Eleanor McDonald - General Teaching Projects in Ecuador
When I took my first steps off the plane and onto the grassy plains of the Galapagos, I had nearly one million questions running through my mind. Some were regarding the next two months that I would be living in Ecuador: Will I like it here? Will I make friends? Will I adjust? Did I pack enough sunscreen? Any questions I had about my security on the island were immediately silenced when I was picked up from the airport by a respectful Projects Abroad employee who took me to my host family.
I will never forget that taxi ride as it was the first glimpse into Galapagos life. My eyes were glued to the windows. Every inch of land was exploding with marvellous vegetation and life that brought real tears to my sleep-deprived eyes. The town layout and infrastructure was completely new to me, but I could tell immediately that I would enjoy it as an oasis from the overpowering noise and troubles that I was used to in New York City.
My host family
Though my first glimpse of the island was awe-inspiring, I was still very apprehensive about meeting my host family as my taxi pulled up to their house. I let out a half-giggle of surprise, half-sigh of relief when a charming two-year-old jumped to greet me. After my host parents helped me with my bags and I had a chance to rest, they claimed there was no time to wait to see the island and brought me to a festival where I was treated with Ecuadorian snacks, introductions to future friends and stories of their own personal lives. I am very thankful for their attentiveness my first day, for their welcoming spirit made my transition very easy.
During my first week, my host family quickly turned into my friends. My host mother took me to the main beach in town and assured me that the overwhelming number of sea lions was indeed normal. My host father let me borrow his snorkelling equipment and we all went snorkelling with sea turtles and other wildlife. Meals with my host family were always enjoyable, as my host father was a retired fisherman who knew how to cook and my mother would help me with my Spanish, while I helped her with her English. My host family provided all the aspects of my own family at home during the entire length of my stay, making my trip very relaxing and enjoyable.
My Teaching project
I was lucky enough to be a participant in the Teaching project on the Galapagos. I have spent the last few years wondering if education is the right career path for me and jumped at the opportunity to be able to work with young kids on a daily basis. The Teaching project gave me a great opportunity to be in charge of my own experience on the Galapagos.
I woke up every weekday with the anticipation that I could make someone else’s life better. The Teaching project motivated me to befriend the permanent teachers at the various schools and learn from their teaching style. It was a wonderful experience to feel as if I was a teacher and student at the same time. I felt empowered while helping the pre-schoolers learn their primary numbers and words, and also inspired while watching the teachers handle any situation with intellect and grace. There is nothing more comforting like the hug from a five year old, and I was lucky enough to begin each day on the Galapagos with at least twenty of them.
The office for Projects Abroad, which includes two community classrooms, served not only as a place of familiarity and comfort, but also as a friendly hang-out spot. I feel lucky to have travelled with Projects Abroad because of their resourceful office and staff who were helpful in booking tickets and answering any questions.
My free time
One of the greatest aspects of the Teaching project is that it allocated a decent amount of free time that I could spend however I wanted. Because I spent two months on the island, I was able to bond very strongly with many volunteers from all over the world. The energy and friendship between the volunteers was something very special that I believe can only be felt during travelling.
Because of the friendly nature of the volunteers and the island in general, one can decide for themselves if they’d rather spend a day relaxing on the beach or grabbing a batido (fruit smoothie), or if they’d like to explore the island more through a day of snorkelling, hiking, biking, etc. The town is very walkable and there is a lot to explore, and every new day on the island brings new opportunities to experience new things.
Some of my highlights from the trip included a snorkelling trip to Kicker Rock in which we saw reef sharks, sea turtles and sea lions. This excursion is one of best memories because it showed not only how diverse the ecosystems of the Galapagos are, but reminded me how lucky I was to be able to witness their diversity through my own swim goggles.
Another trip that I will never forget was a weekend trip to a few of the other islands. During this trip I was able to experience so many new adventures, including snorkelling with penguins (yes, you read that right) and climbing through one of the biggest volcano craters in the world. I will always remember my days on the Galapagos spent canoeing, surfing and making lasting friendships. One of my best memories was on my last night in which I snorkelled on a beach that was only a 20 minute walk from my house and was able to see manta rays before l left for home. After seeing these amazing rays, I was able to see the spectacular sunset one final time, as the Galapagos is one of the best places to witness the sun set in the entire world.
Something changed in me in the Galapagos and I owe testament to Projects Abroad. They helped me bridge the gap into independence. I was thankful for the office and it’s staff during my trip for they positively influenced my overall experience through their kindness and hospitality. It has been three months since returning from my wonderful project placement with Projects Abroad, and I still cannot find words to describe the feeling this experience gave me.