What teaching in Ecuador taught me

When summer camp began, I was really focused on what I would be able to teach my students in the short amount of time that I had with them. This is not a bad goals to have, but I was definitely too caught up in how I was going to achieve this instead of thinking about the students. As one of my professors, Dr. Carpenter always tells us, when you begin teaching you are too focused on yourself and not focused enough on the students and their experience in your classroom.

As the weeks and classes passed by, I found myself being able to forget myself more and more as I was teaching and instead, focus on the students to make sure that their needs were being met. I realized that I had to really listen to them and get them invested in the lessons so that they would care. This realization was a result of many lessons I received inside and outside of my classroom here in Ecuador. Camp is now sadly over and I know that while I did teach my students, they also taught me. The lessons I’ve learned here in Ecuador have already impacted me as an educator and as a person and I’m so excited to begin my student teaching this fall.

Lesson #1: Going with the flow

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love having a plan. I look forward to the start of each new semester when I can color code my Google calendar and perfectly plan each day so that I can maximize my productivity. Here in Ecuador, things definitely did not abide to my color-coded calendar. If you arrive early here you’re early and if you arrive on time you’re still early. While camp was supposed to start at 8:40 each morning, we never started until between 9 and 9:15, majorly cutting into my first lesson plan every day. At first, I was frustrated by my plans getting messed up and I started to put in a little bit less effort knowing that I would not be able to perfectly execute what I had in mind.

However, I soon realized that this cultural difference shouldn’t affect the effort I give to my students or the effort I give for myself. In many ways, “going with the flow” and throwing the plan out the window can turn out better. This way of living forced me to forget myself and my perfect plans and focus on what was best for the students. When we were asked to come up with a final presentation for the parents in just a few days, I realized that I was now more confident and capable because I had been asked to think on my feet the entire summer. I also realize that being flexible and having back-up plans is important in any school anywhere in the world. Sometimes, the people higher-up than myself will have requests of me that seem last minute or challenging and I know that I am now more equipped to deal with those requests in stride.

Lesson #2: Overcoming communication barriers

Throughout my time in Ecuador, I was challenged by the language barrier. When I first arrived, I could barely order food and make basic conversation. In Riobamba, I had to communicate with Ecuadorian volunteers, have school meetings in Spanish, and eat all meals with the priests while only speaking Spanish. I learned to communicate my needs, be a better listener, and be very patient. I now am at a very functional level! I definitely have not completely overcome this challenge by any stretch of the imagination, but I make small gains every day by committing to daily study, being patient with myself, and celebrating all progress.

Lesson #3: Achieving a balance between caring and in control

This lesson really all boils down to my confidence in the classroom and as a person. Before any new classroom placement or teaching task, I am always the most nervous about classroom management. I want the students to be able to see how much I care about their learning and about them as people, but I also know that I need to be in charge of the classroom in order to facilitate and maximize learning.

The first few days of teaching, I was extremely nervous and I was in my own head a lot. After a few crazy events – a fight in my classroom, students showing up late, and some chaotic moments, I realized that I was handling the situations without even thinking about them because my instincts and the things I’ve learned at Elon were kicking in. My students knew that I cared about them partially because of my classroom management and because of my high expectations of them. I once heard a student grumbling as they walked in that my class was her hardest and I silently cheered inside my head.

My most fulfilling teacher experience was seeing the transformation in my students from passive to active learners. With my older groups of students (11-15), I saw the most change. At the beginning of my time, they were quiet and just expected to listen and give one “correct” answer and then be done. Each day, I pushed them to have more conversation and to discuss the “why” of their answer. On one of the last days of classes, I asked them how they would like to run their final presentation and present to their parents. I was shocked when nearly all of the students raised their hands and began to offer opinions on how to get their parents talking. The ideas that they suggested were activities that we had been working on the entire course of the summer. It was amazing to see my students take charge in the classroom and see the value in the young leaders that they are becoming! The more of an active role I asked my students to take, the less talking and side conversations I had in the classroom.

Lesson #4: People matter the most

Lastly, the most important lesson I’ve been reminded of this summer is that it’s the people, not the places, that matter the most. This is my first time ever coming to South America and I had no idea what to expect. Would the people be different?! Would I be able to communicate?! Would I make friends?!

Now, as I sit here with my 7 year old host-sister who somehow understands that I can only understand if she speaks slowly and manages to communicate with me perfectly, I can tell you that these fears were completely erased as soon as I arrived. Even without perfect Spanish, it is possible to communicate with smiles, with the attempt to speak in a new language, and with putting in effort to make friends and learn each day. My absolute favorite days here in Ecuador have not been big trips, but instead days spent with new Ecuadorian friends that I made at camp or with my director and host siblings eating long lunches or meeting more of their family members.

I would like to thank my host family, the priests at UESTAR, for being so patient with our Spanish level and for opening the community center to us and always making us laugh. I would also like to thank my site director and her kids (my host-siblings), for treating me like family and for always believing in me and giving me the support and encouragement I needed. A special  Additionally, I would like to thank all of my fellow WorldTeach volunteers and the WorldTeach office staff for providing me with friendship and with advice no matter the time of day. I hope that our paths will cross again!

Ecuador Reflections Trips

Rafting in the remote Amazon rainforest

Go ahead and get out your bucket list because this trip needs to be added immediately!

At the beginning of the summer when I learned that some of the other WorldTeach volunteers were going to be placed in a small jungle town in the Amazon rain forest, i knew that I wanted to plan a visit.

Now that my service has ended in Riobamba (another post to come soon!) the time to visit Tena was finally upon me. Another Riobamba volunteer named Jenny and I made the 5 hour bus trip on Tuesday morning to visit our good friends.

Over the past 3 days, I’ve gotten to explore their town of Tena alongside them and my plans became reality. Since they’re basically locals at this point, they were awesome guides and showed us all of the great restaurants and some really cool swimming spots.

Some highlights and absolute must-do’s include:

Visiting a restaurant that doubles as a home to sloths called the Marquies:

Finding a great swimming spots around the city:

Taking a bus to go visit a little town that is home to monkeys!

However, the absolute highlight of the trip for me was a 1-day rafting trip that Jenny and I signed up for on Wednesday. I promise you that if you haven’t considered a trip to Ecuador in the past, you’re going to want to now!

A quick trip backstory:

On Monday evening Jenny and I signed up for a tour through a company called River People, and chose Wednesday knowing that if not enough people signed up for our trip we may get bumped to a later day. Sure enough, on Tuesday I got an email that our trip had been canceled. However, the company sent another email shortly after with the exciting news that a couple had signed up and our trip was back on. Great news!

At 8:30 the next morning, a man in the company van picked us up and asked if we had heard that we were actually going on a DIFFERENT trip than we signed up for.

In Ecuador, you never quite know the way things will unfold and things never seem to go as planned so we nodded that we were game for whatever the day had to offer and we headed off to meet the other couple and our guides at the company’s office.

At the office, we learned that we would have a hike with gear to get to the river where we’d be rafting, that we would have 2 guides (one on the raft and one scout in a kayak), and that this trip was an upgrade from the one I had originally signed us up for. It was then that I realized we were in for a treat.

A 45 minute drive from the office brought us into the middle of nowhere. It’s important to note that Tena is a small town of 30,000 people that really became a city simply because it’s the biggest collection of neighborhoods in the area. Once you’re outside of Tena, the jungle really begins. Aside from small communities and groups of indigenous peoples, it’s really just jungle as far as the eye can see.

The hike

Upon arrival at our hiking spot, a group from the indigenous community rushed over to begin hiking with the gear (including the raft and kayak). The guides explained to us that there are several groups of locals are all in competition for the job of helpng with our gear so the guides created a rotating schedule for helpers.

I barely made it down this hike with just myself so I have no clue how these people managed to carry our huge gear down the steep muddy path to the river. A “30 minute hike” was really more like an hour and since it rains at least twice a day in the Amazon, the paths were pure mud and rocks. I fell twice and the hike was so precarious that we were asked to wear our rafting helmets as we went. What trip had they signed me up for?!?

Finally, after an hour of slipping and sliding, I thought we were ready to raft and get in the water. But in fact, I was told that we were first going to hike to a canyon to see a pretty area and clean off. I was convinced that no site could be worth hiking in this mud but I figured I had come all of this way so I kept my mouth shut and kept moving.

Another 20 minutes later and we were rewarded beyond belief. The little jungle path opened up to a small circular clearing in the canyon with a pure blue pool of water being filled by a beautiful waterfall. Looking upwards revealed only a small circular opening in the tree canopy which allowed soft light and small sprinkles of rain to float into the space. Our small group of 5 was the only one there in this non-commercialized part of the jungle and we all quickly stripped off our outer clothes and dove into the pure crisp water.

We spent about 30 minutes swimming, crawling behind the waterfall, and exploring a little cave that you could climb into – guess what – a cave with ANOTHER waterfall. We all agreed that already, the trip was worth it.

This place might just have been the most beautiful place I’ve ever laid eyes on. I was absolutely blown away by the natural beauty – nature at its absolute finest. I feel so incredibly lucky to have visited such a place.

*unfortunately we did not have our phones but photos will be added as soon as the company sends them to me*

Rafting the Jondachi and Hollin rivers

The adventure continued as we had our safety briefing and began our 4 hour trip down the Jondachi and Hollín rivers. Our guide explained that he was the first person to ever lead a commercial group down the Jondachi. This portion of the Amazon is one of the most remote places to go rafting in the world and therefore, we had to take extra safety precautions.

Throughout the whole 4 hour trip, the only people that we saw were a group of indigenous people fishing and their village was a 3 hour walk away! Everywhere we turned, we were surrounded by the grand Amazon rainforest. Birds and butterflies that I’ve never seen before flew around us above and even the occasional sprinkling rain just made the place seem more beautiful.

Of course as we journeyed down, we also experienced the excitement (and one ejection!) from the raft. I felt like a little kid giggling as we flew down rapids and splashing the others in my raft as we got to know each other better.

Flips & flops

Even our flip on the “waffle maker” rapid was fun instead of scary thanks to our awesome guides who ensured we knew exactly what to do if we were in the water and quickly got us all back into the raft.

I am so glad that Jenny and I went with the flow (literally!!!) and ended up on the class 3 & 4 rafting trip instead of the more commercialized class 3 trip we originally signed up for. Living in Ecuador this summer, “going with the flow” has definitely had to be my motto, and I’ve found that I’m learning to deal better with stressful situations than I did previously.

Huge thank you to River People for the incredible trip, glory to God and Mother Nature for creating places more beautiful than I’ve ever imagined, and thank you to my amazon Tena friends for being our guides and showing us around!

What are you waiting for?! Head to the jungle, pronto!

Con amor,

Courtney

Ecuador Uncategorized

What the Hecuador?!

I have officially been in Ecuador for 3 whole days now and life has already been full of good food, new friends, lots of learning, and lots of “what the heck?!” moments.

This week and until Wednesday of next week, the 5 other volunteers and I are staying at a hostel in Quito, Ecuador to complete our WorldTeach orientation. Our days are long and full of teacher training sessions that focus on health/safety, teaching tips, and Spanish lessons! I truly missed this feeling of getting to know a new city and I am so happy to be here in Quito. I don’t even know how exactly to describe Quito — it is most similar to my visit to Valencia, Spain. It is a big (actually huge) city that is surrounded by the mountains. It is quite surreal to walk around a hustling and bustling place with glimpses of the mountains in the background. The other volunteers and WorldTeach staff are fabulous and I know that this 8 weeks is going to fly by.

What the heck #1 – the buses!

Yesterday, we got to experience our first bus ride to get to the Megamaxi (basically Walmart). It is only 25 cents to take the bus! This, of course, is a fabulous deal. I have learned that everyone takes advantage of this deal. Every time that I thought that surely no more people could fit on that bus, more people fit on the bus. When it came time for our stop, we had to shove ourselves off and barely made it as a group.

What the heck #2 – TRAFFIC

I should also stop here to mention that Quito traffic is the craziest I have seen so far out of all of the places that I have been. Pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way and crossing is definitely at your own risk. Drivers do not seem to follow much pattern and the roads are extremely windy and curvy (the mountains, duh!)

 

A decade or so ago Quito was considered an extremely dangerous city but thankfully, it is fairly safe these days. WorldTeach is also very vigilant about our safety and really looks out for us and I have felt very safe! So far, the only bad part has been some catcalls and some stares — the stares are kind of expected considering that we are a large group of gringo ladies. We all follow general safety tips that I wouldn’t always consider in the United States (for those who know me, I am not known for my safety hahaha sorry mom). For example, here in Quito, I don’t carry my Smartphone around and only carry the cash I need with me and we stay in a group! This is one reason why I do not have a ton of photos to add to this blog! Riobamba is much safer, so I will have many more photos to come. The cash economy here has definitely been an adjustment for all of us. Ecuador does use the U.S. dollar but since things are cheaper here, they have trouble even breaking $20 bills. This leads me to my next point…

 

What the heck #3 – Cost of food

I had heard that food was cheap here but it still manages to surprise me every time. The food is also covered by the fee to participate in the program, so we are really fortunate! A common lunch here is about $3.75 (including tax and tip) and will include a soup, a hot main course, and a small dessert. Dinner is a bit more expensive and you can really find all of the options here in Quito.

You might be wondering, how is a young lady with little to no Spanish skills getting around and getting along in Ecuador?! Well, I am quite lucky to have several volunteer friends whose Spanish is much better than mine and who are able to communicate when I am not. However, I am trying to practice as much as possible and not worry if I make mistakes. The local people here are so extremely patient and kind with my floundering Spanish skills. As I mentioned previously, we are enrolled in Spanish classes here in Quito for 1 hour per day and I hope to continue lessons and practice in Riobamba.

 

What the heck #4 – toilet paper

My final what the heck moment thus far has to do with toilet paper placement. This one is not necessarily Ecuador specific, but still takes adjustment. No toilets here allow you to place toilet paper in the actual toilet. Instead, one must remember to place it in the trash can. I have heard from WorldTeach staff that this becomes a habit and that when we go back to the United States, we will actually have to re-train ourselves again! Luckily, in our hostel, the bathrooms are cleaned frequently and it isn’t really as gross as it first seems. Our hostel, Cafecito, is absolutely adorable. I am currently downstairs with some friends hanging out in the cute little lobby/bar. One of the bartenders actually just brought us a free drink – Canelazo (cinnamon spiced rum). Clearly, I am not missing much here in Ecuador!

Once again, I am just so happy to be here learning Spanish and training alongside some great people. I know that there will be ups and downs over the next two months (after all, we have been warned that we will all most likely get some kind of stomach illness during our stay here), but I am looking forward to embracing the journey. I look forward to sharing more about Quito and Riobamba in the next week or so!

 

P. S. I recently found out some of the amazing places that we will get to visit during our midsummer conference and our post-summer reflection trip and lets just say, there will be rafting, hiking, and ziplining in my future!

Buenas noches!

 

Ecuador Uncategorized

8 Weeks in Ecuador – What I’m Packing

Hi everyone!

I have a few more exciting updates about my trip to Ecuador, which I leave for TOMORROW! It still really has not set in that I am about to head out and will be gone for 8 weeks. My flight leaves from DFW, stops in Houston, and then arrives in Quito at 5:55am on Sunday morning. In total, there will be about 7 hours of airtime. One of the other volunteers is actually also from the Dallas so I will have a new friend on my flight! Here are a few updates and photos of what I’m packing:

Training in Quito

For the first 9 days of the trip (Monday the 18th to Wednesday the 27th) I will be completing training alongside the other volunteers in Quito. Our training will focus on teacher preparation, Spanish lessons, and cultural lessons. We will have long training days but according to the directors, we will also have some time to explore the city!

Teaching vocabulary

On Wednesday, 2 of the other volunteers and I will travel to Riobamba (4 hours south of Quito) and move into our placement. I talked about my placement a little in the past post, so check that out if you missed it! I now know that I will be teaching the vocabulary class. Every week, I will come up with a theme to teach the various age groups of students. The difficulty will vary based on age group, but they will all have the same theme. The age groups are divided as follows:

RED FROGS         4-5-6

BLUE BEARS        7-8-9

ORANGE BEARS   10-11

BLACK DRAGONS 12-13

GREY WOLVES      15

I will have an older Ecuadorian highschooler volunteering with me in the classroom — this will be a huge help with the language barrier! A few days after arriving in Riobamba, our director is hosting a potluck welcome dinner at her house. The Ecuadorian volunteers will bring Ecuadorian dishes and the other volunteers and I will bring American food. It might be a challenge to find the correct ingredients there!

Packing

One of the most frequent questions I have gotten when I tell people about my trip to Ecuador is the understandable question, “What are you packing?!” Packing has been a bit challenging because I will be there for 8 weeks, the weather can get chilly especially in the evenings, and I need clothes for both the classroom and for outdoor adventures. My airline allowance for baggage is one 50 pound checked bag, one bag for the overhead compartment, and one small personal item under the seat.

Here’s what I have packed so far:

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Pants: 1 pair outdoor pants, 1 pair outdoor capris, 2 pairs dark denim, 1 long skirt, 3 pairs workout leggings, 1 pair cute shorts, 1 pair athletic shorts

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3 graphic tees, 1 workout tank, 2 versatile tees

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1 sweatshirt, 1 coat, 1 rain jacket, 2 cardigans

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4 longsleeved shirts

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3 dresses (one was in the laundry)

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Shower shoes, Chacos, Hiking boots, sandals, and (not pictured) tennis shoes for the plane

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Daypack, contacts, watch, scarf, warm socks, hat & gloves, jewelry, Flonase, hat & gloves, toiletries, English and Spanish dictionary

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Grammar book, 2 journals, kindle, money belt, passport (+ necessary paperwork), LOTS of small bills – large bills are hard to change in Ecuador!

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1 swimsuit, 1 hat, water bottle, gum, sunscreen, quick-dry towel

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Gifts for my hosts!

Other random things not pictured:

  • Small prizes and classroom decorations
  • Underwear/socks/additional toiletries
  • Small purse
  • Chromebook
  • Sunglasses

 

Que la aventura comience!

Ecuador Uncategorized