Although I am studying microbiology en route to be a doctor, I spend much of my time and energy pursuing my second love – teaching. When I found the opportunity to teach in Ecuador, I was ecstatic. Having taken Spanish classes for all of high school and a semester in college, I knew that Ecuador would be a wonderful opportunity to enhance my Spanish education and pursue my love of teaching. I had wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and I had always wanted to travel to the Galapagos Islands, so I knew Ecuador would be a perfect fit for my month of volunteering.
Volunteering in Ecuador
Being introduced to my host family, my only qualm was my sub-par Spanish language skills. I was amazed, though, at how fast I began to understand and be able to speak with them. The family was more than accommodating to me and the other volunteers at their house. They would speak slower and simpler to help us understand; they would make an effort to talk to us and listened even as we struggled with the language barrier.
My favorite part of staying with my host family was family dinner every night. When we came home from teaching, the family and all the volunteers staying with them would sit around the big kitchen table and eat a family style meal. Our host family passed food around the table for each person to take what they want. It was a great way to end the day sharing food and talking about our day and experiences. The family genuinely seemed to care about how we were. They asked about the kids every day, they asked what our plans were for the week and they really tried to make us feel at home.
My first day teaching was absolutely the most memorable. The staff made it clear from that first day that they were there for support or anything we needed. They made an effort to get to know us, make us comfortable in our work place and help us adjust to a new culture from the very first minute they got us off the plane. Although no one is perfect and there were times where it was a struggle to communicate with a mostly Spanish-speaking staff, overall they far exceeded my expectations of the in-country support we would receive. The fact that some of them spoke little English just motivated me more to learn the language and be able to communicate with them in Spanish.
Remembering the kids’ faces on the first day still makes me smile. They got so excited by new volunteers and, like all kids, are very well behaved the first time they meet new adults. As the month went on, we went through new challenges, but also made great strides. As we got to know the kids, it was easier to know which activities they would respond well to and which areas of English they needed to work on the most. Developing a relationship with the kids was my favourite part of the experience.
By the end of the second week, we were joking with the kids and really having fun during class instead of just lecturing or doing worksheets. My favourite class of the whole month was the class where we didn’t have any lesson planned, just a list of questions. We broke off into smaller groups of 3 or 4 kids and went around the circle asking and responding to questions in English. The kids responded extremely well to this lesson and besides the games we played, I would confidently say this was their favourite part of the class.
My overall experience
Overall, this experience was absolutely amazing and is something I will remember and talk about for the rest of my life. From teaching, to living with my host family, to seeing sea turtles, tortoises and iguanas all over the islands, it was worth every single dollar.
I feel like I really had a chance to grasp the culture of the islands, learn the language and make memories with the children we taught. I hope that my and other volunteers’ impact on the kids was as large as theirs was on us. If I made half as much of an impression on them as they made on me, I would be more than ecstatic. I am so grateful and lucky to have had this opportunity and I would absolutely recommend that anyone who has the means to volunteer abroad in Ecuador to do so.
The people of the Galapagos are more than welcoming and really make you feel like part of the island family. As soon as I have the chance to go back, I’ll be there in a second!