My Ecuadorian Travel Experience, Volunteer Work

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Tourism in Ecuador
Going abroad for an extended period of time to learn Spanish has always been a dream of mine so I was very excited to finally make this dream a reality.

Now before you ask, “Why the heck would you choose Ecuador?”, let me explain that after looking through the World Endeavor’s website, the Ecuadorian program fit best with what I wanted to do, which was primarily to go to South America to learn Spanish while getting some work experience.

article pic 5During my two month stay in Ecuador, I worked at “La Selva Lodge” in the Amazon Jungle teaching English and working as a waitress.

But this decision was not easy to come to because it wasn’t the “typical” abroad experience.  Not only were the general nerves of traveling by myself prevalent, but also traveling alone would test me in ways I never expected.  But we can’t forget the logistical side of things that nearly made me go crazy.

It wasn’t just getting the panicked call from my Aunt a week before I left who was utterly confused as to why I was going to Ecuador and concerned for my safety.  She said “Wait, you’re going where?!”  And it wasn’t having Wells Fargo accidentally cancel my debit card just two days before I left, almost forcing me to go to Ecuador with only cash.

Even though these things did not ease my pre-travel jitters, the most nerve racking aspect of traveling was the uncertainty.  The uncertainty of whether or not Ecuador was the right decision, the uncertainty of whether or not I would make lasting friends, and the uncertainty of whether or not all my high expectations would be met.  I questioned if I would survive my layover in Panama, improve my Spanish and discover something new about a different culture and myself.

What I found through my experience abroad was that if you are willing to put in the work to get out and travel, you can make it what you want it to be with an adventurous yet realistic attitude.  There will inevitably be challenges and obstacles as you travel, but no matter if your experience is exactly what you wanted or what you expected, you are guaranteed to learn, and isn’t that the point?

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It is hard to condense everything I experienced while abroad in a short article, but what was unique about my time there was that I was not only exposed to Ecuadorian culture but also that of Europe.

The majority of students in the school I attended for my first week in Quito were German and I was interested in knowing what their perception of America was.  One of my friends admitted the first things she thinks of is Americans being fat—which she immediately reassured me is not true.  My next German friend, not surprisingly, associated America with McDonalds.  The final response was actually unexpected and clever.  My friend imagined us running around yelling “Freedom!” all the time.  I was even surprised to discover the differences between Britain English and American English, getting a good laugh as he referred to soda as a “fizzy drink”.

Not only was it interesting to learn how others nations view Americans and the subtle differences in culture, I was also surprised how big of a role American culture plays in Ecuadorian culture and European culture.

One thing that surprised me was that almost all Europeans that I met (which were a lot) knew English.  Even at the “La Selva” Lodge, all the guides could speak English because with the mix of cultures among the guests, English was the most useful language to know and was most commonly spoken to communicate between various cultures.

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Not only was it extremely helpful to know English, even in a Spanish speaking country, but the popular culture in the United States also played a key role in the lives of people all over the world.  I heard Katy Perry, for example, playing in the grocery store along with other popular American songs being played on the radio and on the iPods of my Ecuadorian friends.

Even though American music was often played, I listened to a lot of Spanish music as well.  But the major difference was that in Ecuador there is a different type of dance for all types of music.  When I was asked how Americans dance, I did not really know how to respond.  There is a lot of fist pumping and other moves I don’t particularly want to describe.  Ecuadorians, along with many other South American nations, have a lot of partner dancing and certain steps for each type of dance as oppose to the clustered, free-for-all dancing Americans engage in.

Ecuador also introduced me to the world of legal drinking.  The faculty at my school gave us, the students, alcohol during certain celebrations.  For the Germans especially, this was nothing out of the ordinary, but for someone who is used to the legal drinking age being 21, this was a very foreign and awkward situation–wait, am I allowed to drink this?  Drinking in the United States seems to be put in more of a negative light while drinking is an integral part of life in many other nations.

Discovering these cultural differences among friends proved to be an extremely unique experience but my lessons with strangers were equally, let’s say, “Unique” as well.   The cardinal rule of traveling that seems to be ingrained in all travelers’ minds is to not trust ANYONE.  I found that if you did not take certain risks and trust people, you would encounter some serious difficulties.

For someone who was traveling alone, there were instances where I needed to trust strangers even if I wasn’t positive that they were trustworthy- but really, you can never be totally confident in a stranger.  There was one specific situation where I was riding a bus back from the jungle and was not aware that I was responsible for informing the bus driver when I wanted him to stop—I had no clue where I was, how was I supposed to know where to stop?  So this man I was sitting next to helped me inform the bus driver, helped me get onto a different bus and helped me get a taxi.  I did not know this man but if I had not trusted him I may have ended up in Colombia somewhere, lost and even more confused.  I feel lucky that I was able to confide in strangers.  On the other hand, I understand that not everyone can be trusted, but it is important to know that that does not mean no one can be trusted.

DESPITE the difficulties that I faced before my departure and during my trip, whether it was questioning my decision to go to Ecuador or lugging around the ridiculous amounts of luggage I stupidly decided to bring, every experience exposed me to what traveling is like and the interesting people one could meet.

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Being abroad pushes you outside your comfort zone by using different modes of transportation, being in unfamiliar places and not being able to use your first language in scary or high pressure situations.

 Traveling is uncomfortable.  You may not be able to wash your clothes when you normally would or have access to communicate with your family at home whenever you want.

I am happy to be home, excited to start another school year and feel extremely blessed to have had the experience I did.  But traveling is addicting because of the personal benefits gained, regardless of the difficulties.

I hope that I am lucky enough to continue traveling in the near future.  Who would have thought that the best place to learn about yourself would be far from everything you know and everything that is familiar.

- by Megan Heynen

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