Chloe Abrahams - Teaching, Teaching English and Other Subjects in Ecuador
Before my gap year, I had never been away to another country on my own, and so I wanted my first placement to be somewhere relatively safe. South America was also one of the continents I had never visited, and given the fascinating history of the Galapagos this project seemed perfect.
When I first landed in San Cristobal Island, I was greeted by the ever-smiling face of William, the Projects Abroad Country Director, who made me feel so welcome after my extremely long 31 hour journey from London. He assured me that my lack of Spanish knowledge wasn’t a problem, even though the family with whom I would be staying didn’t know much English, and I would pick it up over the next 11 weeks.
After an induction to the project, I was taken to my host family and managed to sleep for almost 24 hours. I, and another new volunteer, met Daniela, one of the other staff, the next morning for a tour around the town. I knew that the town would be small but I was surprised how close everything was to each other. There were many taxis driving around the town but there was absolutely no need for one as everything was within a 10 minute walk from each other.
One of the things that you can’t miss on San Cristobal is all the sea lions. They are everywhere and during my first couple of days on the island most of my photos consisted of the sunbathing sea lions, but of course after a while they just become part of normal life.
My Host Family
I was extremely nervous about meeting my host family. I was anxious as to how I would communicate with them and if I would be welcomed into the family. My worries were all for nothing, however, as they were the loveliest people I have ever met. I was first introduced to Yolanda, the mother of my host mother, who kindly showed me my room and gave me some juice and asked if I needed anything. Our first conversations consisted of mostly actions and the very few words of Spanish that I knew, but I managed to communicate that I was extremely tired from my long journey.
At dinner time I was woken up by a knock on my door from Pablo, my host father. I was happy to see that at the dinner table there were two other volunteers staying with the same family, who both had better knowledge of Spanish than I did. I instantly became friends with them and they showed me the best parts of the island.
It took me a while to realize which of the family actually lived in the house, as there were so many members who came and went for dinner and lunch; it was a great environment to be in. The food was similar every day; for breakfast there were eggs, lunch always consisted of soup and rice, and then dinner again was rice and some meat and a small salad, or beans. One day I decided that I would make a grilled red pepper and tomato soup for my family to show them something slightly different. Leaving the family after my placement was the hardest thing, and we were all in tears at the airport while I promised to come back and see them whenever I could.
The Teaching Project
At first, I was assigned to the Projects Abroad school to teach English but after a couple of days I told William that I would like to try teaching in the school, so the next day I was taken to the high school to meet the teacher, Dorys, with whom I would be working. Surprisingly, her English skills were not much better than my Spanish skills and so I was keen to get into the lessons and see what, and how, the children were learning.
After a week I finally was able to get into a routine at the school and had been introduced to all my students. After first introducing myself numerous questions would follow: "Do you have any sisters or brothers?" "What is your favorite color?" "What is your favorite movie?" "Do you like San Cristobal?" And then the boys would start to get a bit more confident with "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Do you have facebook?" - it was very amusing seeing as they were all between 11 and 15 years old.
The children learn from one textbook issued by the government, and I was shocked at how many mistakes were in the book. As the school doesn’t have enough money for everyone to have textbooks, when the children do reading exercises I had to write out the exercise from the book onto the board.
On one of the days I was supposed to write out an example from the textbook onto the board about a short description of 'My Hometown'. After reading the textbook's example, I decided I just could not let the children use this as a reference. I understand that simple sentences are easier to understand, but I was sure that they could be pushed a little bit further. It was nice writing about my own hometown, and I think the children enjoyed hearing about a town in a place other than Ecuador.
I grew to absolutely love the children and spent breaks talking to them and sometimes joining in their soccer games. Nearer the end of my placement it was getting close to Christmas, and so I asked Dorys if I could teach the children about Christmas back in England and maybe teach them some Christmas carols in English. She happily agreed and I spent a week teaching all the different classes about songs, Christmas pudding and making cards.
My last day of teaching came so quickly. I had the most amazing time with the students and I really didn't want to have to leave. As I walked into one of my classes on the last day, I was greeted by my students with cake and sweets on a table in the middle of the room.
Something I did not expect was to be handed a tiny puppy as a leaving present; I wasn't sure if the students were joking or not! They named her Oreo because of her black and white fur and after saying goodbye to my students, I took the puppy home. I really don't know what my students expected to do with her as they knew I would be leaving in a week but my host family helped me find another family in San Cristobal to take care of her once I had left.
On some of the days, William organized for the current volunteers to go up to a school in the highlands and paint the playground. That happened twice while I was there and it was great to see all the kids getting involved in the painting and really enjoying the extra interactions.
As my teaching placement finished at 1pm every day, I was free to enjoy what the island had to offer for the rest of my afternoons. The nearest beach was Playa Man, which was right opposite the university where the students were taking classes. I spent a lot of time with them and we organized frequent parties at the local hangout, Café del Mar, and once we even had a boat party.
There were so many things to do in the Galapagos, I was surrounded by incredible wildlife and amazing people. I soon became friends with the locals and my Spanish improved incredibly. By the end of my time there I was able to hold a decent conversation with the locals and could understand other people’s conversations. I also went kayaking, snorkeling with sharks, turtles, and many more animals.
One of my most incredible memories was camping at a beach on the other side of the islands with 11 of my close friends. We built a campfire and watched a meteor shower - absolutely beautiful. Another great thing was the island hopping. I met a few people who were going around the islands on what would be my last week in the Galapagos, so I decided to go with them and visit two more of the islands, on which I climbed a volcano, did more snorkeling.
Travelling after my Placement
Originally I was to fly straight home after my project as I was going alone and I wasn’t so sure about traveling alone in South America; however, whilst I was in the Galapagos, I met some people who would be in the mainland Ecuador at the same time that I finished my volunteering, so I quickly changed my flights and decided to go with them for two weeks. Those two weeks were filled with fun and adventure; such as bungee jumping, canyoning down a waterfall, zip lining, white water rafting, visiting hot springs and camping in the mountains.
I still haven’t seen much of Ecuador, let alone South America, so that little taste has definitely given me an incentive to come back and see the rest. My experience in the Galapagos was by far the experience of my life, and Projects Abroad definitely helped me settle in and make the most of my time there. I will definitely be going back to San Cristobal to see how my students are, to visit my puppy, and most of all to see my wonderful family and the Projects Abroad staff!