Spirit Cultural Exchange offers individuals the opportunity to help with a variety of volunteer projects in Ecuador while immersing themselves in the local culture. Volunteer projects are available throughout the year for a minimum of one week and are offered in many different fields. We hope you enjoy reading the blogs of our summer 2014 scholarship winner Danielle S.
Have I grabbed your attention yet with my mistake of not double-checking my luggage tag? That is pretty much the number one rule of traveling with a checked bag!! Yes, I am admitting my mistake to everyone, but only because there is a happy ending :) !
Anyways, I woke up and had the opportunity to meet the rest of my host family! There was a very nice gentleman and their 13-year-old daughter who was also very, very sweet and reminds me of my own beautiful sister back in the states (That’s a shout out to you, Kellie Leigh!). I was then made a wonderful breakfast with some granadilla (see picture!) and fresh papaya (and yes, it does taste different then what we have in the states…). It was lovely and I felt really healthy afterwards.
We then traveled to Simon Bolivar School around 9am (there is no time change from Chicago time, thankfully). During the morning, we tried to call the airport to see if my bag was still there around 50 times and there was no answer. My luggage issue would have to wait because there was no way I was letting anything come in-between me and the plan that God has for me here (that included not having clean clothes, shampoo or contacts for the next month!).
The school is about a ten-minute walk from where I stay with my host family. And man, I tell you, if you thought Quito sounded pretty when I described it when it was pitch black, it is a thousand times more amazing in this radiant Ecuadorian sunlight. I walked through the city and really was immersed in the culture. There are all sorts of different people here of all races and cultures which is really unique. I arrived at the school and I explained the situation concerning my bag to the amazing staff there (who helped plan my entire trip seemingly effortlessly). They said they were on it and would try to figure out the best they could. While they dealt with that (which I am so grateful for considering I can’t keep up with the airport staff’s Spanish), I was off to orientation and a city tour! Immediately after receiving my orientation paperwork, my tour guide of the city for the day introduced himself! German! Who spoke Spanish, German and English! He’s pretty great and he introduced me to my group for the tour, two girls my age from Germany and a middle aged woman from Washington D.C.
We received the full tour of the main parts of the city. German explained where was safe and where was not. He told us about all the different restaurants, clubs, bars, cafes, and stores. He shared where the post office was, when places were open, how the best way to get around is, and reasonable prices for things (Ecuador uses the US dollar). He also offered us wonderful advice about food choices, including which places make foreigners sick (What an awesome tour guide, right?!). After a two-hour tour of exploring the city, we headed back to the school. All of us would begin our afternoon Spanish classes at 1PM. I checked in with the staff at school and the airport did not have my bag. This meant my only hope was that Elisa (my bag twin) had my bag. The airport, fortunately, gave us her email address to try to get in touch with her. With one sent email and lots of prayers from many of you, I hoped for the best and a quick response.
Before we had classes, the German girls (who I've made good friends with) and I decided to check out the big supermarket here named “SuperMaxi”. I figured it would be smart for me to at least buy some toothpaste to get me by…We wandered around the store and looked first at the immense variety of fruits they had. Shapes and colors that I could never imagine existed in fruit form. I also looked at all the products they had similar to the USA. Ladies, try $16 for a stick of plain cover girl mascara and $21 for a bottle of face wash! We shopped and looked and lollygagged until we had to get back to the school for Spanish class. When I arrived back at school, I received great news! Elisa had responded! And she had grabbed my bag! She was willing to come to the school to exchange with me! Awesome news!
All of us were split into different classes. Some people were in-group classes and others, like me, had private tutors. I was lucky enough to get an awesome Spanish tutor! Here my Spanish class is from 1PM to 5PM. Yes, four hours of Spanish! It seems like a lot of Spanish, but my Spanish teacher, also named German, made it super fun (and I actually think he was somewhat impressed with the Spanish! Yay!). He said since I grasped my grammar so well, this week half of our Spanish lesson time each day would be spent around the city, practicing in markets, museums and even the Old City (Thank you, Spanish teachers of the past!). How awesome is that!
During our small break from class, I was interrupted by a staff member, who let me know Elisa had finally arrived! I jumped up and ran outside! I was so overjoyed I practically leapt into Elisa’s arms (and I think she kind of shared my excitement!). We both shared stories of how in the rush of the late flight we didn't bother to check tags and when we arrived at our destinations, we opened up our bag to find somebody else's items. I mean, come on, what were the chances that two people with the exact same bag (which are bright red, an unknown brand, and never been used) both would go from GA to Ecuador and not check their luggage tags. It's all very funny (kind of, haha) in hindsight...
After the luggage scenario was resolved, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I hugged everyone in the entire office. I was so grateful for their help (also grateful for the prayers from everyone else!). I finished my Spanish lesson with German and had my final orientation and finally got to head back home with all my things to finally shower and put on clean clothes! I ate a wonderful dinner with my host family! We began with a really unique spinach soup then chicken and mashed potatoes with cucumber salad! Not to mention fresh pineapple juice! I immediately headed to this blog after to catch everyone up to speed (Hope I wasn’t too boring J). I am attaching below a picture of the city from my room window! It's just a small glimpse to what is to come.
Today has been a great first day. I am so blessed to have a wonderful and welcoming host family as well as a supportive and caring staff at the Simon Bolivar School. I am so grateful to Spirit Cultural Exchange for bringing me here and I am more than excited for my days ahead. I hope that each of you who took the time to read this realize that I am beyond grateful for your support and faith in me. I could never thank you each enough. I will continue to update on here and please feel free to comment your responses of questions! I want to and love to hear them!
Lots of Love,