I chose the program because it was offered through my university. I wanted to spend time in a Spanish speaking country, and the program offered that in Ecuador. La Academia Latinoamericana de Ecuador had a family that attended my university, so I felt comfortable and safe in choosing them to help organize my program.
Brooke loves the pull of the unknown. From the depths of the Amazon Jungle to the coral reefs of the Philippines, she finds adventure in everything.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My program provided me with a few options for a volunteer experience, but only one allowed me to work directly with Occupational Therapists, which is something I needed. They arranged for a 7-week volunteer experience for me with that outpatient facility. They also arranged for me to live with a host family that was the best part of the whole experience. The program also organized some trips to different places around the country to allow students/volunteers to see the sights; I attended some of these. But there were others that I organized by myself/with some friends.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
I would advise them to not be afraid to speak the language. For me, living with the host family forced me to speak Spanish because they didn't understand English. The same with the place I volunteered at. My language and communication skills improved exponentially just because of that. At the place I volunteered, I even translated for other students from the USA who didn't speak Spanish.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day for the place I volunteered at consisted of having breakfast with my host family. Then I walked to the clinic, where I usually arrived before the therapist. I would observe/assist in either the adult or pediatric occupational therapy facilities until a little after lunch time. Then I would go home for lunch and have the afternoon to complete paperwork. We had dinner together as a host family and talked or played games until bedtime. I did this 5 days a week. On Thursdays, all of the volunteers with this program met to discuss how their work was going. And on the weekends I traveled.
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 not being able to communicate. It was and continues to be an absurd fear, but it's still there, and I know it happens for a lot of travelers. I was scared that my level of Spanish wasn't good enough and that the locals would make fun of me for it. This was never the case. My host family encouraged speaking and making mistakes and were always willing to correct me or listen to me talk around a word that I didn't know. The same thing happened in the clinic I worked in. Sometimes you have to dive into the unknown to realize that your fear was unnecessary.
What was your favorite place?
I traveled to Ecuador 3 separate times, each with part of the trip organized by la Academia Latinoamericana. For the trip that I've been talking about, I was a volunteer. But for the other trips, the group of students I was with took Spanish classes at la Academia (these were also fantastic). On those trips, we spent time in the Amazon Jungle. That is by far my favorite place in Ecuador to visit.