Generic Advice for Anyone Embarking on a Volunteer English-Teaching Trip

It certainly has been a while.  My first year of teaching just ended and summer is still so green and fresh that I’m still having a hard time adjusting its relaxed change of pace.  It feels so good to not be constantly thinking about planning/ grading and finally be getting to the tasks that, for so long, were pushed to the back burner.  One of those “round-to-it”s was writing back to a friend of mine who is going to be volunteering for six weeks as an English teacher in Thailand.  She was asking me for advice on how she could prepare for her adventure, especially in regards to the teaching.  Today, I was finally able to give her a sufficient response, and I figured I’d share it here, in case any readers were considering or planning similar trips and found the advice helpful.

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¡No diga adios… diga hasta luego! (Don’t say goodbye… say see you later!)

This is a post that I began writing on the plane ride home.  I no longer feel quite as sad, but I definitely do miss Ecuador.  Without further ado…

Today is April 25th, the day I have been looking forward to since I booked my second round-trip flight in early November (about a week after being in Ecuador).  I remember sitting on my bed in Reyna’s house, realizing how hard it was to be away from everything I knew and, instead, be thrown into a world completely different than the one I was used to.  I knew that coming to Ecuador was the right thing for me to do, and that I was following my dreams and whatnot, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was living the dream at the time.  Somehow, going online and booking the second trip (Kansas to Ecuador in February and Ecuador to Kansas in April) reminded me that I wasn’t going to be in that culturally, linguistically, and generally confusing planet for the rest of my life.

I had no idea how much I would grow and change over the six months.  How much I would not only grow to tolerate, but actually love my host family.  How much I would learn to not just deal with the language barrier, but overcome it and renew my passion for decoding new languages.  How when I exited Ecuador in April, the joy I imagined feeling at finally going home would be blighted with sadness, because I would be leaving a new home.

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Impending Homecoming Lists

What I’ll miss:

  • My host family.

    I'll be honest. I'm going to miss these two (Reyna and baby David) the most.

  • Speaking Spanish everyday, all the time.
  • Starting my days with hot tea, Riobambeñan bread (it’s like mini french bread rolls), and queso fresco.
  • The huge variety of always fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • The following dishes: hornato, fritada, mote con tostado, caldo de pollo (and all the soups that are served here), fresh seafood available in Ecuador’s coastal region, ají, tortillas de Penipe, and anything made with plantains.
  • The singing trash trucks.
  • The mountains.<a

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Oh the Places You’ll Go if You Visit Ecuador!

I’ve been helping my organization, Teach English Volunteer, quite a bit.  Mostly, I’ve taken it upon myself to improve the application process and make things much more clear for potential volunteers.  If you all knew how truly murky the details of what I’d be doing here in Ecuador were before I arrived, you’d probably be appalled that I took a leap of faith with such a young, disorganized volunteer program.  But, all’s well that ends well, right?

Anyway, I’ve added more details to the website; created a volunteer blog so that people interested in coming can be reassured with the knowledge that there are real, live people volunteering with this organization; created an application (using http://www.zoho.com) for candidates to fill out- the results of which are automatically sent to the TEV email address that I check regularly; and I review these applications and schedule Skype interviews with candidates who sound promising.  The truth is that I kind of love giving these Skype interviews. 
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Schools vs. Escuelas, pt. II

Head’s up- this is a long post.  But, I’ve been thinking about its contents for months and have been writing it for weeks, so you should read it 🙂

Before coming to Ecuador, I had some experience (exposure may be a better word) to school systems outside the US.  There were the trips to Guamtemala City I first took as part of a youth group mission trip in 2004, then later on my own in 2007.  I worked with YWAM and, among other tasks, did some teaching in a day-care and after-school tutoring program.

You may see some familiar faces here 🙂 In Guatemala City, 8 years ago.

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La Ciudad Bonita

Sorry, I know it’s been a while!

Since it’s now March, I’ve realized that, technically, I’m leaving Ecuador next month.  I still have about five weeks left here, but I’m starting to get a big panicky.  Oh my gosh, have my students really learned anything? Have I absorbed enough Spanish?  Have I seen enough of Ecuador?  It’s probably good that these sirens are going off and making sure that I “finish strong” in my teaching, my learning, and my enjoy enjoyment of where I am right now.

Because of that last question, I have planned (and already been on) a few weekend trips with some of my volunteer friends.  I will definitely be blogging about where we go and what we do there.  But first, I thought I needed to show you the city in which I’ve lived for over four months: Riobamba.

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Schools vs. Escuelas, pt. I

I give you three stories.

One Friday in mid-January, things were going as usual at the elementary school where I teach, Joaquin Chiriboga.  That is, until recess (recreo).  I did what I normally do at the beginning of each recreo: visited the snack lady, who has a permanent posting in the school courtyard where she sells things as delicious as 10 cent choco-bananas, 15 cent bags of chifles (fried plantain chips), 10 cent fruit cups (pineapple or watermelon, or, if you’re feeling crazy, mixed), and 40 cent plates of rice and meat- all of it very freshly prepared.  Once I had my fruit cup in hand, I made my way to a bench where the teachers normally sit and enjoy their free time.  Kids swarmed around me and asked me questions about my life at home and how to say random words in English (this usually happens), but the teachers were nowhere to be seen.  After about five minutes of being the only teacher in the courtyard, I decided to find out what they were doing.  I made my way to the office, where a meeting was taking place.  They invited me in, and for the next ten minutes, I listened to some boring details about changes in the way the finances would be handled.

Then, things took a turn.  Just at about the time recess was supposed to end, one of the teachers said “Well, today is a very special day.  It’s the 70th birthday of our coworker Manuelito [again with the ‘ito’ thing]!!”  We all clapped and then began singing Happy Birthday.  Then, a cake appeared, along with cups of coke.  About thirty minutes later, the dancing began.  Thirty minutes after that, one of the teachers left school with an empty box and returned with a box full of bottles of beer, and it just went downhill from there.  Basically, the students were left unsupervised for 2.5 hours, they had no more classes that day, and the teachers all got buzzed before noon- in the principal’s office (he was partaking in the festivities too!).

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