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Living here while the United States was at war added an interesting dimension to my experience. I arrived in Ecuador while the US government was preparing to invade Iraq, and I’ve been here throughout the subsequent war and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Witnessing these events from a foreign country has given me a unique perspective on how Ecuadorians view Americans–and our government.

Many people I meet here are fond of Americans but dislike our nation’s foreign policy. But like many other people around the world, most Ecuadorians recognize that Americans are individuals, and that we don’t always agree with our government’s policies. In the case of our war with Iraq, many Ecuadorians saw America’s military actions as characteristically bullying: the world’s strongest country flexing its muscles. The US’s conflict with Iraq angered many Ecuadorians because it was a war, I’ve heard them say, that didn’t need to happen–it was a war of choice.

Despite their displeasure with America’s actions in Iraq, I’ve encountered many Ecuadorians who are simultaneously attracted to our culture: our movies and our popular music, for example. And especially our TV shows: in two separate classes, I asked my students to list the US cities they’re familiar with. After exhausting the obvious metropolises–New York, Los Angeles, Chicago–students in both classes reluctantly and half-jokingly volunteered another locale: “Springfield,” they said, referring to the fictional home of “Los Simpsons,” as they’re known here.

Ecuadorians are also quite familiar with a more serious aspect of American society: the economic opportunities that are available inside the US. Like in many other developing countries, emigrants–mostly men–frequently venture to the States from Ecuador in order to work and send money home to their relatives. In fact, a small town nearby, Gualaceo, has virtually no male residents over the age of eighteen. They’ve all gone to the US and Spain. And so some Ecuadorians, rightly so, see America for its employment potential.

My Ecuadorian friends occasionally ask me why I chose to move to Ecuador and what I did before I arrived here. Sometimes, when I answer, I think back to my time in Atlanta. In subtle ways, attending Emory helped broaden my vision of the world.

As an English major, I learned about life; studying literature–what some call “life written down”–taught me about the human stories that are central the world over. I recently taught a course on literature and creative writing. To my great pleasure, I discovered that not only were my high school-age students able to comprehend the rather complex American and British short stories we read, but their impressions of them were similar to what mine had been when I first encountered them. The stories transcended language: even though my students’ native tongue was Spanish, it didn’t matter that the texts were written in English.

My studies at Emory also showed me how information is transmitted between people, countries, and cultures. To a certain extent, the media and the entertainment industry define our perspective. The way we see the world depends on our how–and from whom–we receive our written and visual portrayal of it.

In following the war, I read both Ecuadorian and American newspapers. The papers here often described the war in human terms: civilians were frequently shown fleeing burning villages, for example. American newspapers, however, seemed to focus more on military strategy; with all of their elaborate maps and illustrations and their clinical descriptions of bombing campaigns, it was sometimes easy to forget that soldiers and civilians were actually dying.

As I expected it would, my time here has taught me about the people of Ecuador. An unexpected result of being here while the US was at war, however, is that by viewing my home country’s actions from abroad, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the factors that affect Americans’ comprehension of the world–and I’ve come to see how people in other countries form their perceptions of the United States.

Newley Purnell’s Web site is





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