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Lisset Jaramillo Centeno on her Life as Beauty Queen

Miss Ecuador UK 2011
Postgraduate Student in Sustainable Tourism
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa (left)

Please tell us about your birthplace.

I was born in Portoviejo, the capital of Manabi, a beautiful province located on the coast of Ecuador. It is famous for its straw hats, delicious seafood, and pretty women.

Could you tell us about your experiences outside Ecuador.

I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student when I was 18. Later I spent two years on the London campus of the University of Wales, Lampeter, where I studied Business Management, while working part-time at many hotels and luxury residences in London.

How did you get from a foreign student to a beauty queen in London?

I won the title of Miss Ecuador UK in April 2011. The purpose of the contest was that the winner should mobilize Ecuadorian migrants to work on projects for the improvement of their human rights and relationships with the international community, as well as to promote the tourism of Ecuador and to do social work. But I felt my mission was not only to assist Ecuadorians in England, but also to help vulnerable groups in Ecuador whose needs exceeded those of the former.

Could you tell us how you fulfilled your missions?

Among other things, I took a 10-day trip, paid out of my own pocket, to Ecuador during which about 30 beauty queens from all the provinces of Ecuador and I attended festivities for Quito’s Independence Day to promote the country’s products, heritage and culture. I also visited Quito’s most dangerous prison which runs a school and workshops for inmates. I sang two songs for the inmates. They showed their appreciation through poems dedicated to me and Ecuadorian souvenirs made by themselves.

Is it true you barged into the office of the President of Ecuador without an appointment?

I had wanted to meet President Rafael Correa and give him a half-year report of my activities as Miss Ecuador UK. I went to the Palace of Carondelet in Quito, approached security and explained my purpose. They said I needed an official invitation which I didn’t have. But I kept insisting and eventually they let me pass through the first security door. At the second door, I talked to everyone there whom I thought would know the President. A man, who turned out to be one of the President’s personal assistants, said he would help me because he could see how much I loved my country.

After waiting for more than three hours, he informed me that the President would like to invite me to an event that evening. A few hours later, I found myself sitting in the first row next to the beauty queen of Quito and the city mayor. When President Correa arrived, he approached me and asked if I was living in London with my family. I said I was living and working there alone, but I would come back to Ecuador one day. The President had stayed in Belgium and the US as a student, so he understands how migrants feel. He hugged me and gave me a beautiful orchid inside a transparent box with his business card. I was speechless. Yet the dream did not finish there.

What happened next?

The President then went to the balcony of the palace to greet the people, and we went with him. I saw my family down there. They waved at me. I thanked President Correa for the opportunity to be there and gave him my report and a little souvenir from London. After that, I was invited to go with him to Chimbacalle where the first train station of Quito was built. I ended up singing on stage with him, and the VIPs such as congressmen of the National Assembly of Ecuador and the mayor of Quito. He also asked me to give a message to the people on behalf of the Ecuadorian migrants in the UK. Then we all danced. I will never forget this day.

Why did you choose to study Sustainable Tourism at CUHK?

Since I wanted to continue my studies, I decided to apply to the Universities of Academic Excellence Scholarship Programme, an initiative of President Correa’s to enable Ecuadorian students to study at the best universities of the world. CUHK was the only university from Hong Kong that was in the top 25 best universities for social science master’s programmes and it has what I was looking for. Moreover, as a tourism professional, I consider it very important to visit all the continents and Asia was one I had not yet set foot on.

What are your impressions of Hong Kong?

Hot! I came in August and took due note of the temperature. I’m also impressed by how people have created land for themselves through land reclamation. I love the islands and the New Territories. Tung Ping Chau, Tai Mo Shan, Cheung Chau, Sha Tau Kok…. So much variety in those places. I have only been here a few months yet I have seen much more than the shopping paradise that everyone thinks Hong Kong is.