After graduating high school, I went to Ecuador for ten months through AFS. I lived in a small city high up in the Andes mountains, near to one of the countries largest volcanoes, and went to one of the local high schools. I lived with a wonderful and caring host family and made good friends with both my fellow AFS students and my classmates at school. Despite the hard parts of the year, like being homesick and experiencing culture shock, mt AFS year was the best year of my life thus far. I learned so much about not only myself and Ecuadorian culture, but also about culture in the US. I gained fluency in Spanish, self confidence, and a host of other things that made me grow.
During my year, I spent most of my time being a student and a part of my host family. Many of my days were pretty similar, just going to school and then spending time with family or friends. Sometimes I got bored, but I also appreciated it, because I knew it meant that I was getting to experience what life was like for regular Ecuadorians.Ecuadorians are some of the friendliest and most caring people you'll ever meet. I always felt welcome and cared for.
I also got to travel quite a bit, mostly on the weekends and over some breaks from school. Ecuador is a awe-inspiring country, because of its natural diversity. I took trips to the Amazon rain forest, the Galapagos Islands, went to beautiful beaches, massive volcanoes, along with so many other breathtaking places.
The only draw back that I saw with my program was the local AFS support staff. AFS USA did an excellent job of preparing me for exchange before I left, but support in-country was pretty lax. Part of that was just a cultural thing. I was used to orientations and events being planned out and scheduled way in advance, a trait that's very prominent in US culture, but Ecuadorians have a less strict sense of time, so many things AFS related came together at the last minute and weren't as well organized as they would have been in the US. Also, AFS Ecuador volunteers are spread pretty thin. There was only one AFS volunteer in my city, and he was responsible for 12 students. This meant that I didn't get much one-on-one support from her, but I knew that I could go to her if any serious problems came up.
All in all, I would definitely recommend AFS to anyone looking to go on exchange. It's a wonderful program that has a focus on cultural understanding, which I believe is immensely important.