Alumni Spotlight: Robert Israel

Robert Israel is a lawyer in Montreal, Canada. He is still trying to improve his Spanish.

group of volunteers in Ecuador

Why did you decide to volunteer with Eco Volunteer UP in Ecuador?

Robert: In the summer of 2011 I was 42 and looking for a special kind of vacation that combined exposure to a new culture, the ability to learn a new language and the opportunity to teach children. I find all of that with Eco Volunteer UP in Ecuador, based in Quito. They have a personal touch that other organizations seemed to lack and did not insist on what seemed like ridiculous costs I saw with bigger international organizations. They had a project where I could teach English in a small community in the Andes, and so I booked my flight and off I went (from Montreal).

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Robert: Teaching English to Spanish-speaking kinds aged 5 to 12 was challenging and fun, but I would not say it was easy. Up early (with the roosters) and off to school in the back of a pick-up at 7:30 for four classes to various age groups. The kids were terrific. As my Spanish was quite weak, teaching was at times tough, but it improved quickly enough. I (and other volunteers) had to prepare lesson plans and do our best to help the kids improve even if the results were small. We played soccer during "recess". A wonderful experience for anyone who wants to teach, and especially rewarding if your Spanish is strong to begin with.

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

Robert: I stayed with a host family who was a matriarch of other homes in the village (Las Tolas). A wonderful woman and super friendly. Again, the more Spanish I learned, the better the experience became.

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Robert: I was in Ecuador for 6 weeks, and in the middle of my trip the school was closed for winter (in July) break. I then took off to the Galapagos Islands for a week to join another volunteer project that is possible with Eco Volunteer UP. This was manual labour in an environmental project. The Galapagos are not to be missed if you are anywhere near Quito.

This trip was a remarkable experience that I still think of very often. I miss everyone ... I think the kids most. I encourage anyone interested in teaching wonderful children to contact Maria at Eco Volunteer UP and ask her about the teaching project in Las Tolas.