As my five-month stint teaching English in Puyo, Ecuador with the Arajuno Road Project neared its end in July 2015, I became less and less excited about returning to New York. I loved the energy of my students and my neighborhood, and felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives and in the community. While researching ways to extend my time in Ecuador, I came across the InterExchange Christianson Grant. Without the grant I would not have been able to continue this amazing learning experience.
There are so many differences between life in Puyo, Ecuador, and life on Long Island, New York, such as patriotism and the perception of time. In Ecuador, patriotism goes beyond supporting your country’s sports teams or hanging the flag outside your home. It comes up daily in conversation—Ecuadorians often talk of their country’s beauty and will invite foreigners to get to know it by taking them on trips, sharing a traditional meal and inviting them to take part in holiday or festival celebrations. In New York, I rarely felt the passion for nature, culture and history that I felt in my short time in Ecuador.
I also gained a better understanding of how different cultures value time. In New York you budget your time and rush to make sure you’re not late. In Ecuador, time is valued just as much, but spent differently. Puyo is a tropical forest habitat and during the rainy season it can rain every day for a week straight. There is more understanding and patience because of this—sometimes people wait for the rain to let up before leaving the house. Sometimes we take a break in classes because students can’t hear over the noise of the rain hitting the roof.
My patience increased through this project and my students helped me become more appreciative of the journey rather than the destination. My favorite memory of this is the celebration of St. Vincent in the San Ramon community.
That week we had planned to continue with the pen pal activity we began with students in Japan. Upon arriving at school, however, I found the classrooms empty; all of the students were practicing their traditional dances for the festival. The following week they shared their traditions with the Japanese students in their letters. Although the celebration wasn't scheduled into the curriculum and the letters arrived late, it resulted in an integrated lesson for the students and provided insight into the culture of the community. Through situations like this, I learned to appreciate opportunities as they arise and to take advantage of the time that you have.
Lastly, I feel much more confident and fluent in Spanish after my time in Ecuador. The country has three mainland regions: the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon. Each has its own accent and traditions. In Puyo you might eat Maitos, a traditional way of cooking fish in a leaf, whereas on the coast you would eat Encebollado, a type of fish stew. These words, along with many others, have no direct translation. This has taught me to think carefully about exactly what I want to say, and to reflect on the words taught in school and the ones we learn in daily life.
The Christianson Grant gave me the opportunity to experience and understand life in a different culture, as well as share my experiences in New York with my Ecuadorian students. I now have a greater understanding for Ecuadorian culture and perspectives and have learned to take advantage of the time that I have, and to be more patient. My time teaching English with the Arajuno Road Project is an experience I will never forget.