Lindsey is from Arizona. She volunteered on the World Endeavors Teaching volunteer program in Ecuador.
What did you to do in a typical day at your volunteer placement?
A typical day at the public primary school where I was placed went from 7:30am to 12:30pm. I helped out in the computer classroom—answering questions about the programs, making sure every student was on the right section, etc. I worked with children from ages 6-12, and I would see each class once a week. And, of course, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at recess every day—playing fútbol, hand games, tag, and learning a TON of Spanish.
How was living with a host family?
I lived with a family that lived near my school. The family had two kids about my age. I also had a roommate and other housemates throughout the three months I was there. We became a really close knit group, and I talk to my host brother (and through him the rest of the family) and my roommates at least every two or three weeks. The relationships that were built in my house were really important to my experience in Ecuador and I can’t begin to express how close we all got.
What was your favorite part of your volunteer work?
My favorite part of my work was recess. Although I learned a lot inside the classroom, I can’t explain how much of what I learned came from the group of kids I spent time with. The students were so welcoming and so enthusiastic and so patient with my Spanish that after a week I felt completely at home. They made a huge impact on the way I view life and especially education.
Why did you choose to go abroad through World Endeavors?
A friend of mine had participated in a World Endeavors program in Thailand, and she had nothing but great things to say about it. When looking at other programs, her testimony really stuck out to me.
What did you do in your free time?
In the evenings I would generally spend time with my host brother, friends from the school, or other volunteers. Once a week I went to volunteer with a friend at a children’s home where he was working. On weekends, some of the volunteers and I would travel. We went to four or five other cities and it was a wonderful experience. We had a lot of freedom on weekends which really gave us an opportunity to experience all of Ecuador.
What advice would you give to someone going to Ecuador?
I would say the most important thing to remember is to be open to new things. The culture, food, family relationships, education system, and expectations are all so different from life in the states and it’s easy to get caught up in the differences instead of embracing them. Having an open mind and trying new things really helped me make the most of my time. Also, you are only there once, so make sure to take advantage of it!
How was the food in Ecuador?
The food was really delicious, even though it didn’t always look or sound so. Breakfast was typically bread, cheese, and freshly squeezed fruit juice (easily my favorite part of Ecuadorian food). Lunch generally starts with some kind of soup, followed by rice, beans and some kind of meat, and served with more fruit juice and sometimes fried plantains. Dinner was typically smaller than lunch, and it varied from empanadas to Chinese food. My favorites include encebollado (an onion soup with fish), empanadas, and anything with plantains.
Any funny language barrier stories or travel mishaps?
I definitely had some trouble my first few weeks at work. One student, Stefanie, was 11 and spoke incredibly quickly. I think I asked her to slow down after every four words. Eventually she would just start saying gobbledygook until I realized she wasn’t speaking in Spanish anymore. Once my Spanish improved, she would simply make a game out of trying to talk too fast for me to understand.
Traveling was an entirely new experience. Coming home from Cuenca, six other volunteers and I took a bus. In the course of the four hour ride, I got locked in the bathroom, another volunteer fell off the toilet into the hall of the bus, the little girl in front of us threw up repeatedly while her father made passes at a few of the volunteers, and one of the tires burst, after which we drove on the metal rim back to Guayaquil. It was one of the funniest five hours of my trip.
What are you doing now? How do you think your time abroad impacted your future plans or general outlook?
I returned to Bowdoin for my junior year in college shortly after getting back to the states. I have been studying education since my freshman year, but my experiences in Ecuador have really helped to shape the way I look at education and the concept of teaching and the time I spent in the classroom has really solidified my desire to become a teacher someday. One important change after this summer is that I feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of working with students who come from completely different backgrounds than me because I was able to connect on a really substantial level with children who I had very little in common with on the surface.