A Comprehensive Tip List: Applying for a Fulbright ETA

Applying for a Fulbright is a big decision and a long process, but it is well worth it in the end due to the growth you will experience during the application process and for the chance to represent your country and teach abroad.

Since being awarded a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Award) for the Czech Republic earlier this year, I’ve received a few messages from friends who plan to apply and have questions. Thus, I’ve decided to put together a comprehensive post with my best tips! If you would like more specific advice, I would be happy to answer more questions via email or in the comment section. I would also like to emphasize that by no means am I an expert! I can only share from my personal experience. Please utilize the resources at your university and consult anyone and everyone to give yourself the best shot at an award possible.

An overview: WHAT IS FULBRIGHT?

For those who may be unfamiliar, Fulbright describes itself as follows: 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.  A candidate will submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S. During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.  The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.

The Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) program is one of several Fulbright programs. The ETA grant places individuals in countries around the world (typically in smaller towns) to teach English language at the elementary, secondary, and university level. Other programs include opportunities to complete a Masters degree abroad or to conduct research.

Starting Research

Perhaps the most difficult part of starting one’s application is that individuals may only apply to ONE country. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on my ETA application. 

Before you choose a country, do research! Asking yourself the hard questions early will ensure that when actually writing your essays, your passion for the country comes through. Although I knew very little about the Czech Republic when I started doing research, I was able to better sell why I was a good fit for the country after keeping up with current news and researching their education system.


A snapshot of my visit to Prague in the spring of 2017

Questions to consider as you research:

  • What are you looking for in your experience? What countries appeal to you and why?
    • Start crossing some countries off the list. I crossed off countries that had a language requirement and that did not have high school placements to begin narrowing it down.
  • Why do you want to go to these countries?
  • What can you offer these countries? 
  • How do your skills and experiences make you a good fit specifically?
  • What is the education system like the country you are considering? 

If you can’t answer all of these questions at first, that’s okay! Continue to do research and find a country that is a great fit for you. 

Once you have an idea of what countries may suit you, use the resources and staff at your university in the scholarships office to narrow it down. 

The essays

  • Start by focusing on paragraphs/elements instead of the essay as a whole
    • At first, the two essays (Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement) seem similar and the 1-page limit is tough! To avoid getting overwhelmed, start by focusing on experiences that will make you shine and piece write paragraphs about each experience. Your university and other advisors can help you pick your best moments later. 
    • Piece writing paragraphs will also help you from overemphasizing on length when you’re starting out. You’ll be able to edit it down on the end
  • Ask for advice from everyone 
    • In the end, you’ll have spent so much time with these essays that you’ll be sick of them. Ask various friends to read for different things. Have a non-education friend look for jargon and have another look for sentence clarity. Set up times each week for feedback so that your application continues to progress even when you want to rip it apart.
    • I also suggest saving each version as you edit so that you can go back and re-insert something if you’ve deleted it
  • Tie your points of emphasis back to the country for which you are applying 
    • For every experience that you write about, find a way to tie it back to your country. Did you help manage a group of volunteers at your university? Did you conduct undergrad research? Do you plan to go to grad school one day? Have you visited the country that you are applying for? Good!! How will this experience inform what you are going to do once you have received the Fulbright award? 
    • Be specific! What specific teaching experiences do you have that you can use when you receive Fulbright?
    • Each sentence in your application should be something that only you could say.

Short answer 

The short answers may have been the most challenging portion of the whole application for me. They are SO short and I couldn’t figure out how to make an entire point that concisely. I would recommend writing your essays first and then identifying gaps or areas that you would like to emphasize in the short answer portion. It’s okay to reiterate points in your essay that you’d like your readers to remember.

Recommenders 

  • Ask them early!
  • Pick recommenders who have seen you operate in a specific setting and then let them know why you are requesting a letter from them. I asked my 3 recommenders to each focus on a different aspect. I asked my research mentor focus on my ability to work independently and complete research, my academic mentor to talk about my cross cultural competence in a teaching setting, and a supervisor from an international job I held to talk about my flexibility and teaching experience in Ecuador.

The Interview 

All Fulbright applications require an interview at your university. The Fulbright Commission requires this because of the large number of Fulbright applications that they receive. Your university will decide whether or not to “recommend” you, and then you will move on to the first stage of the process. Some countries require additional interviews, but the Czech Republic only required an interview with Elon’s faculty and staff. Later, after I had been awarded semi-finalist status, I also completed a 5 question short answer questionnaire that I received via email from the Czech Republic and returned to the country commission. Key takeaway: every country is a bit different so research online to find out your country’s specific process. 

My INTERVIEW tips:

  • Don’t stress too much about the interview. Let your research knowledge and passion for your country shine through. Your university wants to know that you are prepared and will represent your school and your country well as a Fulbrighter.
  • Practice your answers with friends and be prepared for questions based on what you wrote in your essays.
  • If you have a questionnaire or interview with your country, really think about what you want out of the experience. For example, in my questionnaire, I had to specify what type of school placement I wanted and what type of town I wanted to be placed in using my past experiences to emphasize why I thought I would be a good fit for the country. It is important to say what you want in the application and not just focus on what you think the commission wants to hear.
After several months and many hours of work, here’s my tired moment of accomplishment!

Waiting

Second only to choosing a country to apply to, waiting months to hear back from the commission really tested my patience. I kept myself busy by applying to fun summer programs, joining Fulbright chatrooms on Reddit and an app called Slack, and generally reminding myself that I had plenty of other opportunities. While applying for Fulbright is a long process, a lot of good comes from it even if you aren’t accepted. You’ll work with awesome mentors and friends crafting the application, think deeply about your future goals and plans, and create documents that you can borrow from when writing cover letters and other job applications.

If you’ve applied to Fulbright, what other tips and recommendations do you have? Leave your tips or your questions as a comment! To keep up with my Fulbright journey (I leave in just 3 weeks on August 22nd!), follow me at: 

Instagram: Tastetravelteach_
Twitter: Courtintheclass
Facebook: CourtneyTasteTravelTeach

Fulbright

Postgrad Feelings & Fear of the Unknown

In late elementary school, I began one of my favorite summer traditions — attending summer camp at His Hill Ranch Camp in Comfort, Texas.

Years later, I even wrote my college application essays about my camp experiences at His Hill choosing to respond to the prompt, “What is your favorite place in the world and why?”

I loved everything about His Hill. I loved meeting other kids and staying in a cabin, doing outdoor activities like canoeing and zip lining, and having camp counselors who came from places all over the world.

A classic last day of camp activity

At His Hill, participating in activities that scared us emphasized the need to overcome innate fear and have trust in something greater than ourselves. We catapulted through the air on a wooden contraption called the “Screamer,” went mountain biking and cave exploring, and fell backwards off of a trust fall at “Low Elements.” Each summer, I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable and my faith and confidence grew.

Although my understanding of the world has shifted in ways and become more complex, the lessons that I learned at His Hill undoubtedly remain an integral part of my personal beliefs.

In big moments and big decisions, like booking my plane ticket to the Czech Republic or deciding to go to college far away, I choose to lean back on the trust fall once again, knowing I’ll land in the arms of those who love me.

While I’ve learned to use the mix of excitement and nervousness that come with big decisions, it’s the moments that seem small and are in-between that challenge me. A self-professed lover of organization and routine, I strain to envision my day to day life will look like in a new place, and am sometimes frustrated when I realize that I won’t really know until I’m there.

To combat the chaos of life and the unknown, I sometimes spend too much time trying to control the little things. I wonder what the next stage will look like. I worry about losing touch with those close to me or forgetting moments that are important to me. I am scared of life passing me by and wondering why I didn’t take the chance to do something great. Going to the Czech Republic doesn’t scare me in itself, but all of the unknowns do.

For me, moments of bravery are less about big decisions, but are beneath the surface in the little ones. I am brave when I let myself rest. I am brave when I take a step back and focus on the important things and the people that matter the most. (Luckily, they help put things in better perspective for me!).

Graduating brings so many crazy and new and exciting moments. This week, I start my training as a Duke University Summer Academy TA. I will be TA’ing 3 courses – a 3 week business course, a 1 week STEM camp, and a 3 week leadership course. I’m incredibly excited to live in Durham over the summer and take advantage of new places to explore and new people to meet. But, of course, I’ve found myself overthinking about what my time there will look like.

I’m currently reading a non-fiction work by Rebecca Solnit about activism called, “Hope in the Dark,” a gift from one of my favorite Elon professors. As I move to new places and step into the unknown, I’m comforted by Solnit’s words: “To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” She reminds us that the future (and the dark) are always unpredictable. Yet, we must go anyway and things will be okay!

To post-grad life and gambling for hope! We got this 🙂

Reflections

Cotopaxi, Active Volcano Visit

Good stories typically don’t begin with food poisoning, but this one does.

For the WorldTeach Ecuador End of Service trip, our cohort visited the cities of Mindo, Otavalo, Quito, and Cotopaxi. I knew that all of the cities were going to be amazing, but I was especially excited to visit Cotopaxi National Park, home to a huge active stratovolcano that all Ecuadorians adore as a landmark of their home country.

The volcano is located between Riobamba and Quito and acts as a landmark for those traveling between. The beauty of Cotopaxi does not transfer in photos. It is huge and snowcapped and is in stark contrast to the nearly barren landscape around it, dark and scrubby with bushes thanks to previous volcanic eruptions. Even Ecuadorians take every opportunity to stop and photograph the mountain — a phenomenon I witnessed twice while traveling with members of my community.

Unfortunately, on our last night in Otavalo, I made a bad impromptu decision to order fish at a restaurant, and knew pretty much instantly that I was a goner. I spent the long bus ride to Quito drinking water mixed with a Pedialyte packet and willing myself not to be sick. During our one day in Quito, I rested and willed my body to recover so that I could enjoy our very last trip as a cohort.

In typical style, the journey from Quito to Cotopaxi was not as straightforward as a foreigner might expect. Our WorldTeach directors had scheduled a van to drive our group, 6 volunteers and 2 directors, to our hostel. We met outside our hostel, Secret Garden Quito, early in the morning with our things packed. For sake of space, the driver strapped most of our backpacks to the roof of the van. As I was one of our members least likely to feel carsick on a typical basis, I sat in the back of the van. The journey was bumpy and windy and I tried my best to stare straight forward and breathe deeply. I had hardly eaten in 48 hours, but I still felt awful.

About halfway to Cotopaxi, our driver randomly pulled onto the side of the road and we saw 2 backpackers running towards our van. Confused, our director asked the driver why we were picking up more people when we had booked a private van. The backpackers soon piled in and we sent more of our belongings to be slung up on top of the vehicle. Space was now tight, but we embraced the moment and began chatting with the couple who had joined us. Soon after, we began off-road and spent about 45 minutes bouncing and jolting down a rocky dirt road towards our hostel — seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

I think that the only places we passed in that 45 minutes of off-roading were a couple lone farms and a passing truck or two. Somehow, I managed to contain my sickness and we pulled up at the Secret Garden Quito’s brother hostel, the Secret Garden Cotopaxi.

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is like no other hostel I’ve ever experienced before. It consists of several buildings spread across a hill and looks as if it would belong in Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit, which makes sense as some of the rooms are built to embody Hobbit holes. In the center of the small spread of buildings is the communal cabin located directly behind sprouting gardens and two large trampolines. On either side of the central building are cabins that house large groups with bunk-beds. Further up on the hill, visitors can find composting toilets and hot tubs covered by greenhouse roofs. Check out the drone footage video of the hobbit holes, housing, and Cotopaxi and prepare to be amazed.

Upon arrival, the entire hostel staff greeted us out front near the garden and helped unload our belongings into our shared cabin. We then entered the central communal building, passing through a bright sunroom filled with colorful hanging hammocks, giant bean bags, and 5 or so lounging dogs on our way to the main room. We plopped down on sofas and the staff began to welcome us and explain the daily happenings of the Secret Garden.

Included in your stay at the hostel is a guided waterfall hike the afternoon of your arrival, home cooked meals that suit dietary restrictions, and roaming access to the property. The hostel also offers excursions for guided horseback riding tours, a Cotopaxi summit, various hikes in the area, and a visit to the national park. Since our stay was a short one, we opted for the horseback riding tour.

In addition to a couple of permanent staff members, the Secret Garden Cotopaxi is run by employees who work for their room and board. I was fascinated by their stories. Many of the employees visited the hostel as guests and later decided to return to work for 3-4 weeks. However, nearly all of the staff that I chatted with had long outstayed their original plans. Some had even been there for 3-5 months and changed travel plans or job plans to stay and work for longer.

Their joy was palpable and I was intrigued by their lifestyle. After all, there is absolutely nothing in the vicinity of the hostel except for the surrounding mountains. They shared stories about the opportunity that the hostel provides to complete unplug due to their lack of wifi, the guests that they were able to meet, and about time spent exploring outdoors that the location provides.

For meal time, staff and guests alike gather at one large table in the communal center and talk over delicious homemade food. In the evening, guests and staff stay up talking, relaxing by the fire, playing card games, or enjoying a drink. I felt as though I was experiencing something really special surrounded by an international community of travelers. You had no choice but to experience the moment fully with no phones or internet and no where else nearby to rush off to.

Although I had to miss out on the waterfall hike due to my food poisoning, I was able to recover enough to join in for the horseback riding tour. Again, I was struck by contrast between the looming volcano, Cotopaxi, and the surrounding barren landscape. I don’t know how to exactly describe the landscape because I’ve never seen anything like it. I assume that after lava wiped some of the surrounding land, mosses and small plants began to grow. Today, the land is covered mostly by clumpy tufty grasses and small shrubs. It is also quite cold!

Cotopaxi was breathtaking from all angles and our 3-hour ride provided plenty of opportunities to stare and wonder. Moving uphill and crossing over small streams, I galloped on a horse for the first time and held on for dear life. I chatted with those on horseback around me and took moments to reflect on all that I had done during my 8 weeks in Ecuador. It was only fitting for the trip to end with another big step outside of my comfort zone. On our final leg of the journey I pushed through food poisoning, reflected on close friendships built over the course of the summer and got to know strangers over shared meals. I packed toilet paper in my backpack in case of emergency, I went faster on a horse than I would have thought I could, and I said goodbye to new friends not knowing when I would see them next.

My volunteer cohort


I understand now how visitors of the Secret Garden turn into short term employees who turn into long term family. It is hard not to experience this same feeling of aching to stay when you’re laying on one of the trampolines in the crisp air gazing at the stars witnessing Cotopaxi’s snow-topped beauty. I’m still not sure if the bravest choice is choosing to stay or having the guts to say goodbye.

Many of the photos in this post were taken by my fellow volunteer member and friend, Rachael Ferguson. Thank you for the amazing photos, Rachael!

The post above does not reflect the viewpoints of the WorldTeach organization or of the United States government.

 


Ecuador

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