Appreciation Post: Why Our Community Members Rock!

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We’re serious when we say you make lifelong friends as a Manna Project volunteer. This statement isn’t just in reference to the relationships you build with your fellow volunteers--we’re talking about the community members too. We’ve been blown away by the kindness that the community has extended to us. Of course, the serious need in Ecuador is the primary motivation behind our services, however, the warmth that the community reciprocates is a bonus that we cherish. This kindness comes in the form of both continuous trends and particular acts. Such continuous trends include how, everyday at the Community Center, our volunteers are greeted by at least 7 or more parents with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek! Additionally, nearly every day of class, at least one Program Director receives a snack or a flower from one of their students. With regard to the more isolated acts of kindness by community members, below is just a sampling of the generosity we’ve been fortunate to experience in the last couple months.

  1. During their second week working at the Centro, two young girls made Abigale and Kate cards with the words “Te amo”.

  2. When Kate casually mentioned that she couldn’t get her Claro phone plan to work, without any hesitation, her host father Christian stepped in to call Claro and sort things out.

  3. Alexandra took Abigale out to the scenic Panecillo in celebration of her birthday.

  4. Laurita and Christian took Kate out for dinner at the only authentic ramen restaurant in Quito for her birthday.

  5. Community member Melida gave the Program Directors an impromptu ride home and stopped at her home along the way to feed them a delicious lunch.

  6. Community Member Carmen invited the Program Directors to her house for Dia de Amistad and also later hosted a barbecue at her house for the Program Directors just for fun!

  7. Community members Renee, Andres, Ricardo, Karina, and Carla took the Program Directors on a scenic hike up Ilaló.

  8. The parents of a young girl who takes our English classes give Kelly and Kate a ride every Tuesday.

  9. Community members Andres and Mateo volunteered their Saturday mornings to help cover the front desk during Adult English classes when we were short-handed.

  10. Abigale’s Adult Nutrition and Cooking class surprised her with a cake for her birthday and Kate’s Adult English class also surprised her with a cake for her birthday.

  11. Not only do the members of the Adult Nutrition and Cooking class help brainstorm recipes for classes but they offer to bring the ingredients!

  12. For International Women’s Day, community member Christian gave every female volunteer a rose to honor their womanhood!

  13. Community member Alexandra volunteered her time to host an embroidery class at our Community Center so that parents waiting for their kids to finish with their English classes have a way to entertain themselves.

  14. Community member Laurita volunteered to drive Pechta to and from the doctor’s office because she is still learning how to speak Spanish. She even helped translate so that Pechta could communicate with the doctors!

  15. Laurita and Christian volunteered their personal greenhouse to allow us to host nutrition classes.

  16. For nearly each holiday, every Program Director receives at least 6+ Facebook messages and texts from community members sending them holiday greetings and wishes.

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I’d like to emphasize that this list is in no way exhaustive. These are just a few of the acts of kindness that immediately came to mind. There are many wonderful perks of being a volunteer for Manna Project, but the Program Directors--Abigale, Gaby, Kelly, Pechta, Simba, and myself-- unanimously agree that the people we serve are by far the best aspect of what we do. The next time you think about donating or getting involved, think about how special these people are.  The kindness that our community members regularly demonstrate is active rather than passive. For these people, a kind “hello” or a warm smile is not sufficient; kindness requires one to step outside of one’s comfort zone and go out of one’s way to make another person’s day. Us Program Directors came here with the intention to serve the community but, to be perfectly honest, the community serves us in ways that go beyond English or nutrition classes. They’re teaching us to be better people. For that, I will forever be grateful to this community.

A Day in the Life of a Program Director

Welcome to Manna Project Ecuador! Here we’re going to illustrate one day among 3 different Program Directors: Kate Clendenen, Gaby Hochu, and Imhotep Simba.

Kate 7:00 AM: I wake up and stumble to my shower half asleep. Though I don’t enjoy leaving the comfort of my bed so early, this is the best time to take a shower. The sun is perfectly positioned to shine brightly through my bathroom window so I can enjoy the bright, warm rays as the water washes away my grogginess.

Gaby 7:30 AM: Rumi and I are fast asleep when my alarm goes off. Rumi is one of our cats. I pet him while I wake myself up. I get out of bed and get ready for the day. I make a nice big breakfast of a smoothie and an egg scramble with quinoa. Then I leave to head to a partner organization that I attend weekly, Antorcha de Vida, with my fellow Program Director, Abigale.

Kate 8:00 AM: On my way to the bus, I stop at the corner store at the bottom of the street to buy a Powerade. The store owner is a good friend of mine because I come here almost every day to buy snacks. We refer to each other as “veci” which is short for the Spanish word for neighbor: vecino. As she and I chat, I hear the bus pull up outside. I quickly say goodbye to my veci and hop on the bus. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to ESPE, the local university.

Kate 8:45 AM: I arrive at ESPE and walk over to Mariela’s classroom. Mariela is an English Professor at ESPE. I assist her with her classes every week. Though she always gives me some general guidance as to what topics she would like me to cover, I make my own lesson plan for the day and lead the class under her supervision. The professors at ESPE love to have Manna Volunteers primarily to help their students become more familiar with the native English accent. Class won’t start for another 15 minutes, so I chat with Mariela with what I have planned for the day and get myself organized.

Gaby 9:00 AM: Abigale and I flag down a Los Chillos bus and luckily we manage to get seats! The bus ride to Antorcha is close to an hour, so we get comfy and enjoy the views.

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Kate 9:00 AM: I arrive at ESPE and walk over to Mariela’s classroom. Mariela is an English Professor at ESPE and I assist her class every week. ESPE professors love to have Manna Volunteers to help their students become more familiar with the native English accent. Today we watch and discuss a Ted Talk about what it means to be truly happy. It’s interesting to listen to students’ opinions because it helps me better understand the culture of Ecuador. Next, we play a game: I have them improvise conversations in groups during which they have to use as many idioms as possible. Finally, we finish off the class with debates for speaking practice!

Gaby 10:00 AM: We arrive at Antorcha, and I walk in with a smile on my face because Antorcha truly is one of the highlights of my week. Antorcha de Vida is a center for people with special needs. We greet the teachers and therapists and play with the students until it is time to head to swim therapy. We usually race or play soccer when we arrive. Then it is time to head to the pool for their bi-weekly swim therapy. Abigale and I each hold two students hands, and we make the 15 minute trek to the pool.

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Gaby 11:00 AM: We arrive at the pool, and the students are rushing to get into the pool. Abigale and I usually swim laps with the students and towards the end we play games. Swim therapy is an excellent way for the students to get exercise in a manner that they enjoy, and it is especially helpful for the students with cerebral palsy who do exercises with the physical therapists in the pool.

Kate 11:15 AM I say goodbye to my class and head over to the bus stop. It takes me another 45 minutes to get to our Community Center.

Kate 12:00 PM Our Community Center doesn’t open until 2:00 PM, so during the two hours that I have I grab lunch from a nearby shop and prepare for class. I am also responsible for Manna’s social media accounts so I usually use this time to post on our social media accounts or work on writing newsletters or blog posts.

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Gaby 12:00 PM: After an hour of swimming, Abigale and I say bye to the students. I already can’t wait to see them again next week! I go and buy cevichochos for lunch from my favorite street vendor. She already knows my order every time I go. Cevichochos are one of my favorite foods here. It is ceviche but instead of being made with any type of seafood, it is made with chocho beans. It is so delicious so I eat it way too fast before boarding the bus.

Gaby 1:00 PM: Abigale and I arrive at Manna’s community center. The center opens at 2:00, so we use this free hour to do last minute prep before our classes.

Kate 2:00 PM The Community Center opens but my class is not until 4:30pm. During this time I usually greet parents and help kids with their homework. There are a lot of kids that come to the Community Center just to hang out so sometimes I’ll play with them! Some of the other Program Directors teach classes 3:00 PM so sometimes I also assist them if they need me. Also at 2pm, our Peace Corps Volunteer Simba arrives!

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Simba 2:00 PM: I arrive at the centro, grab a Manna laptop, and start checking emails. I also prep for Rainbow Days, a weekly group session that I lead with the youth at the center. I then prep for sports hour, which starts at 3:30.

Simba 3:30 PM: This time is designated to physical education hour. The goal of this hour is to get youth moving. These activities can include anything from Catch One Catch all to dance competitions, relay races, teaching the fundamentals of baseball, to the most popular soccer! The most important thing for me is making sure the youth and I always warm up together with a lap around the field and then stretch together. I typically have something planned for sports hour, but I am also open to the ideas the youth have!

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Gaby 4:30 PM: My kids class starts. I teach Level 3, so my class tends to be ages 10-12. Class lasts an hour and a half. Today, I announce the Star of the Week. Each week I give a prize to a student who behaved in the previous week. For the first hour, I teach and they take notes. Then if everyone behaves, we play a game for the last half hour! I split them into teams and we play a game where they have to correct mistakes that I write on the board on their mini whiteboards. The team that wins gets chocolate!

Kate 4:30 PM I lead the B2 preparatory class that Manna offers. This is our most advanced course and it is designed to help prepare students for taking the B2 Exam. This exam is required for anyone who wants to teach English in Ecuador. Other professionals who don’t teach English but use English in their field also often take the exam. We start class with a warm-up that requires them to speak in English to each other. Then we practice certain sections of the exam, review the answers as a class, and discuss strategies for improvement. After exam practice, we close the class with a reflection on what the students did well, what they need to improve on, and the steps they will take to improve.

Simba 5:30 PM: This hour is dedicated to our Rainbow Days group session! The Rainbow Day group sessions provide youth an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions about topics such as making healthy decisions; the support systems we have such as family, teachers, and mentors; the values we have as individuals; and settings goals, just to name a few. This group is really important to me because it provides an opportunity to share some of the same things that were shared with me as a child when I attended various youth programs. I also love it because I can add value by sharing information or strategies to address things that aren't so common in their communities and homes.

Kate 6:00 PM After class, I head home early because it is my turn to cook dinner for everyone!

Simba 6:30 PM: I write some final notes for my Rainbow Days session report. Then I contribute to help clean up the center before we leave close at 7pm. On Wednesdays, we usually get a lot of traffic, so on this day I often see many of our community members who often invite me to go hiking at one of the many beautiful parks in Ecuador or check out a night venue I have never been too before!

Kate 6:45 PM When I open the front door to the Manna House, I am greeted by our two adorable, loving kittens: Mika and Rumi. I put my things away, feed the cats, wash my hands, and start cooking! I decided to make shepherd’s pie because it is rainy outside and comfort food is the best.  

Gaby 7:00 PM: We have been cleaning the centro and doing the closing procedure for the last hour. At 7:00 PM we tell all the kids who are playing the Wii that we are closed, and then the rest of the Program Directors and I say bye to Simba and catch a bus to head home.

Kate 7:45 PM Everyone arrives home from cleaning and closing the Community Center for the day. I just finished cooking so we all sit down and have dinner together. We go through our highs and lows of the day. The highs are great of course, but I also think lows are fun because they usually evoke a few laughs.

Gaby 9:00 PM: I prep for tomorrow’s class and start grading the midterms that my students took last class. Based on the scores, I have a feeling that most of my class will pass! Rumi and I go to bed around 11 PM, and tomorrow a new day begins! It was a full day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kate 9:00 PM Depending on how I feel, I use this time to either prep for the next day’s classes and programs or I relax in bed with Netflix and promise myself I’ll wake up early in the morning to prep. I usually end up going to sleep around 11:00 PM. As I lie in bed, I can’t help but think of how lucky I am to be working abroad in such a beautiful country with such beautiful people.

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We have just described a day in the life for the three of us, and as you can see our days are very different! We each juggle around 4 programs at Manna’s community center, as well as 3 partner organizations and internal organizational roles. All of our days are very different; no two days look the same. We keep very busy, which makes each and every day an adventure!

New Partners and a Life-Changing Experience: University of Findlay and Manna Project International

Written by: Chrysta Blechschmid

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Serving abroad changes lives, but they change in unexpected ways. I believe while I am serving abroad, I am not changing lives, but rather they are changing mine. Though my personal experiences with Oilers Serving Abroad and Manna Project International, my life as a timid, young college freshman has transformed into a confident, mature graduate student looking for more growth opportunities and stepping out of my comfort zone in any way I can.

Oilers Serving Abroad (OSA) is a student lead service abroad organization at the University of Findlay. Our mission statement is: “To provide opportunities for Oilers of diverse disciplines to serve our global community, learn about culture, establish relationships, and enrich our lives.” Last spring break, OSA decided to expand our program and partner with Manna Project International in Ecuador. This expansion was exciting, but also nerve wrecking. Would this new program meet our expectations?  The answer was YES!

Spring Break 2019 was our first official program and we are excited to continue the relationship with Manna Project. These opportunities to serve abroad in college are eye-opening experiences that some students would never have had otherwise. Sometimes students need to take their heads out of the textbooks and truly learn and appreciate diversity and culture. Traveling is the best way to do that. It’s the best way to breakdown stereotypes and barriers.

“Be the Change you want to see in the world” is a famous quote by Ghandi. Sometimes, the first step in being the change is experiencing change. Opening your mind and eyes to new experiences, new hardships, and new relationships is important. Manna Project International and their holistic approach to service, showed me and my group of students that service is so much more than donating money or doing physical labor. Service and Leadership have many definitions. Service can be as simple as a smile or a listening ear. Service can be investing in the local economy by visiting local markets, and all forms of service can be meaningful. We had the opportunity to volunteer at a local pre-school, a sustainable gardening project and a special needs school, while also volunteering at the community center in the afternoons. The diverse options for service helped expand our service definitions.  But most importantly service requires relationships. Without people, there would be no one to serve and no one to do the serving. By listening to the community and creating a lasting relationship at the community center, Manna is making a difference, and I am proud to be a part of it.

The biggest eye-opening experience to me last week, was creating a new definition of leadership. The amazing Program Directors at Manna Ecuador, specifically Gaby and Kate, and the Ecuador Country Director, Deborah, helped us realize that leading does not mean having all the answers, but having a plan. It also means being flexible and positive if an activity does not go as planned. Being a leader is not about bossing people around, it’s all about listening and leading by example. I felt as a leader of Oilers Serving Abroad, my own definition of leadership was changed, and I will always appreciate Manna for helping me grow and expand my mind. 

Manna Project International in Ecuador is an amazing program with diverse service learning and eye-opening experiences. It helps students change their perspectives.  Most of my program consisted of graduate Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy students, so teaching English classes or assisting in cooking classes and the general language barrier, was not exactly in our comfort zones. We knew that the Nicaragua Site was more medical based, but by choosing to volunteer with Manna in Ecuador, we pushed beyond our comfort zones and grew. This type of growth is vital for any major and any profession and will certainly help us as future healthcare professions.

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Below are some testimonies:

Gaige Rassman, Graduate Student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program.

“My time in Ecuador changed my whole perspective on service. It was easy to see that Manna Project International was not only making a change in the community, but one that is going to last. They focused on the holistic approach that addressed the needs of the community for all ages. Manna showed me: being passionate and giving voice to others can make a lasting impact on the world around us and ourselves”

Tabitha Hossler, Graduate Student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program

1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”

Adrian Ewald, Graduate Student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program.

“Manna Project International in Ecuador was an experience that shifted the way I look at service. Interactions between the staff and the community members shower me that we all work for each other and we can all learn from each other. From this experience I learned how patience, laughter, and friendship transforms lives…including my own”

Jenna Bullock, Graduate Student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program. 

““We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

My week at Manna was an eye-opening experience. It taught me about a culture different than my own and it taught me that service is more than hard labor; its investing in a community, forming relationships, and meeting needs of the people you live with. Ecuador taught me so much about hospitality as it welcomed me with open arms. I have learned so much from this experience, and I am forever grateful to Manna for the opportunity to partner with them and learn more about the world I live in.”

Gabi Lamb, Graduate Student in the Masters of Occupational Therapy Program.

“Even though I only got to spend my time with Manna for a week, I feel so connected to both the community members and those who help out at Manna. I love how Manna is a fun and safe environment for community members of all ages to come and learn from each other. The Ecuadorian culture is so welcoming and accepting of others and has challenged me to do the same here in the United States. This experience has led me to be more aware of other cultures I’m surrounded by and the endless ways that we can serve one another.” 

Being part of the Oilers Serving Abroad family and expanding that family to Manna Project International was a great decision and I cannot wait for more students to get involved. Ecuador has a wonderful and welcoming culture that we can learn a lot from. I hope everyone gets the chance to go abroad and learn about another culture and learn about themselves along the way.

Ecuador Program Director Bucket List

By: Tori Baldassini

As a 5 month PD, I was extremely overwhelmed when I arrived to Ecuador. This is because I quickly learned that there is a LOT to do here, and I only had a very limited amount of time in which I could do it all! To help deal with the panic, the other PDs and I made a “Bucket List” of all the things we wanted to accomplish over 5 months. The list has almost 30 items on it; most of which we have accomplished! Below is an abbreviated version of some of the highlights of my time in Ecuador.

1. Quito

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One thing that was very important to us was that we make time to explore the nearest big city and the capital of Ecuador, Quito. We live about 40 minutes from Quito by bus so we visit it usually at least once a week. Some of our favorite spots include: La Calle Ronda, a beautiful colonial street that hosts many traditional Ecuadorian restaurants; El Centro Historico, home to many beautiful churches and museums- we even got a chance to tour El Palacio Presidencial (the president's home)!; and El Panecillo, a tall hill that overlooks Quito and has a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. At this time of year, the Panecillo is especially gorgeous because it has the largest Nativity scene in Latin America. I have completely fallen in love with the city of Quito and I am really going to miss it when I return home!

2. Try Ecuadorian Foods

This goal was the easiest on the list to accomplish because we are constantly surrounded by Ecuadorian food. Whether it is going for a quick $3 almuerzo (lunch) after our Tuesday morning meetings or grabbing hornado from our vecina (neighbor) after our Saturday morning classes, my fellow PDs and I are always eating Ecuadorian food. When I think of all the things in Ecuador, food is one of the things that I will miss the most. Hornado is definitely my favorite- it is a roasted pork dish that is usually served with tortilla (fried cheesy potatoes), mote (corn), and tomatoes and onions. When I eat hornado, I drown it in aji (a spicy sauce) because it is my favorite and I put it on almost everything. Our veci near the community center definitely makes the best hornado in Ecuador, which is a little bit too convenient for us. Jen and I (both from Massachusetts) have been trying to convince our veci to move home with us so we will not have to live without her delicious hornado.

3. Baños

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Baños was the first trip that all of the current Ecuador PDs took together. We were completely blown away by the beauty of the city; it was surrounded by beautiful mountains and waterfalls. We also enjoyed the many adventure sports offered in Baños. We went zip-lining and even swung on the swing “at the end of the world”.

4. Otavalo

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Otavalo is a city in Ecuador not too far from where we live that is known for its artesanal markets. So of course, I completely splurged and bought myself a ton of clothes with Ecuadorian patterns, including a beautiful alpaca sweater. I`m going to come home with a completely different style! Otavalo is also known for its fritada, which is a dish very similar to hornado except it contains fried pork rather than roasted pork. We also visited a local lake- el lago San Paolo- while we were in Otavalo and took a beautiful boat ride.

5. Cuenca

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When I arrived in Ecuador, many Ecuadorians suggested that I visit Cuenca, which is considered the most beautiful city in Ecuador. Although I think I prefer my “hometown” of Quito, Cuenca is undoubtedly a gorgeous city. My fellow PDs and I really enjoyed wandering its beautiful streets and taking in the sights. Cuenca is also the city in Ecuador with the most immigrants so we were able to have some authentic Italian and Indian food!

6. Salinas

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One thing that was very important to us while we were making this list was that it included every region of Ecuador: the sierra (where we live), the coast, the jungle, and the Galapagos islands. Salinas is a city located on the coast of Ecuador and it is absolutely beautiful. We spent our long weekend there relaxing on the beach and taking in the beautiful ocean views. Brenna and I were even brave enough to go jet skiing on the ocean!

7. Cuyabeno

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Cuyabeno is in the Amazonian jungle region of Ecuador. It is so far off the grid that we had to take a bus ride and then a 2 hour canoe ride to get there! Highs of our trip include swimming in the river, fishing for piranhas, nighttime crocodile hunting, and getting to practice our Spanish with our lovely Ecuadorian tour guide, Charbel. Lows of the trip were finding a frog in our toilet and spotting a tarantula during one of our hikes. Although we had some startling experiences, we were so grateful to have the opportunity to be in such close contact with the beautiful rainforest.

8. Galapagos Islands

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Although Jen was able to go visit the Galapagos in August, the rest of us PDs have a 5 day trip planned to visit them over our Christmas break! We are so excited to see all the biodiversity the islands have to offer and also to see our final region of Ecuador!

9. Make friends!!!

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I said that the food in Ecuador is “one of” the things I will miss the most from Ecuador but the people I have met through this experience definitively are what I will miss the most. I have been so fortunate to be able to work with Manna´s wonderful staff who have supported me through all the ups and downs of working and living abroad. I also have been incredibly lucky to be able to serve such a welcoming and friendly community. For the past 5 months that I have lived here, Ecuador has felt like my home and that is 100% because of the people I have been surrounded by.

Want to make your own bucket list? Consider applying to become a Program Director:

5 Essentials to Make Sure You “Pack” for Your Time as a Program Director

By: Tori Baldassini

First a little bit about me: My name is Tori and I am currently a five month Program Director at Manna’s Ecuador site. When I was thinking about joining Manna Project last March, I was very nervous about what my five months in Ecuador would have in store for me. I hope that you will find my list helpful if you are interested in becoming a Program Director. To learn more about the role of Program Director, please visit this site:

1. An Open Mind

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Working in a foreign country and Immersing yourself in another culture is very different from working in the United States. If you come in with the same expectations, you may find yourself disappointed. For example, in Ecuadorian culture, punctuality is not as emphasized as it is in an American workplace. As a part of my job, I teach English classes and oftentimes my students will stroll up to my class half-an-hour late. Sometimes, the American in me gets frustrated with this and I interpret their tardiness as a sign that they don’t respect me and the work I put in to prepare for class. But then I take a step back and remember that their culture and upbringing is not the same as mine and that it is unfair to judge them based on my cultural values. Instead, I have learned to adjust my lesson plans to anticipate that some of my students may arrive late. I now start every class with review material so my late-comers won’t miss any new material. Working with an open mind ensures that my students do the best they can in my class!

2. An Open Stomach

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Food is something that is very important to me and I view the opportunity to work abroad as an opportunity to try new and exciting foods! Sometimes other cultures eat things that may seem unappetizing to the American eater. For example, a very popular Ecuadorian dish is called cuy, or in English, guinea pig. I tried cuy and it wasn’t my favorite. It is a very gamey meat so I probably wouldn’t order it again. However, I was glad that I was brave enough to try an authentic dish that so many Ecuadorians adore. A more successful example would be when I tried pescado encocado, a very popular dish on the coast of Ecuador. It consists of a fillet of fish with a sauce made from coconut milk. I had never tried anything like that in the US so I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but from the first taste I knew it was the right choice! It was absolutely delicious- everyone at my table had food envy! For this exact reason, I always think it’s helpful to come to another country with an open stomach- you never know what foods you might discover!

3. Something from Home

Homesickness is almost inevitable when living abroad and I think it is important to be prepared for when it hits. One way to battle homesickness is to maintain hobbies or activities that are part of your regular schedule in the United States. When my head is spinning from too much Spanish and I am craving some good old Vermont cheddar (the cheese in Ecuador is a huge disappointment to me and a common source of homesickness), I like to have some alone time in my room and watch American shows on Netflix. For the hour I am watching Desperate Housewives (they have it on Netflix here!), I am able to forget about the stresses of being away from my home and culture. That type of mental break is essential to combating homesickness when it strikes. Netflix is my “something from home.” For other Program Directors, they continue their home workout routines, read books in English, or practice yoga. I think the key is to identify what your “thing” will be before you come to your new country, and then make sure that you have the things you need to continue your hobby.

4. Research, Research, and More Research

This item is something I wish I had thought more about before coming to Ecuador. The more you know about the country you are going to, the easier it will be to adapt to that culture. Arriving in a new environment can be overwhelming; there are a lot of differences to process. For me, since I am only living in Ecuador for five months, I have found myself very stressed out about all the things I need to do and see before I come home. I think if I had done more research about Ecuador before I arrived, I could have hit the ground running when I got here, which would have relieved some of that stress. Another preparation I would suggest would be to practice your Spanish! No matter your speaking level, I think it never hurts to get some practice in before you immerse yourself in a different language! Whether it means playing basic games on Duolingo or practicing speaking on a language exchange app, Spanish practice will make everyday activities, like ordering coffee or trying to find a public bathroom, significantly easier!

5. Excitement!

I know that immersing yourself in a new culture can be a bit scary, but ultimately becoming a Program Director is the opportunity of a lifetime! I’m only three months into my experience and I have already learned so much. I know I will go back to the United States with memories and friendships I will cherish forever!

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