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International exchange builds connections between Indigenous students from across the world. 

A group of students and faculty pose in front of the old well holding an Ecuadorian flag and a UNACH flag.
Undergraduate delegations from both UNACH and UNC-Chapel Hill pose with Ecuadorian and UNACH flags in front of the Old Well.

In a new international exchange between UNC-Chapel Hill and the National University of Chimborazo (UNACH) in Ecuador, Indigenous students from both universities are connecting with each other and thinking of ways to engage to positively affect their communities. The program, “Hearing from a New Generation: University Support for Indigenous and Rural Youth,” is organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs and co-led by Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, professor of anthropology, and Luis Alberto Tuaza, vice rector of research, engagement and graduate studies at UNACH, with funding from the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. 

“When we create space for these dialogues to occur, we find that Indigenous students regardless of where they are in the world are confronting similar challenges,” said Danielle Hiraldo, director of the American Indian Circle at Carolina. “UNC’s partnership with UNACH allows our students to better understand the solutions other Indigenous students are employing to address these challenges and vice versa.” 

Indigenous students, faculty and administrators from UNACH and UNC will spend time together in both North Carolina and Ecuador. The first part of the program included a delegation from UNACH visiting North Carolina from Nov. 4-11, where students participated in activities on UNC’s campus and in other parts of the state.

On-campus activities included discussions and workshops on cultural preservation and university engagement and support for Indigenous and Latinx students organized by UNC’s American Indian Center, the Carolina Latinx Center, the Carolina Indian Circle student group and the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs. 

“We were excited to learn about the research agendas on language, health and agriculture that are being carried out by UNC’s Indigenous students,” Tuaza said. “These actions inspire us to have joint research agendas with UNC and to be able to write research results in a comparative perspective.” 

The group also travelled to the Qualla Boundary in the western part of the state where they were hosted by the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program and engaged in discussions and exchange with members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian on the topics of Cherokee and Kitchwa culture, language and cultural preservation and economic development. Finally, the program culminated in a visit to Star, NC, to learn about rural economic development through arts entrepreneurship. 

“The Cherokee visit was especially beautiful. They have a management that is admirable, and seeing it was very valuable. It gave me some ideas for the development of my community tourism,” said Nataly Sefla, a student majoring in tourism at UNACH.  

The latter half of the exchange will take place in summer 2024, when UNACH will host a group of UNC students and youth workers from Cherokee for a similar Ecuador-based program. 

The Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs organizes exchange and sponsored programs with the goal of “bringing the world to Carolina” and increasing opportunities for international cultural and academic exchange — a goal that’s spelled out in the university’s strategic plan, “Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good.”   

“The Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs is a powerful ally to faculty and the core work we do around teaching and building our own international networks,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said. “For faculty it’s a chance to mentor students and some real-world relationship building and research, so that they could see that globalization is not just something that they’re reading about, but that building global ties is something that they can do directly with what they’re learning from you in your class.” 

As a result of the UNC-UNACH exchange program involving Indigenous youth, the two universities developed a memorandum of understanding, opening the door for further collaboration between faculty and students. UNC’s Vice Provost for Global Affairs Barbara Stephenson and her counterpart at UNACH, Tuaza, signed the memorandum during a welcome reception for the Ecuadorian group. 

“The visit has motivated us to form an Indigenous student association at UNACH and in order to promote research related to Indigenous nationalities, to have spaces for organization and mutual support, and to promote collaborative actions with our communities,” Tuaza said. 

“This program is really beneficial because people forget that global Indigeneity is a thing, and I am glad that UNC recognizes that,” Leslie Arenas-Ramirez, culture chair for Carolina Indian Circle and biology and Indigenous studies major at Carolina, said. “There are Indigenous people who are in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, China.” 

Students from both Ecuador and Carolina have the unique opportunity to learn from one another, building strong ties with Indigenous youth from across the world.

By Maggie Mcintyre ’25, Global Affairs

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