A Staycation is still a Vacation Here – Weekend #2

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Coming to you live from Cumbaya, (appropriately translated to “sweet dreams”) is this Weekend’s Update. While it isn’t nearly as popular as SNL’s Weekend Update, I can try to be about 1/4 as funny.

After our adventure filled weekend at Banos, we unanimously decided to have a more relaxing weekend this time around in our new “hometown.”  Cumbaya didn’t let us down!

Friday night we decided to pamper ourselves and reward our sweet feet for all the walking they’ve been doing. We went to a salon called Karisma that our host mom recommended. For a small price of $20 we got a manicure and pedicure with Shellac so it will last the rest of our trip! We also checked out one of the huge malls in Cumbaya.  Although our host mom suggested we try “this cute, delicious little place in the Square” (Read: TGI Friday’s), we decided to go to this neat Pizza Wagon place in downtown Cumbaya. The trendy atmosphere reminded us of places we’d been in Nashville!

Saturday we decided to take a “field trip” and our host mom won the award for Best Ecuadoran Mom Ever. Raquel drove us to Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) and took our pictures doing cheesy tourist poses with the large monument to mark the Equator line. (Contrary to my mom’s belief, for a short time, I WAS the center of the world!) It was so surreal to be standing in such a unique place. Raquel also took us to the bus stop, helped us buy our tickets and deposited us onto a bus taking us to “Old Town” Quito. Amazingly, we managed to get off at the right bus stop and spent about an hour eating lunch, window shopping and exploring the historic part of Quito where the government buildings are. It was beautiful even in the gloomy weather. However, it was much more dangerous than our sweet Cumbaya. There was a protest going on outside one of the government buildings that was a little unsettling. We were warned not to take out our phones or money at any point and had heard a few too many horror stories about the city. Although I’m sure, in reality, we were safe, our guts got the best of us and we took a taxi home pretty soon after we got there. On our way home it started POURING rain, so we took relaxing naps and then headed back out for dinner. After (another, but equally delicious) pizza dinner, Rachel went back home. Mackenzie and I decided to check out some of the nightlife in the downtown square. We went to two of the hot spots and got to listen to two really great life music performances! We loved the laid back atmosphere and the quality of the bands. It was definitely a great way to spend our night.

And now, today, we have had another relaxing day. After sleeping in, we decided to take advantage of a sunny afternoon. We walked to the market to buy the cornbread we have all fallen in love with and then walked along the nature trail behind our school. Apparently it leads all the way up to the mountains and many people run it each day but because I hate running more than anything in the world of the high altitude making exercise harder here, we decided to leisurely stroll. The view was beautiful! All I could think about was how much my Nana would love the flowers. It was just another piece of paradise hiding here.

We are napping, reading, and lounging our way through a rainy evening before we start another school week tomorrow. Thursday we have the day off because of a holiday and plan to go to an Arts and Crafts market we have heard great things about. I am excited to start buying souvenirs!

As we near the “halfway” point of this trip, I can only imagine what great stories I still have to tell!

Mi Primer Día en Solitario

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My first “Solo” Day in Ecuador was today. The best way I can describe my submersion in a foreign classroom environment is by comparing it to learning how to swim by getting thrown into a ocean.

My teacher had Parent/Teacher Conferences today, which are very different than those in the United States. Instead of staying before or after school, teachers have their assistants substitute for the day and then spend the entire school day in an office. Each teacher in the grade has their own Conference day so that they don’t overlap and the assistants can cover the classes.

I thought that while my teacher met with parents, I would just be helping the assistant teach the class but continuing to teach the math unit I planned on my own. I didn’t get to float down the Lazy River though! The assistant wanted me to teach the whole day! In the U.S., I wouldn’t have been phased by this development. Here, though, it was a little startling. I’m still getting used to the very different routine and the stark changes between a school in the States and Collegio Menor.

Overall, the day went VERY well. I got to teach an awesome creative writing lesson today that I loved! I also got to spend more time one-on-one with my students. I definitely had some obstacles, though. For Mackenzie, Rachel and I, the biggest challenge has been getting to used to the way students behave in class. By no means am I a strong disciplinarian in the States.  I rarely expect students to work in silence and often allow them to socialize, to an extent, while they work.  But, at Collegio Menor, students aren’t ever expected to sit quietly and work. Socialization is valued and emphasized at our school. Sometimes it’s hard for them to follow the rules in school! Bless their sweet little souls, they are loud and rowdy all the time. They have amazing spirits that are just overflowing sometimes.

Because I’m still getting used to this difference, I was more strict today with my Ecuadorian angel babies than I have been with other students. When I talked to my teacher after the day was over (and after I stayed an extra 30 minutes to tutor kids for their spelling test tomorrow) she said that it was a GOOD thing I was hard on them. According to her, they were testing me and seeing how much respect I would expect. Because I did push them to work hard and to learn, while still loving them, hugging them, and encouraging them, they did respect me at the end of the day. As I sent them home, each child hugged and kisses me goodbye today.

Today was a learning experience for this soon-to-be-teacher. You have to adjust to the climate in your classroom, and that isn’t always easy. You do have to meet your students diverse needs, in every way. Teaching is about meeting your kids where they are, and helping them grow. In a way, my students are doing that for me, as well.

 

Weekend of Wonders

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Tomorrow marks one week in Ecuador but what is even more amazing than that is the weekend we just finished! It was by far the most adventurous three days I’ve ever had.

Our original plan was to leave for Banos (a three hour bus ride…often rounded up to five hour bus ride, due to traffic) right after school on Thursday to stay in a glorious hotel we found a great deal on. However, the following things happened: 1) Our hotel was a false listing on Expedia and ended up not having vacancies. But, our fantastic host mom called several hostels until she found us an opening. We got a great deal on a 4 person room for $7 a night! Although it wasn’t the hotel we had originally wanted, we were thankful – and hoping our fourth roommate wouldn’t be a serial killer. 2) After an taxi hour ride to the bus station, we found out THE MAIN ROAD TO BANOS WAS CLOSED FOR AN EASTER PARADE. (Full disclosure: It might not have been a parade. My Spanish is rusty. But regardless, it was closed and we were stuck.) We took a sad taxi ride back home but were comforted by the fact a 6am bus to Banos was scheduled for the next day.

We we got to Banos (after 5.5 hours on a tour bus) we checked into our hostel and were glad to find that our roommate was not a killer, just a German tourist. We threw our bags down and immediately started looking for our adventures. We walked about 20 feet before we found one: horseback riding up the mountain side to waterfalls and an active volcano. We were sold. What part of that doesn’t sound amazing? The active volcano, you say? Turns out watching it erupt black smoke (as it did on our way back down the mountain) was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. While were on the mountain side we got to take a few volcanic rock souvenirs and also wade, sip and wash our faces in mineral water from one of the glorious waterfalls. After spending two and a half hours on a horse in the jungle, we were pretty tired, sore and dirty, so we decided to check out one of the spa deals on the tourist strip. We found a great deal that included a spa jacuzzi bath, a sauna room and a steam treatment (sitting in a wooden box full of steam with your head sticking out is a legit toxin remover, right spa goers?) all for $10! It definitely was a relaxing end to our Friday.

Our Saturday was anything but relaxing! We got up early to take a taxi ride to La Oscilación en el Fin Del Mundo (The Swing at the End of the World) in Casa del Arbol (The Treehouse) which was an adventure on my bucket list! I was surprisingly brave and swung on the suspended wooden swing over the edge of a giant cliff. It was by far the best and most unique thing I’ve done. I highly recommend it to any of you readers thinking about joining me here in South America! After the Swing, we wanted to take a Chiva tour. A Chiva bus turned out to be a party bus that rivals that of the Purple Line and Safe Ride at WKU. A rainbow bus blasting Spanish music took us all around Banos and stopped at several attractions – all of which we did! We got to see and touch The Face of Jesus in a natural rock formation, wade through waterfalls, ride a suspended basket across a canyon AND hike to Puente de Diablo (Devil’s Bridge.) The wooden, swaying bridge over a rushing waterfall and forest of trees, was TERRIFYING. Without the kindness of the sweet Ecuadorian man stuck behind me and his everlasting pep talk, I would not have made it across. I am so glad/proud that I did, however – twice! Once we got cleaned up from our adventurous day, we started our adventurous night. We ran into two guys from our hostel, one an English teacher from Australia and the other a chiropracter from California – both living in Quito, at dinner who invited us to The Leprechaun, a popular three story club in Banos. We took them up on their offer and had a great night dancing and bonfire viewing! We got home very late that night but were excited to start our day on Sunday.

The last thing we had planned for the weekend was a trip to a Monkey Sanctuary were monkeys were being rehabilitated after being rescued from deforestation. We were able to feed and hold the monkeys which was Mackenzie’s (our resident animal enthusiast) dream come true. Thankfully, we went early in the morning because she ended up getting very sick from the altitude we were in over the weekend. While a certain part of this experience (involving a concerned cow) will remain hilarious for Rachel and I and traumatizing for Mackenzie, I’ll spare her the embarrassment and not tell the story. I will say how grateful we were for our Host Mom who organized our pickup from the bus station and had chicken soup waiting for Mackenzie.

We had an amazing, adventurous weekend that was 100% out of my comfort zone, but I LOVED every minute of it. Similarily, teaching fractions (my worst subject) to my English Learners today was out of my comfort zone – and another thing I loved. I am really learning to open my mind and heart to trying new things and close it fear. I can’t wait to see what exciting things are going to come my way in the next three weeks!

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Day One: Another First Day of School!

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Today, I watched my second grade teacher kick a stray soccer ball back to a student, trade “World Cup” cards with another and call out bus riders for dismissal – all at the same time! I’m hoping that by the end of the next for weeks, I will radiate the spirit of an Ecuadorian teacher, too! For now, I’m working on a learning curve.

Mackenzie, Rachel and I arrived in Ecuador around 7pm last night. When we got off the plane, our “Mami” had a sign, hugs and kisses for us. Our host mom’s name is Raquel; she says she only speaks a little English but she seems very fluent to us! Unfortunately we aren’t as well spoken in Spanish. I made the mistake of saying I took a little Spanish in high school and now Raquel wants me to at least try to say everything in Spanish! I am determined to become more fluent so I can impress her! When we got to our house, Raquel gave us the tour and then made chicken empanadas for a late night snack. You guys know

I love snacks! Our house is absolutely beautiful. I am sharing a room with Mackenzie that overlooks what appears to be a cow farm. The rooster at 5am was an authentic touch!

Our school is only 2 blocks from where we are living (which is actually right outside Quito and called Cumbaya, pronounced like the song you sing around the campfire) so Raquel walked us there and back today. I can’t even describe how gorgeous our school is. You know the 80s movies with well dressed students lounging in courtyards and picnic areas that seem so unrealistic? ITS HAPPENING HERE. I got to teach science for an hour in one of the outdoor areas our school is built around.

The school is also ENORMOUS! I got lost twice today looking for the front office, which my teacher said happens everyone’s first week or so! Our school has students K-12 and they are very, very wealthy. Their parents are prominent in the business and entertainment world. One of my student’s mothers is actually Mrs. Ecuador and a local TV persona. Because of the wealth of the families, the school is very heavily guarded. Students have an ID card with pictures of people allowed to pick them up (parents, nannys and employed drivers.) They have to show this card to the guard outside the front desk before they can enter or leave. Students and teachers are bused directly to the school from their house and back at the end of the day.

Another huge difference is the school day itself. We start our school day at 8am but at 10am the students have a break for a snack and playtime outside (10 more points to Ecuador). When they return at the bell they have class until 11:40, at lunch time. The students actually have an hour to eat lunch and play outside in one of the many playgrounds and courtyards. After their one hour break, the students return for another 45 minutes of learning before a two hour Spanish class in the afternoon. Teachers use this time for additional planning and meetings. My teacher says she rarely takes work home! That’s crazy to me!

Overall, I am LOVING Ecuador. My second graders are so loving (I got more hugs than I count today.) My host mother is the sweetest. She cooked a huge meal to welcome us again tonight and was so excited to hear about our days. Right now we are trying to plan our trip to the Banos this weekend! Because it is Holy Week we found out our school week is actually cut short! Tomorrow is a half day and we have Friday off. I could get used to this!

 

 

Passport: Student Teaching

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As a freshman in college, I sat in an orientation program for the Teacher Ed program at WKU. Towards the end of a long meeting, a speaker from the department came to talk about student teaching abroad. At that point in my life, I had only traveled to the Dominican Republic on a one-week, high school mission trip and senior year of college felt like it was decades away. But within a few minutes of his presentation, I was sold. I was 100%, most definitely, no questions asked, going to student teach abroad my senior of college. I called my mom while walking home from this meeting and told her my fantastic news. If you know my mother, you can imagine how unbelievably excited she was to hear this. (If you don’t know my mother, you should know the previous sentence was 100% sarcastic. She was not excited – she was already worrying.)

However, four years later, and she’s hopped on board with the student teaching abroad plan. Thank goodness, because in one week from today, I will be teaching my first day in QUITO, ECUADOR! It’s unbelievably surreal to me that a dream I had four years ago is coming true. In high school, I never would have imagined myself staying away from home, in a foreign country, for a month. I also never saw myself as a teacher! It’s crazy how much I have grown in the past four years at WKU! Although I am very nervous for this adventure to begin, I know without a doubt that Ecuador is exactly where I need to be! I am eager to see what doors this opportunity will open for my career.

In seven days, I will walk into a classroom of 2nd graders that I have been blessed to work with! My school is called Collegio Menor and is for children of Ecuadorian Embassy workers. I’ve been told it is an incredibly nice, safe school with a lot of great staff and resources. (This is such a stark contrast to my last abroad experience in Kinshasa, Congo.) I am traveling with two other student teachers from Western: Mackenzie and Rachel. We are all working in the same school and will be staying together with one of the teachers. Roommates were a huge answered prayer for me – even though we are pretty sure our “house mom” doesn’t speak English! (Stay tuned for our adventures – we are all blogging!)

I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity. I have been so blessed by several scholarships from WKU and my family’s investment in my future. I’m also forever grateful for everyone that has supported me emotionally along the way during the time leading up to this trip! I’ve got an amazing family, hilarious friends, supportive sorority sisters and a great boyfriend – all of whom I’m going to miss terribly during the month I am gone. I can honestly say that without them, and DEFINITELY without God’s grace and divine plan, this trip wouldn’t be happening!

I’ll be blogging at least once a week while I am teaching so, until next week, when my friends and I are settled in our Ecuadorian house, adios!