Devon O'Brien - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Ecuador
My name is Devon and I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US. I am studying Psychology and Spanish at William Smith College in New York. After being home from college for a few weeks over the holidays, I craved an adventure that would give me the opportunity to develop both my personal and academic interests. I decided to take the plunge and travel to the Galapagos to teach English for one month. In doing this, I would be exposed to a unique culture and way of life, as well as have the perfect chance to improve my Spanish.
My Teaching Project
I found teaching English to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I arrived in the Galapagos on a Friday and had the weekend to get to know my host family, the other volunteers and explore the fascinating island.
My first week in the classroom was fairly easy. I worked alongside another volunteer who had already been there for two months. This meant that she was familiar with the students, had a solid daily routine and had far better Spanish speaking skills than I. That week, I spent most of my time observing and trying my best to learn the names of the students. By the following Monday, I was on my own.
My first class began at 2:15pm. They were my little ones, age five to seven. I spent that week doing a big review of all that they had learned so far. We sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” played Pictionary with fruits and vegetables, did animal flashcards and drew family trees. My second class were ten to twelve-year-olds. We spent the first week reviewing the past, present and future tenses, vocabulary and basic sentence structures.
To be honest, my first week of teaching was exhausting. I was intimidated by my obvious lack of Spanish skills and wondered how I would be able to teach in an effective and fun way. I quickly learned that studying Spanish grammar in my college Spanish classes really couldn’t compare to trying to patch together conversational Spanish in a class of 20 students. Google translate and my English-Spanish dictionary were my best friends that week.
By week two, my nerves had settled. I had formed a daily routine and I had learned the names of my students. I found myself 100% more relaxed in the classroom. I began forming relationships with each of my classes and grasped a better understanding of their academic strengths as well as the differences between early education in Ecuador and the US. To me, this was very important. San Cristóbal is an island overflowing with children. This also means that there is a lack of teachers for so many kids, resulting in huge class sizes.
I didn’t blame my students for being rambunctious and chatty. By 2:15pm, their school day had ended and it was hard for them to hold their focus for a whole hour of English class. So, I decided that the only way for me to grasp their attention was to join in their silliness. I participated in their laughter at my bad Spanish pronunciation and join them in giggling at their little English mistakes.
One of my favorite memories was during my second week of teaching. On my first day, I had given my formal introduction: “Hello students, my name is Devon and I’m from the United States.” From that day forth, they only referred to me as “teacher” as they do with all teaching volunteers. As we were reviewing introductory phrases during week two, I asked my student, Victor, to come to the front of class and practice with me. “Hello, what is your name?” he asked. I replied, “My name is Devon”. My class immediately began trying to pronounce my name with puzzled looks.
Usually when I introduced myself to people in the Galapagos, they would call me “Deveen,” or “Debown,” which was close enough. However, my students just couldn’t say it. Finally, after a couple minutes of giggling attempts to correctly say Devon, Victor yelled “Lemon!” followed by an eruption of laughter (myself included.) For the rest of my time teaching, I was deemed “Teacher Lemon.”
My Host Family
I found that living with a host family was a perfect way to practice my Spanish and learn about Ecuadorian culture first-hand. They are some of the most generous and happy people I have ever met. I was constantly stunned at how eager and willing my host family was when it came to including me in conversation and immersing me into their lives. I also immediately fell in love with the slow, relaxed Galapagos lifestyle.
My favorite part about living with them was witnessing the true importance of family and togetherness. On my first day on the island, my host family’s daughter arrived home with her new baby. She and her family (her husband and two other young children) came over for every meal. I had assumed that this was because they had more help with the baby at the house. I soon realized that this is just basic tradition. Families, extended relatives included, eat meals and spend time together each day.
On weekends, my host family took me to places around the island. They took me to church, took me on hikes and planned days at the gorgeous beaches on the island. I feel so lucky to have experienced much of the island with my gracious family who has been to these places so many times and are still so willing go again and again so that volunteers like me can witness the beauty of their home.
Meeting Other Volunteers
I loved being able to meet so many different other volunteers from all over the world. It was amazing to learn about everyone’s lives back at home while sharing such a unique experience together. It made me realize how truly similar we all really are.
On my first day, I was introduced to about ten different volunteers, some of whom had been there for months, and some who had just arrived like me. Because of the uniqueness of the experience and the foreignness of the Galapagos, I found it comforting to get to know other people my age who were experiencing the same fascination and slight culture shock as I.
One of the greatest parts about Projects Abroad is how easy it is to find time to do your own exploring. Aside from fun weekend trips of snorkeling and traveling to farther beaches, four other volunteers and I were able to plan a trip to Isla Isabela. We had an amazing time. We toured volcano tunnels, caves, experienced a different nightlife, unique food, animals and a quieter setting than we were used to on San Cristóbal.
The time I spent in Ecuador is something that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. I met so many amazing people from all over the world, experienced Ecuadorian culture first-hand, and had the opportunity to give back to this wonderful community through teaching. This experience further sparked my interest in Spanish language and culture, as well as a love of travel and South America. I will miss uniqueness and beauty of San Cristóbal and the amazing people I had the chance to meet and spend time with. I hope to someday return!
Read more about Teaching in Ecuador