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Maria Gabriela Palacio Ludeña: ‘I see my true purpose in the classroom’

Before Maria Gabriela Palacio Ludeña became a lecturer International Studies at Leiden University, she was a public administrator in Ecuador. Her whole life she had a desire to teach and eventually she wound up at Leiden University.

‘Teaching is something I naturally enjoy’

‘I come from a family of teachers. Since I was a child I was already teaching to my cousins and my dog. Teaching is something I naturally enjoy, but I never considered the possibility that it would happen in the Netherlands.’

‘I’m from Ecuador where I worked for public administration and consultancy. At the time there was a bilateral agreement between the Ecuadorian and Dutch government for a fellowship programme to train young public administrators in topics such as Poverty Studies. After 15 months I was supposed to go back to Ecuador, but I had this epistemological crisis. I just did not want to go back without further exploring the critique about poverty reduction initiatives I learned about during my studies. I was offered a PhD-position and called my boss: “I’m sorry, I’m not coming back”. I liked my old job, but I could see my true purpose in the classroom.’

‘I lecture for the course Economy: Latin America, but I do some of the tutorials too. It’s interesting seeing students who are timid during the lectures really engage during a tutorial. I’m also in charge of Practising International Studies together with Sarita Koendjbiharie and we recruit the organisations to work with students. I put a lot of time in building the students’ confidence during this course, it’s a lot of invisible work. Next to that I supervise internships. Because of my experience outside of academia I’m happy to guide students into making the transition from academia to work.’

Sense of belonging

‘After nine years I feel more at home in the English language than my mother tongue. I don’t consider myself Dutch, but if I went back to Ecuador I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable there either. Because I have been away for so long, I don’t fully belong there anymore. The hidden cost of being a mobile person is having to detach from a particular location. It made me more empathetic to people who feel that they don’t quite belong. I think it motivated me to accept the role of chair of the Leiden University Diversity and Equality Network: we all struggle with being different, and I hope we can accommodate this difference in our institution.’

‘There’s this song by the Talking Heads where they sing “How did I get here?”; that’s often how I feel. I know that I’m a dedicated person, but sometimes I doubt myself. As a woman from Latin America, it wasn’t always that easy. For example, I had to live with the fear of not having a residence permit if I would lose my job. There were many things that made me question how committed I was to my decision to stay in The Netherlands. I’m very lucky to have an amazing network of friends, of which most are also expats, who are my family here and understand me. I think it’s crucial to have a safety net.’

Walking and talking

‘I have this necessity to connect with people. If such a thing as a soul exists, there’s a craving of my soul to connect. Walking and talking is the most natural way to connect with someone in my opinion. When you walk, you can’t look at each other and therefore don’t have to worry about whether the other person likes what you are saying. If I want a serious conversation with a friend, I go with them for a walk.’

‘I enjoy yoga and meditation. I think the phrase “If the healer is sick, she/he cannot heal” applies to me: if I don’t work on myself it’s very difficult to go to a classroom and leave something positive to students. Yoga is very good for peace of mind. I also really enjoy time on my own. Latin America is beautiful, but it’s always full with people. In the Netherlands I can take my time to read, listen to music or simply enjoy solitude.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

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