Spanish and Service Learning in Ecuador – It always seems like you’re counting down the days for a special event to take place… Then out of nowhere, it’s passed by and you wonder where the time has gone! Moments you wait for what seems like forever, and in a blink of an eye it’s over. If I could use one word to describe my trip to Ecuador…Wait, one word? I could use HUNDREDS and it still wouldn’t capture that density of how phenomenal the country of Ecuador is.
My trip to Ecuador was a service learning trip, while I also had the privilege of learning a brand new (to me) language! Spanish! As fun as I knew this trip was going to be, I knew there would be several challenges. Working with kids… So much fun right? Wait until you work with multiple children a day… who don’t speak your language. But what’s an adventure without a little challenge, right? Besides, working with the children at Centro de Equinoteapia was incredible. (It’s a non-profit organization for children with special needs, giving them resources to equine therapy, psychological therapy, dance therapy, music & hydrotherapy.) You want to see children with ambition and the biggest smiles in the world? I’d advise you to go volunteer with children with special needs. They will turn your heart from a chunk of coal to a loving heap of gold.
My trip was two and a half weeks long…Or should I say, short. A couple months ago, I was thinking “Two and a half weeks… I’m going to be so homesick.” Want to know the reality? I didn’t want to come home! I felt so at home there. I did a homestay with a local family who resided in Entre Rios. Coming into this program, I’ll admit that I wasn’t too thrilled about staying with people whom I’d never met. Well that changed around quickly. They welcomed me at the airport with warm hugs and ensured me that their home, was my home. Although they spoke seldom English, along with my seldom Spanish- we continued to communicate day after day. Through many hand gestures and body gestures, lots of dictionary peeking and pronouncing words wrong, a few giggles and chuckles here and there, they did their best to understand me and make it work.
The first week that we arrived, we were in Quito for 5 days. We stayed in hotels for that week while we got the feel for Ecuador. The high altitudes, the hot and muggy weather, and most of all- the cultural shock. I luckily had a travel buddy along the way (Brittany) so since we arrived a coupled days early, we stayed at the hotel and had to do things on our own. You think it would be easy right? Nope, you’re wrong. Talk about stress! After 18 long hours of travelling, we finally got to the hotel and passed out.
The next day we went to get breakfast… One of the best meals I think I ate since I got there. Even though we messed up with our coffee order and milk order, we had a great breakfast and felt like we had achieved the impossible. But that wasn’t for long. That night, we decided to order a pizza. Well, after 20 minutes of Brittany trying to communicate on the phone with a pizza delivery service (Who apparently spoke English so the hotel receptionist told us… They didn’t) they eventually gave up and hung up on us. Which resulted in us taking a not so safe cab to the mall, where we went to a chaotic grocery store and bought a whole chicken to take back to the hotel. The best part? We got back and realized that we didn’t have forks, so we ripped it apart with our hands and didn’t care whether or not we looked like savages, we were starving.
Some other incredible moments during that first week were going to the Equator. Learning about it in grade 5 or 6, never really thinking I’d be there standing on the Equator in South America. Cool, right? Along with an inactive volcano tour in a boat, sailing along the forest sides with birds and distinctive animals along the way. If you had to ask me what my favorite part of the trip was… (If you HAD to ask) I would probably look at you and think “How could I possibly pick one part?” But after thinking for a bit, I’ve come to a conclusion. My favorite part would absolutely be Peguche Waterfalls. It was probably one of the most surreal feelings I’ve ever got. The waterfall was really high, with the water crashing down intro a long river. The walls around it were high, making it feel almost like an outdoor cave. We climbed up onto this rock, and stood up. Standing there on this high rock, facing the waterfalls with the mist making you drained with water… The sun and mist creating a beautiful rainbow in front of you… Words can’t describe the rush it gave. Google it, and tell me how unreal you think that would be.
After many tours of the beautiful city of Quito, including the Independence Square, Otavalo Market, Intinan Museum and other beautiful spots, it had been a long and exhausting week. We then flew to Guayaquil where we stayed for the remainder of the trip with our host families. The university we attended was only a 15 minute walk from our house, along with the mall and one of my favorite local spots there- Sweet & Coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a Mocha Frappe latté until I had one there. The week and a half there was fulfilled with spending my days at the centre with the amazing children, followed by Spanish classes in the afternoon. Our teacher was super good with us considering we knew no Spanish, and helped us learn a few of the basic things that would help us while we were there.
In this program, there were 6 other girls. Throughout the two and a half weeks, we all build a great bond and friendship. We all walked to the university together, and went out to eat and were always there for each other in times of need and emotional breakdowns. I think if I could add another favorite part to my trip, it would be meeting the 6 girls and building that friendship. There are times you meet people and you know that they will stick with you forever and you’ll never forget them- This was one of those times.
My experience in Ecuador was like no other. If I could go back again, I would go in a heartbeat. To any students ever thinking about going abroad for a study program- DO IT. You won’t regret it. I worked hard to be able to get to this trip, and I know each and every one of you can too. It’s not every day you can travel abroad and learn so many more new things. I didn’t only learn new things about the country, the people, and the language, most importantly I learned a lot about me.
“You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new”
Social Services Student
NSCC Truro Campus