Alumni Spotlight: Corey Van Aken


Corey's passion for travel is just as big as his passion for mountains, gravity sports, and getting out of his comfort zone, as well as helping coach others professionally in these fields as well.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to go to Ecuador because, first, the volunteer staff I worked with through IVHQ & VCE was more than happy to help with my project of teaching skateboarding and has assisted me in finding a school to work with. Secondly, I wanted to provide equipment and knowledge of the culture of skateboarding to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do so, but where skateboarding is not entirely absent otherwise.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider IVHQ helped set up my living accommodations and transportation from the airport. They also set me up with the local volunteer staff of VCE (Volunteer Connection Ecuador) who also helped find a school for me to teach skateboarding at. They also gave a great orientation of the area to me on our first day.

On my own, I had to organize the amount of skateboard gear I was bringing for the kids, how I was going to transport it from home, and my curriculum for teaching the kids how to skate.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My only advice really would be to listen to advice from your Program Managers about the area, ask the other volunteers for tips and tricks about getting around, keeping your stuff safe, and the general do's and don'ts. Everyone has really been great (in my case!) Also if you can, plan to stay for a long time! I went to Ecuador for two weeks, and I wish I had stayed for months! I really can't wait to get back to explore more and continue to volunteer.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

We would wake up at about 7:00 AM everyday and eat breakfast at around 7:45. It is then followed by a quick 10-minute walk through town to our pickup point which was a nearby school. Some of my friends would go to a school more south of Quito, and the rest of us would travel to a school in north Quito that was about a 25-minute drive by taxi/school bus.

We'd then work at the school until about 1 PM and then get transported back to our pickup/drop off point by 1:30/2 PM and have the rest of the day to explore the city, do activities, or go shopping. In my case, I went in search of different skateparks and spots to skate in Quito and was very satisfied on my finds with my friends and other volunteers!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was the language barrier, worrying about being able to communicate properly, especially for teaching the kids how to skateboard. I had taken two years of Spanish in high school but none of that really stuck with me.

However, you will eventually make friends and learn basic terms to communicate, and before you know it, you'll be chatting with the locals. You might not be fluent, but there are tons of ways to communicate and get the message across if you need to. Don't worry about this too much. Also, Google Translate is a great app to download if you haven't already. ;)

Another big fear of mine was the fact that I am a Type 1 diabetic. I had to make sure I could keep my insulin cold and have back up plans in case anything went wrong with my supplies. I had a plan and was able to always have supplies in my pack at all times, and the family at my homestay was very nice about letting me use their fridge to store my insulin. If you plan ahead and tackle the unknown with a good attitude and open mindset, it will all work out.

What would you have done differently?

If I could go back and do it again, I would've stayed for a much longer time. I cannot stress enough the fact of how many friends I made that were other volunteers, or people who lived there that I immediately felt such a strong connection to.

I think because you're all (for the volunteers) somewhat in a new place, pretty far out of your comfort zone, and everyone knows that, they all appreciate it, and you're kind of in it together. If you're having doubts or second thoughts, just try to keep an open mind, and don't set any expectations. Go in with a positive attitude, and you will be rewarded!