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 2015 scholarship recipients, Alex Elizzaraga and Rita Hess.
Wow! The past few days have been a whirlwind. I am so exhausted, but in the best way possible. My travels honestly went so smooth; I feel so lucky! I started in Chicago, where I took a flight to Mexico City where I had a 6 hour layover until my flight to Quito at 1:18am. I didn't want to sleep in the airport because I had my purse and my carry-on and all that, so instead I got some Starbucks and their wifi and tried to keep busy. As soon as I got on that flight though, I was dead asleep until I awoke to this beautiful view:
My flight got into Quito a little later than expected, but I passed through customs and got all my luggage with no problems. As I left the terminal, a teacher from my school was waiting for me with a sign with my name on it, woo! So we drove together to my host family's apartment where he dropped me off and ran off to teach the morning classes at the school. I had some time then to unpack, shower, and eat breakfast. My host mom's name is Ana Ceclia and she is so nice! We have a cat named Nino who is super adorable. Her son also lives with us, but he is a flight attendant so is gone from the house quite often. Also, there is another volunteer from Germany who I share a room with who is also very kind and has given me great tips about the city!
Then, at 11:00 I had to be at school for orientation. One of the coordinators from the school took me on a brief walking tour of the city, showing me the best restaurants, the post office, what to avoid, some stores I might need, and more. I then went home for lunch, and came back to school for class from 1-5. My teacher's name is Germán and I am the only student. We spent the whole time simply talking so he could assess my Spanish. He would correct me whenever I made mistakes but overall there was no real plan for the class that day. We talked a lot about politics, student loans, the economy, and a lot of intense topics. It felt really awesome to be able to talk about such things without much problem in Spanish, because in my classes at school I mostly talk about the Spanish language itself or literature, and don't get opportunities like this that often.
After class, I came home and decided to get dinner with my host sister so that I could meet some of her friends since my class is one-on-one and I didn't have much of an opportunity to meet people that first day. It ended up being a great idea because we went to a Mexican restaurant that was super cheap, super delicious, and I ended up making plans with a girl from Norway named Anne for the next day. After dinner, I came home and seriously passed out. It was quite the day.
One thing I've noticed so far about Ecuador in general is just how much the altitude has affected me. I don't think I have altitude sickness, but for a while I really thought I was out of shape walking up and down the hilly streets because I was almost always out of breath, even just sitting at the table to eat. I told my host mom and she told me that it's definitely because of the altitude. At about 3,000 meters above sea level, it's really quite a shock to the system. Now (after almost two full days) I feel a lot better and have no trouble breathing.
Ecuadorian Spanish is very easy to understand and it seems to me like they have very little accent. They do, however, use a lot of words from the language Quechua of the indigenous Incan people, so I like to notice those and find out what they mean from my teacher. Also, from a phonetics standpoint, their "ll" sound sounds like the ll in million rather than a y sound, so that's pretty interesting to a budding linguist like me.
This morning, I visited the historical center of Quito with the girl I met yesterday named Anne. We met at the bus stop nearest our apartments and took the bus (25 cents) all the way to the end, got out and just walked around with no real plan or direction. We ended up going inside of the cathedral, getting hot chocolate to avoid a short rain, and visiting a few parks. The old town is really cute! There are so many locals out and about all the time, it's almost rare to see tourists in big groups and there are none of those typical tourist trap souvenir stores, which is pretty great. Total Ecuador immersion!
After the Old Town excursion I went home for lunch, then to class, and then afterwards the school had a cooking class. We made tortillas with cheese, and potatoes, chorizo, and eggs. Very tasty! Now I'm at home, a lot of people from the school decided to go out for some drinks but I decided to stay in and just catch up on my sleep and recuperate from the past two crazy days. It gets dark here so early (it's the same time zone as Chicago but it's so far east that it's dark by 7) so that also is adding to my exhausted-ness. Tomorrow, I have to be at school at 7:30 and we're taking a school field trip to Cotopatxi, an indigenous market about 2 hours away from Quito so I'm sure I'll have tons to post then!