During my time in Ecuador, I kept a journal (something I highly suggest if you go by the way), and every day I took the time to write some of the new things that I learned. Here are some of the main things I took away from my trip to Ecuador:
1) I really felt I made a difference volunteering. Although the volunteering in Ecuador building houses for a small village was the main (and by far the funnest) part of the whole trip, I would say I became a volunteer basically right after the first meeting after receiving notice that I was accepted into the program. The first thing we got to do was create fundraising plans to raise money in order to buy the materials we would need to build the houses with. I served as the treasurer for my group, and so I personally got to see that the money we raised went directly towards making payments to the various shops and vendors in Ecuador that helped supply us with goods (like, right down to actually giving the money to the shopkeepers in person). It was also gratifying to see a place that was originally bare all of a sudden have brightly colored houses standing there by the end of the summer.
2) I made lasting friendships, not only with my fellow group members who did the trip with me, but also with some of the local adults and children who lived in Ecuador. To this day, I still keep in touch with people who now live in the houses we helped to build, and it's lots of fun to exchange stories with them about what's going on in our lives and hear about how they're doing! In addition, some of my group members are now my closest friends--I don't know, something about spending a whole month together and having to endure doing medical rotations and volunteering together really built a group mentality that I enjoyed. Above all, the feeling of being in a group and accomplishing something that we all love together is a great feeling.
3) I got to witness just how diverse a country like Ecuador is within itself. I don't think I've ever been on a trip in which you can travel to mountains, beaches, hot springs, rainforest (the Amazon!!!), farmland, and large cities all at the same time. It was certainly an amazing experience going to all these difference places! One thing about Ecuador that was a new experience for me was the altitude--sometimes the altitude changes we experienced while we were travelling by bus were significant enough that our water bottles would concave or slightly inflate!
4) I gained insight into the nature of the medical field. Before this trip, I had a thought that I might want to do medicine when I graduate, but after this trip, I now know that I WANT to do something in medicine when I graduate. While we were in Quito doing medical rotations and taking lessons, I loved every second of all the hard work we were tasked with. The medical rotations were some of the coolest things I've ever gotten the chance to do. We got to get a glimpse of basically all the main fields in medicine, including ER, OR, Pediatrics, radiology, Sports Medicine, and Internal Medicine. In addition, during the week of medical rotations we were split into groups and given a group research project, and I learned A LOT from doing that project. The coolest part by far was that the project was in the form of a patient case study, and so I got to experience firsthand what it would be like to diagnose a patient. Absolutely the coolest experience ever.