chef, Gil Holts, to Ecuador for a two-week program. Following this experience, Chef Holts took this new knowledge and incorporated an array of Ecuadorian dishes to the on-campus and catering menus. This means that students, faculty, staff, and guests have regular opportunities to sample delicious Ecuadorian dishes, such as llapingachos, empanadas, and ají.

Andrea also explained that another area of focus for OIP is campus programming. OIP partners with academic and non-academic units to offer programs and events with international themes to WKU students as well as the surrounding community. As co-curricular programs, they are intended to enhance and strengthen the overall academic experience.

For WKU, the IYO Ecuador is a yearlong celebration and discovery of Ecuador. It is an opportunity for the entire WKU campus and surrounding community to collectively explore this fascinating and inspiring South American country, to learn about the ways in which we, in the U.S. and Kentucky, are linked to Ecuador, as well as the things that set Ecuador apart and make it so distinctive.

The framework of the IYO program enables different WKU groups to determine how Ecuador is relevant for them and explore those themes. For example, the Music Department might want to feature a particular musician or style of music that originated in or is of particular significance in Ecuador where the Office of Sustainability might choose to focus on sustainable agriculture and production. OIP provides funding to support the hosting of speakers, performers, artists, and other specialists brought in by the various academic and non-academic units.

In May of 2014, as part of a faculty study program designed to complement the IYO program, eight WKU faculty members from a range of disciplines traveled to and explored Ecuador for two weeks. This provided participating faculty the opportunity to expand their knowledge of Ecuador broadly and in terms of their own disciplines and then, upon their return, integrate those new examples into their existing courses.

In this first edition of the International Year of Ecuador, which started in June 2014, has attracted more than 2,000 WKU students and WKU community members who have participated in IYO Ecuador events. A conservative estimate indicates that more than 30 IYO Ecuador events (e.g., lectures, classroom presentations, exhibits) have taken place in the first semester alone—expanding their understanding and appreciation for Ecuador and increasing openness to diverse ideas and perspectives.