Written by Cuenca, Ecuador Gap Volunteer Aidan T.
A Feast with Family
Last week my host family took me to my mom’s sister’s house. It was on the outskirts of the city and they had a decent chunk of land along with a full chicken coop and several ducks. As soon as we arrived we were greeted as royalty, given drinks and a sizable bowl of chicken soup. As I was eating, my host aunt told me the chicken I was eating had been slaughtered just a few hours ago. Well, the fresher the better! Then, the whole family walked out to the pea plants and began picking out only the “gorditas,” or the fully ripened peas.
Once we had finished the harvest, we went back onto the porch and began to assemble the barbecue for the freshly slaughtered duck. Despite the overwhelming smoke that filled my eyes, I took a moment to enjoy the scenery. Immense mountains loomed to the right and the city center poked out on my left. It was a beautiful moment to share with my host family. Once the duck was ready, I was gifted the heart, which was surprisingly tasty. It was a lovely day and a great example of the beautiful cultural immersion that I experience every day here in Ecuador.
Creating Space for Learning
Teaching English as a second language is no easy task, especially if you aren’t a trained educator. Nevertheless, I was thrown into the ring here at la Casa de la Juventud in Cuenca. They told me I was going to teach intermediate English classes to local youth ages 14–29 and I would be expected to come up with my own lesson plans. I was glad to hear that this would be a intermediate class because it would mean I could converse to some extent with my students. I spent my first week researching engaging lesson plans that consisted primarily of conversational activities.
For my first class, I introduced myself to my four students and explained what I was doing here in Cuenca. Immediately, it was clear they had no idea what I had just told them. After a week of planning I thought I was ready, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for this. I had to regroup and come up with a new lesson plan on the fly, which turned out surprisingly well. Now I have around 20 students who come in for classes twice a week and I always tell them I am learning right along with them. At this point my classroom has converted into a learning space where we are all equals, making the most out of our time to learn from each other. This experience was certainly humbling, but certainly one of the more rewarding experiences in recent memory.
Preparing to Return Home
As these four months in Cuenca come to a close, I find myself reflecting on my experience here. There were certainly difficult moments here, but when I look back on my time in Cuenca I can’t help but focus on my love for the city and the people here. I have made quite a few friends- through AMIGOS, my host family, and my internship. These friendships are the most valuable things I have gained from my time in Cuenca. Through these people I have developed a new perspective of the world and have learned just a little more about how I fit into it. The knowledge and the love I have received from the people I have met here is something I will never forget.