Teaching Abroad

We have definitely been busy the past couple days, traveling to Cuenca and hiking Chimborazo, but I figure it’s not too late to do a little check-in for week 2.

Week two was definitely less stressful than the first week! It was also shorter (only 3 days because of our trip to Cuenca) so that’s probably why it was a lot easier to handle. Our field trips have definitely allowed us to get to know our students better, so coming to school is always enjoyable because of that! One of the things Andrew and I really like about San Ignacio is their morning routine. For 30 minutes before classes start, all of the students (led by multiple teachers) participate in their “Brain Gym.” During this 30 minutes, the students work on simple things like verbs, the date, weather and introductions in both English and French – ask me to sing my french song I made up for you when I get back. The headmaster believes that by doing these things in context and while being active, they will stimulate learning and remember things better. Andrew and I love this concept and have been lucky enough to be more or less in control of brain gym for  our last 2 weeks at school. While Andrew focuses more on leading the more structured part of Brain Gym such as weather, body parts, the date, etc. I assist him and also lead all of the kids in a mini yoga session! It’s a great way to start their day, get blood moving, and it’s fun to see all of the kids giggle trying to stand on one foot during warrior 3!

I absolutely love San Ignacio, especially the students. I love that the students and teachers are so excited having us, and I love their excitement towards learning English! These are definitely the things that make all of the stress worth it. While I have enjoyed my time here and will continue to enjoy it, I think I have learned a lot about myself while teaching my students. I love kids and I love to teach, but I am definitely not meant to be a teacher (at least not in the traditional sense in a school). I have definitely chosen the right path for myself. I am excited to start medical school in the fall with the same curiosity, passion and excitement that my students come to class with everyday; I am also excited to use my teaching experiences to be a teacher for my future patients and their families.

So all in all, we are having a great time here! We have been on 2 awesome field trips with the school, and have gone on even more adventures with out host families! While I wish I could spend more time with my host family, I love spending most of my time with my students. We’ve reached the 3 week mark, so we’ve only got 2 more weeks left in Ecuador. We plan to teach this week, and will be heading to Guayaquil this weekend to hit the beach! We hope that next week we will have time off to explore a little more before we head home to our families and friends on the 14th (WE MISS YOU ALL IMMENSELY)!

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Climbing Chimborazo 

Leave it to the Minnesotans to climb a volcano just to play in the snow!

Chimborazo, the volcano, is definitely popular around here. All Ecuadorians, especially our friends here in Riobamba, boast that Chimborazo is the highest point on earth (if you measure from the Earth’s center). This weekend, we FINALLY got to take a trip up to Chimborazo to really enjoy it! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t exactly perfect for the trip – it was cloudy and rainy, so you couldn’t really see the whole mountain from the ground like you can on clear days. That didn’t stop us though. Some brave, experienced, climbers start all the way at the bottom and climb to the top; this of us with average athleticism drive up part way and then hike up the rest of the way, following the larger paths. The area where we drove to was a short walk from the first refuge. One we got to the refuge, we observed the map a little to see where we were going. There are 2 total refuges that most people stop at (though the altitude is definitely harder on some people, preventing them from getting to the second refuge), and after the second refuge (about 50m past) there is a laguna. We hung out a little bit at the first refuge to get used to the altitude. We chatted and drank hot chocolate and after a while we were ready – I did have to run back to the car to get another jacket though. Believe it or not, I had a long sleeve shirt on, a sweatshirt and a rain jacket! Honestly, I wish I had brought a scarf and mittens too (keep in mind it’s summer here right now)!

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A map of the trail with refuges and the laguna.

While the trek isn’t the hardest in the world – thank the lord for the paths – it isn’t for the faint of heart either. Most of us don’t have trouble walking in a straight line, but the altitude can definitely hit you hard if you aren’t taking it slow enough (I’m pretty sure at one point we walked by someone’s vomit, and I have no doubts that it was due to moving to fast and reacting poorly to the altitude). Andrew and I felt pretty good during the journey up, but there were definitely times when we had to stop and just breath for a little bit to adjust.

There are honestly no perfect words to describe the experience – and definitely not the view – while we hiked up to the second refuge. We could clearly see snow higher up, but we were also walking beside a small, fast river the flowed down the volcano, and we were surrounded by greenery among the volcanic rocks.

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Once we made it to the second refuge, we found ourselves playing in the snow… in the middle of SUMMER! We made snowballs, jumped around, and Andrew made a few snow angels! Don’t be fooled though, we definitely aren’t thrilled to be coming back to the snow anytime soon. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the laguna – it was cloudy, hailing, and cold, and probably not the best conditions for hiking, but we were glad that we did make it to the second refuge! Hopefully on a sunnier day we will be able to sneak away from class to take another stab at the volcano.

 

Overall though, we have been pretty lucky with the weather here, and by some miracle, the weather cleared up a little and on our way back the sun was out and shining! The river was glistening as we followed it back, and the plants looked bright and full of water. We even saw some alpacas munching on plants beside us! We were definitely exhausted by the time we made it back to the car, but we were also amazed by the view of Chimborazo behind us as we drove down the volcano. The view on the way down was just as amazing as we passed different plants, grazing alpaca, birds, and other animals.

We are definitely grateful that we had the opportunity to finally climb Chimborazo, and the view from school definitely has a more special meaning now that we’ve accomplished the climb!

Cuenca

This week Andrew and I were lucky enough to tag along for another school field trip (this also meant we didn’t have to teach Thursday and Friday, woohoo)! We packed up our bags and headed to catch the bus nice and early – 4am to be exact- so we could start our 5 hour bus ride to Cuenca, a beautiful, ancient city in Ecuador. Our first stop once we arrived, was the Amaru Zoo, which was unlike any zoo we had ever visited. The set-up of the zoo was very unique, being in the middle of the forest. We talked along winding, dirt trails, seeing over 40 different exhibits from monkeys to condors, the national bird of Ecuador. Unlike the Minnesota or the Como zoo that we are accustomed to, being at Amaru Zoo felt like a safari. We got a glimpse at the world these animals live in, rather than seeing animals implanted into our world in glass cages (luckily the venomous snakes and vipers were in glass cages) with cotton candy stands and hot dog carts along paved paths. It was definitely an indescribably experience, that took about 2.5 hours to complete. One of my favorite parts of the zoo was the monkeys! They were allowed to roam pretty freely, as they weren’t fenced in, in most areas. You could get extremely close, and throughout our journey, the monkeys were able to walk above us in a wire “skyway” that travelled most of the length of the dirt path.

 

During our time in Cuenca we also took a walking tour of the city and visited the pool for a little swim! It was a great trip, and we have learned so much about Ecuador’s history and culture during out time here! In all honesty though, being with the students on these trips is easily the best part. We get to know them SO much better when we are out, rather than in the classroom – and they always impress us when they ask us questions in English! I definitely think the pictures are way better than any blurb I could ever write, so here are a few glimpses of our trip.

 

 

 

Tour of Quito

This weekend was fun, but definitely exhausting! My host family took me to Quito, the capital of Ecuador to see a few of the sites (and of course try some of the food). At 2,850 m high, the city is gorgeous, constructed in the Andes. It is absolutely breathtaking to see houses, like steps, built into the mountains.

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We arrived in Quito Saturday afternoon and took a little bit of time to rest before we set of to see the city. After a little nap, we got lunch at Café Del Fraile, where we had a spread of plates from land and sea – a little Ecuadorean surf and turf. The food was excellent as usual and I was definitely stuffed. My host family is very big on sharing, so it’s great to trade plates when we eat out so we can try different dishes. One of the dishes (which I told them I was going to pass on ordering) was goat. My host dad ordered it so I still got to have a little taste, and honestly, it was delicious! Would I order it for myself? Probably not. BUT, I still enjoyed it! After lunch, we saw the president’s house, the mayor’s house and probably about 5-7 churches and a few theaters. The architecture of the city is gorgeous, the churches all hand-made of stone with beautiful, hand-carved wooden doors. The streets of the city are small and made of stone, another defining characteristic of the area we were in, also known as “the center.” After exploring and admiring the architecture, we stopped for ice cream! Right after we stopped for canelazo (a drink of water, cinnamon and liquor – though sometimes juice is added as well) and a HUGE empanada filled with a little bit of cheese and topped with sugar (similar to the elephant ears you can buy at the state fair). While I wasn’t a huge fan of the canelazo, the ice cream and empanada were definitely winners! After a long day of eating and walking we also went to a local school of arts where they put on a show in their theater. The show – all of which was in Spanish that I didn’t understand – was a satire about men and women. They joked with each other and danced to traditional Ecuadorian music.

After a good nights sleep, we set out to explore a few more sites on Sunday: The TeleferiQo, the basilica, the Virgin of Quito. The TeleferiQo was first on our list. It is a gondola lift that goes all the way up the Pichincha volcano in Quito and allows you to overlook the whole city, as well as 3 cities. The view was beautiful, though it was cold, and the high altitude often makes people tired. We walked a little bit up the mountain and looked over the city, and we also saw horses and llamas at the top!

After the TeleferiQo, we were all exhausted, but we were on a mission to sight-see, so we made our way to the Virgin of Quito. The Virgin is a large statue of Metal that also overlooks the city. They say that the area in front of the Virgin is the north, and the area behind her is the South of Quito. While we were here, there were many little shops for souvenirs and food, as well as people dancing in the park.

The last place we went was the basilica. It was absolutely HUGE and equally GORGEOUS! It was made of stone and had wood doors, defining characteristics of churches in the area. On the outside of the structure there were intricately hand carved stone animals. We walked inside and of course it was equally beautiful.

After our exhausting day out, we finished the day of with dinner, ice cream and a couple of movies before waking up at 3 am to head back to for school on Monday morning!

 

El Cafe de Doña Magolita

This Wednesday, after sitting in my room and watching Netflix while I planned for classes, my wonderful host mom, Lucy, decided we should get out of the house. We hadn’t eaten yet so we decided to go on a little “Gastronomic Tour” as she likes to call it (though she says it in Spanish of course). Of course I didn’t complain; if there is one thing I can’t turn down, it’s definitely food!

Lucy wanted me to try some of Ecuador’s traditional food so we started at a cute little “hole in the wall” café called “Cafe de la Rosa.” There we had tamalés de pollo, huevo, y verdures (chicken, egg and vegetables) along with chocolaté (aka hot chocolate with marshmallows). The tamalés were very yummy, though though not my favorite thing I have had so far – I’ve had a LOT of good food here. The hot chocolate though… WOW. I don’t like chocolate – I know, I’m sorry – but I do love  a good cup of hot chocolate. That night I had the BEST cup of hot chocolate I have every had in my life.

After eating at Café de la Rosa, Lucy said I absolutely had to try tortillas as well, so we drove around to find one of the places she loved. Unfortunately the one she wanted to go to was closed, but honestly I am glad it was. Instead, we ended up going to Doña Magolita, a small restaurant/café where wee had Tortillas con caucara (tortillas with beef). Not only were the tortillas delicious (they were made of potatoes and cheese, served with with beef on the side and a fried egg on top), but the story of the café is amazing.

Doña Magolita has 8 children and was married to a builder. One day, her husband was killed in a horrible construction accident. After his death, their family was left with nothing. Doña Magolita lived in just one bedroom with her 8 children. The bedroom had only one bed, but despite what had happened, Doña Magolita was determined to make sure her children got an education and worked hard to provide for her family. Every morning, she would wake up and make tortillas to sell on the street. Everyone absolutely loved her tortillas! She sold so many that she was able to earn enough money to later buy her own building. There, she created her café: Doña Magolita.

Welcome to English Class

Our first time in school was on Thursday during the week of our arrival. We got to meet the kids and teachers, and sat in on a teachers meeting, which was definitely stressful for me as I was on Spanish overload. Overall, though, it was a good day to just learn and become familiar with what we were going to be doing. Friday in Baños was even better because we got to have fun, explore the city and meet a lot of the kids we are working with this month!

Our first “real” start of teaching was probably on Monday (the following week). Monday was definitely just a get to know you day. We passed a ball around that had questions on it so we could learn more about the students and what their English level is at. Over all it was very successful, although I am still struggling with names (5 days later), unfortunately!

In all honesty, I’ve definitely felt just about every emotion possible this week. I’ve been mostly happy, sometimes confused and stressed, definitely tired, and pretty frustrated at some points too. Being someone who doesn’t enjoy being bad at things (like pretty much everyone else in the world), it’s been a weird adjustment for me. My Spanish is nowhere near fluent, but I understand the majority of what is being said (as long as there aren’t a million people talking at once). Still, I know there are A LOT of words that I don’t know and that definitely frustrates me. Thinking and trying to speak in a different language is exhausting and it has definitely taken a toll on my mentally and sometimes emotionally. It has gotten better as the days have gone by, but I still have a lot to learn and to practice. I also feel bad for the teachers I work with when I don’t understand what they are saying and they don’t know how to explain it because we speak different languages. I am very lucky that one of the teachers at the school speaks English pretty well, and he helps me communicate with other teachers when I need it, and fills in some of the blanks that I can’t figure out on my own. I also can’t say enough how glad I am to have an awesome buddy like Andrew here. Being able to speak English takes off some of the stress, but also just having a friend helps immensely. I am glad we are experiencing these 5 weeks together.

All in all, I have enjoyed myself, though this definitely is not a vacation. If you asked me today how I felt, I would say ,”Eh, okay”; yesterday I probably would have answered the same question with an “AWESOME! I love it here!” It has definitely been a rollercoaster. I’ve been excited about my students being excited, and I feel like I have learned just as much from teaching as my students have learned from me (probably even more). By the end of my 5 weeks here I have no doubts that I will look back and say that I absolutely loved my time here! For now though, I am definitely taking everything day by day.

 

The First Weekend

Pase del niño de Chimborazo “parade”

Today after sleeping in until almost noon (our trip to Baños was exhausting), our host families took us out to experience a real Ecuadorian celebration! We started out at a beautiful park surrounded by beautiful buildings like the church and the Mayor’s office. The church was rebuilt after an earthquake which destroyed it using its original peices!

After looking around the park, we got ice cream and waited for the parade to begin! Once it started we were absolutely amazed. Several provinces and even other countries took part in the parade, each having their own costumes and unique dances. The parade was long ( 2 hours) but it was absolutely breath taking to see all of the dances put on by people of the country. The music was loud, and the streets were surrounded by locals and tourists, excited to watch the parade!

 

Family Lunch Ft. Congrejos! (Crabs)

After a long night out for Pase Del Niño, we slept in and were excited to get to have lunch together with our host families (our host moms are sisters)! What we didn’t know, was that the ENTIRE family was coming. All of a sudden, I went into the kitchen and all of my host mom’s sisters and their families, and her mom, were there! There were kids running around all day, playing and swimming in the pool.That being said, it was fun to meet everyone and to enjoy an amazing lunch of A TON of crab! It was definitely a task to get the meat out of the little guys, but it was absolutely delicious. We even learned how to properly take apart the head so we could use it as a bowl and eat the meat (not my favorite part, but it was good)!

Stay tuned for more adventures!