Drumroll please…Week 1 is done!
Get ready for a nice long blog post because so so much has happened in this one week spent in the beautiful Riobamba.
I am proud to say that I have now officially completed my first full week working at summer camp in Riobamba, Ecuador! Camp is absolutely my element. I grew up going to sports camps, church camps, and ranch camps and always treasured my experiences there and I find it so rewarding to be a part of a similar experience for these students here in Riobamba.
While I have taught for practicums and occasionally at my Elon placements, this is my first experience teaching every single day. It can be tiring, but it is so rewarding to see the students learning more English each day and getting excited about playing vocabulary games and using their language skills in class. Here’s a few photos below from our Friday fun day!
Daily camp life
Every morning, the other volunteers and I meet the students at the front of the school complex as they get dropped off by their families. The students are split into age groups (4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15) and each have a female counselor and male counselor. These counselors are Ecuadorian volunteers who keep track of the students throughout the day, ensure that they all are going to the correct classes, and play games with them during lunch and free times. The Ecuadorian volunteers are all 16-18 and have one more year of high school remaining. It is an absolute life-saver to have them there at camp to help with the students and assist with language barriers.
Every day I teach three or four 40-minute classes and I see each age group twice a week. Thankfully, I also have an Ecuadorian volunteer that is partnered specifically with me who helps me out in the classroom. Her name is Valentina and she is the best! I typically try to explain directions twice in English with lots of hand motions and clear language. I also write the directions down on the board. If there are some students who are still confused, she is able to clarify the directions and help the students stay on track during the activities. She is so great with the students in general and I appreciate her so much.
Every week I am responsible for teaching vocabulary of a different theme. Last week, I focused on teaching professions and this week I am teaching about animals. The most challenging part of my volunteer position is making the lesson plans appropriate for each age group and properly challenging the students. There are 2 students who were born in America who are obviously very advanced, while others are at a beginner level. I know that this is great experience because ability-gap is also a major challenge in the United States! Every class, I feel my confidence growing in my teaching and am very grateful to have this experience.
As a whole, the students are extremely respectful and I have had no major challenges with classroom behavior thus far. At the end of each lesson, the students all thank me for teaching them and say “Chao!” on their way out the door which is pretty much the cutest thing ever. Another challenge for me has been learning to “flow like water” or go with the flow more. In Ecuador, things are not as pre-planned as in America. The first day of camp was mass chaos and we typically start each day late and there are times that I never really know what is going on. In my typical day at Elon, I plan out an hour to grocery shop, 2 hours to study, etc. Here, that is impossible! This majorly stressed me out at first but I am adjusting better each day.
Experiencing local culture
I am so thankful that everyone we have met so far here has been so kind, welcoming, and patient with our Spanish level! Riobamba is a small city of 100,000 but it seems quite small town at the same time. María José knows absolutely everybody in town so always make new aquaintances when we are out with her.
One of the most special parts of puente living situation is that we are lucky enough to basically have 2 host families – the priests who live at the community center with us and our director Maria Jose and her family.
On one of our first evenings here, Maria Jose’s family and one of the priests took us out to the center of the city to join in on a Catholic/native celebration of saints. Maria Jose has a 7 year old daughter and a 15 year old son who are both so fun to hangout with. We enjoyed throwing sticks into the fire, dancing around with locals, and drinking a traditional spiced alcohol drink called Canelazo which is poured freely!
After seeing the fire in the center of the city, we went to another spot where more fires were burning and an Ecuadorian concert was happening. It was such a good start to the trip.
On our first weekend in Riobamba, Maria Jose also invited us to a big family almuerzo at her parents’ house in Chambo and to her aunt’s alpaca farm (yes, you read that right!).
Maria Jose’s parents’ house is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. Chambo is a small town outside of Riobamba that is completely surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Her parents’ house has huge windows that showcase the spectacular view and a huge yard with fresh veggies growing and plenty of room to play outside.
I felt so instantly at home even with my floundering Spanish. Family time is extremely important here in Ecuador and we were at her parents’ house from 11:00am-6pm. We ate a traditional meal of hornado (delicious!) with white corn, fresh juice, and potatoes outside around a big table. After lunch, we lounged around inside and let our food settle and then decided it was time for some competition. Maria Jose’s family taught us Americans an Ecuadorian game that is sort of like a version of kickball except instead of kicking the ball you use a volleyball and hit it with your arms.
Maria Jose’s family is just as competitive as my own and I had so much fun running around and joking around with everyone. Many “vamos equipo, vamos equipo!” chants were made on this day.
The next day, Maria Jose and her husband and 2 kids took us out to a town in the mountains to visit her aunt’s farm. I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the home and surrounding scenery are. Jose’s aunt and her husband built this home completely by hand. It magically manages to reflect and enhance the surrounding fields without taking away from the beauty. Inside the home is a workshop where the family creates hand-made goods that are sold around South America and in the United States. On the farm, the family raises bunnies, sheep, and alpacas to sheer for fur in order to make these products. From start to finish the family raises the animals, sheers them, turns the wool into balls of yarn, and handknits beautiful items. I could not leave without buying a beautiful alpaca sweater that I know will always take me back to this incredible memory.
I felt like a little kid running around the farm with Maria Jose’s kids, looking at the river below, and watching alpacas gallop around. It is in moments like this that the language barrier does not matter and that differences become small – I am reminded of my own humanity and of the beauty and grace in the world all at once.
This past weekend, our WorldTeach volunteer friends were kind enough to visit us from their jungle town, Tena. We had such a good time catching up, talking about teaching, and exploring more of Riobamba together.
The highlight of their visit was a group trip to the towering mountain nearby, Chimbarazo. Chimbarazo is the highest point on Earth because of Riobamba’s elevation and location on the equator and the 2nd tallest mountain in the world after Mt. Everest. The priests were kind enough to drive us all on this adventure and their expertise and explanations enhanced our experience greatly! Traveling with locals can never be beat.
The base of Chimbarazo is about a 30 minute drive away from our house here and you can tell when you have arrived because Chimbarazo is actually a volcano that erupted around 500 years after christ. The rest of the area is lush and green but once you reach Chimbarazo, it is as if you have suddenly transported to New Mexico or Arizona. The priests stopped a few times at a distance so that we could take photos (and see more alpacas!) and the wind was absolutely brutal.
Once we drove up further and reached the base level of Chimbarazo, it actually wasn’t as cold because the sun is so strong at that altitude. From this base level, we were able to hike up (about 45 minutes) nearly to where the snow-cap began! As a result of the altitude, my out-of-shapeness, and the steepness of the mountain, this hike was extremely difficult for me – altitude is no joke! Luckily I had friends to encourage me and I huffed and puffed my way up to 5,000 meters or 15,000 feet.
On the way home from Chimbarazo, we had to make a stop in a small village town when we saw that they were having a rodeo fiesta! It seemed as if the whole town was out on the streets and in the stadium watching the vaqueros lasso bulls. We were definitely the only foreigners there and I feel so fortunate for the little moments like this where I get to observe the traditions and cultures here.
Muchas gracias to the people of Riobamba for being absolutely incredible and to those who made it possible for me to volunteer here this summer! I cannot wait to see what the next 5 weeks will hold.
With love and gratitude,