"A Part of the Community"

A volunteer interview with Anna Wolfe about her experience in Ecuador.

What was your experience before your placement began? 

The experience before my placement was very exciting but nerve-wracking at the same time. I gradually received information on where I would be working, who was going to be traveling with me, and who my host family would be. I think that I perfectly balanced my level of preparedness and expectations before going on my trip. I found the orientation to be incredibly helpful and enjoyed meeting one of my fellow volunteers. This orientation also gave some clarity to my parents and calmed their nerves. 

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What kind of work did you find yourself involved with? Did it line up with what your expectations were? 

I ended up working a split placement: at a daycare in the morning and an after school program in the afternoon. The split placement worked well with my host family's schedules as everyone in Ecuador tends to go home for lunch. I was definitely surprised to find that I wasn't teaching at all. I had expected to be teaching English for at least a portion of my time in Ecuador, but had no expectation for what age. The daycare involved no teaching, and at the after school program I was put in charge of helping children with English homework rather than formally teaching. I really enjoyed these two placements, but would have loved the chance to have more of a classroom experience as well.

How was your accommodation/host family? Did you have trouble adapting to a new culture?

I was slightly nervous in meeting my host family as it was a somewhat non-traditional situation. Before going, I knew that I was going to have a host dad and a host brother, two years older than me. I ended up getting along very well with the family, and found them to be incredibly welcoming and accommodating. I didn't experience any obvious culture shock other than language. That was the hardest part for me about living in a foreign country: being constantly surrounded by the entirely different language. 

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If you could recommend one thing to new volunteers going to Ecuador, what would that be?

Something I would recommend to volunteers going to Ecuador is to be incredibly flexible and up for anything. I found that I would often think that the whole family was in for the night, and crawl into bed, just to be invited out by friends or family. I found everything there to be pretty spontaneous, which was something I loved about the people and culture. 

Thinking back to your time in Ecuador, what were the highlights? What were some struggles? 

Some highlights of my time in Ecuador were traveling around, whether it be with my host family, with other volunteers, or with Ecuadorian friends. It was important to me to take my weekends to explore other parts of the country, as my weeks were very busy at my placements. A struggle that I experienced in the first part of my placement was feeling isolated, as I was the only volunteer in my city. I quickly got past this as I forced myself to say yes more often to going out with my host brother and friends, or coworkers. As soon as I did this, I felt a part of the community and no longer isolated.