After having yet another summer of working every day, and then waste all the money on daily Starbucks visits, I decided to spend it all on travelling to Ecuador to learn Spanish and work as a volunteer. I was incredibly nervous the day I left because I had hardly spoken any Spanish, and I knew the host family I was going to live with did not speak much English. They turned out to be amazing and welcomed me as a member of the family. I lived with them in Cuenca, Ecuador for seven weeks. The first three weeks I had Spanish lessons with one professor for four hours every day except the weekends. The school also offered cocktail, cooking and salsa classes, which I attended. There were other students there too, and we went on weekend trips to see more of the beautiful country.
After the Spanish lessons finished, I worked at an orphanage driven by nuns for a month. I helped the kids finish art projects they did for school, and also taught English for a few days because some of them had to resit exams. Once their summer break started we were just playing outside most of the time, so it was like working at a kindergarten, and not difficult at all! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I already miss those kids so much!
Lastly, I worked at an animal shelter in the Amazon for two weeks, at a place called Yanacocha. It was incredible to suddenly be living in the jungle, and literally have three monkeys as the closest neighbours. We ate breakfast at 7:30 every morning, and worked 8-12, and 15:30-17 every day. We cut tons of fruits and vegetables for the animals, and then divided ourselves into groups to do the morning rounds for the monkeys, caimans, ocelots, tortoises, parrots, and several other animals that I wouldn’t know the name of in English. It was a lot of work, but very fun and the other volunteers were awesome. We only spoke English there, so anyone can go! On the weekends we got one day off to explore, so I visited an active volcano and tried rafting. It was so much fun.
Before I left, I was afraid I would never be able to keep conversations in Spanish, and that I would get too much of a culture shock and get homesick. Luckily I had nothing to worry about. After about three weeks I could understand most of what my family said around the table, and felt confident enough to talk to anyone. I loved getting to know a new culture as well: the food, the music, the dances… All of it. I made a lot of Ecuadorian friends as well, so I can’t wait to return to see them all again! I really, really recommend Ecuador to anyone who wants to travel, learn a new language and experience a new culture.