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We caught up with Max, a student at Tufts University who joined our Gap Program in Cuenca, Ecuador for the 2017-18 school year. Here, he shares his experience.

On choosing a gap year

The Tufts 1+4 program opened the door for me. From there, I thought the opportunity to improve my Spanish and experience the main aspects of a culture (family life, working life, food, events, etc.) was great. I didn’t think of a gap year as so much of a break, rather a different experience between the academic grinds of high school and college. I imagined my internship as a nice chance to develop professionally, which it was.


My host family was pretty unique. I lived with host grandparents for the whole year and my host siblings for most of it. My host brother, Jhonatan, was 21, and my host sister, Tania, was 26. They almost acted more like parents to me because they were closer in age yet still adults. The best part about my host family was that a lot of the extended family lived nearby. From a casual, weeknight dinner to a religious festivals, some or the whole family family seemed to be around.


For my internship, I worked for EDEC, the office of economic development for the city government. Specifically, I was with the Projects Department in the office. My responsibilities consisted of teaching English classes, attending workshops, and working on a couple of other projects. My coworkers were very welcoming and liked to include me in activities in and out of the office.


I woke up and had breakfast with my host aunt and uncle who worked in the shoe repair workshop at my house. Then, I caught the bus in my neighborhood that took me to my internship in the center of the city. I would do some work in the morning, and then for lunch, I would either bring a packed lunch that my host grandma prepared for me, or I’d meet up with some of the other AMIGOS participants at a restaurant. After some more work in the afternoon, I would do a bunch of different activities. Some days I would go to a salsa class, go to the gym, or just walk around the center with the other participants. Finally, I would go home and have dinner with my host family.


It made me worry less about the small things. Adjusting to a new place and culture was pretty demanding, which got me to let loose some previous anxieties. Most of all, I began to see the extreme value of relationships. It was really interesting learning about Ecuadorian culture and sharing mine through the many conversations with my host family and friends I met. I also feel like I now have better perspective. Growing up in suburban New Jersey put me in a bubble. After living in a countryside environment in Cuenca, I saw how a different side of the world lives. It sounds cliché, but beyond perspective, I experienced getting out of my comfort zone. I was fortunate to do it in a way most 19 year-olds don’t get to.


I’ll try to apply them as I move into college. Relationship building will become huge since almost everyone will be meeting for the first time. I’ll also strive to have a balanced lifestyle. I’ll look to spend time with friends and be active in between my schoolwork.


My best memory was driving back from Macas, a city in the jungle, after Carnaval. While others in the car were napping, my host cousin and I had a nice conversation, talking about each of our lives. We had never really talked much before, but after that moment, I felt a lot more open with her. Having the beautiful, Ecuadorian landscape surround us during the ride made it even sweeter.


AMIGOS offers kids a chance to open their minds and get off the beaten path. Odds are likely that your AMIGOS experience will be far different than anything you did growing up and in a very unfamiliar environment. For me at least, AMIGOS got me to think more about global resources and issues and the importance of civic engagement. AMIGOS can play a major role in your future and that of your new community.

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