The last 3.5 months were filled with highs, lows, and lots of unknowns in Ecuador. For the first time, I ran community programs by myself, lived as one of the only Americans in a remote valley, and navigated daily life in Spanish. I received positive praise from community members, formed relationships with children, parents, and students my own age, and helped revamp five community center programs at the Manna Project: reading hour, kids cooking, physical activity, and childrens’ and adult English. I originally planned to serve in Ecuador until August, however, with the support of people I trust, I have returned to the United States early for safety reasons.
One of the greatest life lessons I have learned from my Lumos experience is that life isn’t always what you expect. You can research and vet an organization in detail, but have a completely different experience on the ground in a foreign country. As open-minded travelers, we have the responsibility to adapt as much as we can to fit into the organizational culture and culture of the country we are serving in. However, we also hold responsibilities to ourselves and our loved ones to stay safe and know how to assess risks. For my particular Lumos award, the best decision for me was to change the duration of my service in order to prioritize my well-being.
Here is a run-down of the positives and the negatives I experienced in Ecuador:
- I increased the attendance of the community center’s programs and formed a group of kids who became regulars of its weekly programs.
- I stayed with an Ecuadorian host family for my first week and maintained a strong relationship with them throughout my time in Ecuador (and will continue to do so in the future).
- Over 85% of my English students passed the English levels I taught and advanced to the next level.
- I used my Spanish skills to help support the Manna Project community center by providing information to parents and connecting with non-English speaking kids during programs.
- I traveled hiking Ecuador’s beautiful volcanoes during my days off with Ecuadorian friends. I shared my American culture with them while they shared their culture in return.
- I discovered my passion for sharing my love of languages through teaching. My Lumos service propelled me to enroll in a Master of Arts in World Languages teaching program at the University of Utah to become a future Spanish teacher.
- The organization I worked with, Manna Project International, seems to have better management at its Nicaragua site than at its Ecuador site. Unfortunately, the management was extremely hands-off, disconnected, and dismissive of safety concerns. For future Lumos travelers, I would not recommend working with this organization.
- During my time in Ecuador, I had money and my iphone robbed. Although petty crime is common in developing countries and there are many underlying reasons for it, the frequency of its occurrence in the specific location I lived in and the threats with weapons or physical force that accompanied it were very unsettling.
- Safety concerns: Part of the Manna Project’s mission is to live in a communal house. Unfortunately, the house was extremely poorly maintained and presented safety risks from gas leaks, exposed electrical installations, venomous insect infestations, and a house robbery. The attention that was attracted from four American girls living alone in the house also was difficult since some people assumed we were rich and easy to steal from.
Although it was difficult to come home early, I am very thankful for the opportunity to serve abroad on a Lumos award. The experience in Ecuador will make me a better, globally-minded Spanish teacher in the future. I hope to instill the desire in others to use their language skills to serve communities abroad and connect to other cultures. I also hope to include aspects of South American cultures including the Ecuadorian culture and service learning into my teaching pedagogy.
I look forward to returning to Belmont in the fall to share more about both my achievements and difficulties in Ecuador. I also will provide helpful information to future Lumos travelers about what to look for and what questions to ask when choosing an international nonprofit to partner with. Thank you to Lumos and Belmont University for your support, and see you in the fall.
Discovering my love of teaching
My host family from my first week in Ecuador meeting my parents. We all plan to stay in touch.