I chose to volunteer in Quito, Ecuador for a couple of reasons. First, I had volunteered multiple times previously with IVHQ and loved it! Second, I am fluent in Spanish so I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country this time around. Third, I thought it would be neat to visit the equator and see both hemispheres of the world at once!
Allison is a Christian elementary teacher from Michigan, USA. She is passionate about language, culture, animals, spaghetti, and wiener dogs.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
IVHQ provides accommodation in the country, transportation from the airport to the accommodation, and breakfast and dinner every day for the duration of your volunteer program. They also offer 24/7 in-country support and access to volunteer training modules online, among other benefits. Flights and travel insurance must be arranged and purchased by the volunteer but IVHQ is very helpful with this, as well.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
One thing I wish I had known ahead of time was how chilly it gets in Quito. You would think that being on the equator, it would be warm, but due to the high altitude, it gets pretty cold in the evenings. During the day, it is a nice temperature, but never really hot. You probably will want a jacket and maybe some extra blankets for night time.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Breakfast is served at the volunteer house from 7:50-8:30 AM, and most volunteers have to arrive at their placements between 8:45 and 9:00. Volunteer works last until around 1:00 for part-time volunteers and 5:00 for full-time volunteers. Dinner is served at 7:00 PM. Evenings and weekends (Saturday-Monday) are free for exploring Quito or doing some traveling.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
As an experienced traveler, I didn't really have any of the "typical" pre-departure travel fears (i.e. missing home, not liking the food, getting lost, etc.) because I had handled all that in the past. I was, however, nervous about "fitting in" with the other volunteers. Once I arrived, however, I saw what a diverse group of volunteers we had – age and ethnicity-wise – and I quickly settled into my "niche" within the group. New volunteers came in every Sunday, too, and it was nice to mix it up a bit!
How were you changed by this experience?
At the end of my first week in Ecuador (out of four weeks total), my entire wallet was stolen while on an inter-city bus. My phone, credit cards, and debit card were all in my wallet. I was left for three more weeks without any of that. At first, it was scary, but reflecting back, I realized what a humbling experience it was living off limited cash and having to budget every penny.
I was able to truly immerse myself in the local culture and understand what it felt like to live in a developing community without much of anything. At the end of the trip, I felt truly connected to the community and the culture of Ecuador and had a newfound appreciation for those who make something out of nothing every day.