Wednesday, July 27, 2016


SOME DAYS you will start crying and you won't know why but when you tell a Peace Corps friend they will hug you and make you feel 100x better. 

SOME DAYS you will feel like you don't have anything to talk about with your host family but OTHER DAYS you will find you have lost track of time, talking for hours about life with them. 

SOME DAYS you will question why you joined the Peace Corps in the first place but OTHER DAYS you will have beautiful experiences that you would never had had if you had decided to never leave home. 

SOME DAYS you will feel like a child, because you need to learn anew how to take buses and how to order a meal correctly, but ONE DAY you will feel like a pro. 

SOME DAYS you will feel like you don't know any Spanish, you can't communicate how you are really feeling and you can't understand anything that is going on but OTHER DAYS you will get the joke that your sister made at the dinner table and make one back that your whole host family will laugh at.

SOME DAYS you will be completely frustrated with your students but OTHER DAYS when a student who has had trouble really understanding something, finally completely understands, your heart will fill with joy. You have helped instill a bit of confidence in that student. 

SOME DAYS you will be scared out of your mind, nervous that an earthquake will happen at any minute, and on the verge of going home. OTHER DAYS you will be so preoccupied with life that earthquakes won't cross your mind, not even once. 

SOME DAYS when you have moved to site and you're not surrounded by other PCV friends any more, you will feel lonely but OTHER DAYS your new kitty that you will adopt will wake you up with snuggles and you will feel  a bit less lonely.

SOME DAYS will be nothing but sadness, fear or exhaustion but OTHER DAYS will be absolutely breathtaking, joyful and full of love. These days will be the ones that stand out. 

OTHER DAYS will happen more frequently then you may think. OTHER DAYS will be the days that make it all worth it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life." - John Wooden

The minimum wage in Ecuador is: 


(Yes, Ecuador does use the U.S. dollar. You are much more likely to see Sacagawea coins though, instead of dollar bills.)

The minimum wage is only applicable for people who are employed by a person or business other than their self. This is also about the same amount (minus rent) I am making monthly. As Peace Corps Volunteers we are expected to live at the same level as the average Ecuadorian. 

The majority of Ecuadorians are at the moment unemployed, or self employed and this minimum wage does not apply to them. Some of these people are the bus drivers, bus vendors,  restaurant/store owners, and people who sell fruits and vegetables in the market or on the street. The majority of Ecuadorians do not have a constant income. Rather, they work long hours every day trying to make as much money as they can. Despite the fact that many Ecuadorians are struggling to find work, and struggling to pay their bills, pay for food, etc. they are some of the most generous people I have ever met. I have received more free food here in the last few months than I have in my entire life prior to arriving in Ecuador.

As the minimum hourly wage is $1.50, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what one is able to buy in Ecuador for a dollar fifty. 

$1.50 in Ecuador will buy you: 

- 5 local bus rides (30 cents each) 
- 3 bottles of water (50 cents each) 
- 10 eggs (15 cents each) 
- 6 green apples (25 cents each) 
- 1.5 pounds of cat food 
- a 5 minute taxi ride within a town 
- 2 Bailoterapia classes (75 cents each) 
- a bowl of soup 
- around 3 pounds of uncooked rice 
- around 4 pens (35 cents each)  
- 3 servings of peanuts (50 cents each) 
- a beer (with 25 cents leftover) 
- An empanada (with 50 cents leftover) 
- 1 cone of pinguino ice cream 
- four rolls of toilet paper 
- 1 hour at the gym 

The every day things here in Ecuador may be considered "cheap" by North American standards, however when you are making an average of $12.20 a day money runs out extremely fast, especially if you have to take care of a family.  

Anything that is imported to Ecuador  is incredibly expensive. Most everything that is not a necessity, like tourist attractions and things one may decide to do to have fun, are also extremely expensive. A movie here is $7.80 which may seem cheap to you - but for me I see this as enough money to pay the bus to and from school for two weeks.

Although some things are relatively expensive, I'm continually surprised at how cheap fruit is! This past Sunday I went to the market and bought two apples, a pineapple, a papaya, a melon and a bag of strawberries for $3. This fruit usually lasts me for an entire week and I love it because it's also extremely fresh.

When you are making only $366 a month - money runs out extremely quickly. For that reason I have found that I have to be very careful with my money. I am not ashamed to say that I am now a change hoarder. Not only because no one ever seems to have change for more than a $5 bill but also because I have found that I need and I use every last cent. I have also had to learn how to regatear* at the markets and ask for the yapa* so I can get the most for my money. Finally, I have found that it is usually better to go to three or four different places to check the prices before buying anything. This helps a lot on cutting down costs.

I have also started to keep a budget for the first time ever! A budget on a peace corps salary is extremely important. I have learned that I can't just spend money willy nilly. I really have to make sure to keep to my weekly budget and to save the money I don't use for later on down the road in case of an emergency. 

Peace Corps is definitely not a job where you're ever going to feel rich, and most of my fellow volunteers feel like they live paycheck to paycheck. However, although you may never be rich in terms of money, your life will be so much richer for the people you meet and the experiences you have. And that my friend, is what truly matters.


*yapa - whenever you ask for the yapa at a market you are basically asking for a gift of one or two more of whatever you are buying. You usually do this if you are buying a fair amount of a product, or if you are buying from the same person every week. People here will normally want to give you the yapa to entice you to come back and buy from them again. 

Regatear - to bargain or to haggle 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

While most of my other Peace Corps (PC) friends were celebrating a month of having been in site, I was waking up to the 2nd day at my new site. Nothing about my first month as a volunteer had gone as expected. 

As most of you know, 3 days after having arrived to my site of Portoviejo, the earth decided to throw a tantrum and change the world for so many people. Although at times the first month of being a volunteer were overwhelming, sad and just plain difficult, I was constantly reminded of how lucky and privileged I was to still have food, water, a roof over my head, my life and my friends. I wish I could have spent my 2 years of service in Portoviejo, but sometimes life throws you the hardest of curveballs and you have no choice but to roll with the punches as best as you can. 

After being removed from Portoviejo, because the Peace Corps had deemed it unsafe for us to stay, I along with 32 other volunteers who had been in the effected region, were taken to Quito. At the time, there were so many unknowns. We didn't know how long we would be in Quito, whether or not we would be able to return to our sites or how we may be able to help with the relief efforts from so far away. At the time it felt like ages, like we were stuck in limbo, but eventually we did get answers to all of these questions. 

We relied on cellphones to keep in touch with our host families in our communities, to see how they were doing, if there was anything we could do to help, and to make sure they knew that even though we had to leave, we would do anything to be there with them and to help in any way we could. Our host families had all taken such good care of us and had treated us as just another member of their family, after only having known us for 3 days, and in an unimaginable situation where food, water and safety were all scarce. I am forever indebted to them and will always consider them family. 

Within the first few days of being back in Quito, I realized there would be multiple ways I would be able to help with the relief efforts. Over the next three weeks, I spent quite a bit of time, organizing and packing supplies to send to the Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces. In one day alone, I, along with a few other volunteers and many college students from Quito, helped PLAN international to pack 2,000 bags full of supplies to send to families around Portoviejo. Each one of these bags had supplies meant to be able to last for 2 weeks. 

In addition to helping with relief efforts, many of the first few days were spent in meetings and group, as well as personal, therapy sessions. We talked a lot about what had happened and how we were feeling in relation to all of the events that had occurred. I was mentally exhausted and did not feel much like talking to people who had not also lived through the earthquake. They were the only people who really understood, and I took comfort in being surrounded by them. 

After about a week, the first volunteers were being cleared to go back to their sites. A group of us who had been in Portoviejo, Manta and a few other towns, were the last of the 33 to still be in Quito. We were the ones who would not be able to return to our sites. The damages were too extensive and we would not be able to perform our duties as a TEFL volunteer. Telling my Portoviejo family I would not be able to return was one of the hardest moments of my life. I felt like I was not only abandoning them, but also the school I was supposed to have worked at and the community I was supposed to be a part of. That entire night I was a mess. 

Around the time I found out I wouldn't be able to return to Portoviejo, I honestly had no idea how I would move forward. I decided I needed to return home to the U.S. for a few days before I could continue. I needed some normalcy and consistency in my life but most of all I needed to hug my parents, go to a church service and see my best friend. I thought this would give me the energy I needed to continue and it did. I was lucky enough to be able to go home for just about a week, and it was exactly what I needed. 

When I returned to Ecuador, there were 5 of the original 33 volunteers still in Quito. I found out my new site would be in the province of Santa Elena, and that I would be leaving the next day.

Peace Corps tells you so many times that to be a volunteer you need to be resilient, flexible and persevering. Little did I know that I would be tested in all of these qualities, just days after swearing in as a volunteer. These are not easy qualities to have, especially after having survived an earthquake, and I would be lying if I told you that I didn't have to work extremely hard at times to really embody these qualities. 

I know, however, that if I stick with the Peace Corps for the two years, this experience will all be worth it. Every day I write down one thing that made me happy that day in my "happy book". Any sadness and fear I have right now due to the earthquake(s), I know will be greatly overpowered by the 2 years full of memories I have waiting for me to write down in my happy book. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


"It looks as though the city has been bombed."

The ground started to move. Fast, faster and then so fast it felt as though there were waves beneath my feet. 

I smiled and thought "oh fun a small earthquake." Seconds later when I was hiding under the table, hugging my new siblings and trying to calm everyone down - I feared for my life.

As soon as the shaking stopped we ran to the gate and tried to get out into an open area. In all of the commotion, however, we couldn't find the keys. My host cousins and siblings were sobbing. They were obviously afraid, but were also thinking about their relatives who lived elsewhere in the city and who they were not sure had been as lucky as we had been. My host grandmother was reciting prayers over and over again asking for God to take pity on us while at the same time my host parents tried to calm everyone down and keep us safe.

After passing some of the children over the gate, but still not being able to find keys, a few of the adults and I decided to risk running through the house in order to get outside to safety. Not until that moment did I begin to realize the amount of damage the earthquake had caused. 

Walking through the house, using the light of our iPhone (because electricity had been lost) we stepped over broken plates, vases, televisions and more. Making it to the other side we joined together with the rest of the family outside.

Everyone was still in shock, crying, hugging whoever was close by and trying to call family to make sure they were ok. For 5-10 minutes we couldn't contact anyone because the lines were not working. Finally, when people started to hear from their loved ones, the crying started to calm down. 

I called my parents in the U.S. to let them know I was ok, and immediately contacted the rest of the Peace Corps volunteers around me to make sure they were ok. Thankfully no one was hurt. The relief I felt was outstanding. Unfortunately, I began to realize that not everyone had been so lucky. 

The destruction is immense. The shopping mall, the hospital, schools and many homes fell through and collapsed. Walls cracked, entire second floors fallen on top of the first floor, and people stuck between. My school, which has been under construction for two years, may or may not have been destroyed. 

Helicopters began to fly overhead - sounding a siren similar to an ambulance. People ran by on the sidewalks. We soon realized that walls around us had completely fallen through. Walking along the street with my host grandpa I witnessed firefighters trying to rescue people who had been stuck beneath a floor that had fallen on top of them. Later we were told, in that building alone, there were 2 people who made it out alive and 5 dead. The woman with the dyed hair who had been pregnant, among others. 

My host father and uncle decided they couldn't just sit still knowing that we were ok, but others weren't. Having had experience with the Red Cross they decided to go and try to help as best they could. 

The rest of us brought mattresses, pillows, water and more outside and spent the night under a tin roof. There were warnings that we may receive up to two more earthquakes, and not trusting the infrastructure we decided it would be safer to camp outside. We stayed outside Saturday and Sunday night. During these past few days I've felt at least 6 aftershocks, and to be honest I sometimes feel as though the earth has not stopped moving.  Each time the ground begins to move, my heart starts to beat faster, my alert is turned on high and my fear  rises. 

Unfortunately, on Monday, Peace Corps decided it wasn't safe for us to stay in Portoviejo any longer. My wonderful host dad was kind enough to drive us to a city close by, where we then stayed in a hotel over night. It was wonderful to see the relief workers who were arriving from all over the world, but at the same time it has been incredibly hard being separated from my host family and community and not able to help.

I'm unsure what is going to happen to us from here. Honestly, that's not what matters to me. There are people here in Ecuador who have lost everything. Their houses, livelihoods and loved ones. People who are lacking food, water and electricity. People who are still stuck under buildings waiting to be rescued. I wish I could do so much more than I am able to do at this moment. 

My body is ok but my heart is breaking. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mindo Lindo and SIte Assignment

Last weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Mindo with 10 other amazing women from my Omnibus. I had a wonderful time just enjoying their company and enjoying the wonderful Ecuadorian countryside. Everything here is so green it reminded me of Portland, Oregon!

We are only allowed one night away during training so we didn't get to spend too much time in Mindo - but we definitely took advantage of the time we had. We left on Saturday morning at 6 am, arrived around 10 in Mindo and left again Sunday afternoon at 5. 

We spent the afternoon exploring the great food of Mindo. We went to a chocolate factory and tried some delicious coffee and a homemade brownie. We also went out to dinner at a pizza restaurant where the owner uses all of the vegetables from his home garden for the toppings. Everything was delicious. 

The next morning we left at around 9:30 to go on a waterfall hike. I'll just leave you with pictures for this part. I had a ton of fun and again the landscapes were breathtakingly gorgeous. 

It was a wonderful trip and I'm so glad I was able to go on it! Also this last pic was taken by Mattie (another trainee) who wasn't able to be in the picture but is awesome. 

Coming back from the trip was a bit sad because I would have liked to explore a bit more, but it was great to come back to my lovely host family. It was also nice to know that on Wednesday we were going to find out our permanent sites. 

On Wednesday we had a few sessions in the afternoon but finally at one we had our site assignment ceremony. It was wonderfully exciting. The presenters did a great job at creating suspense. They rambled on a bit at the beginning and everyone just wanted them to let us know where our sites were! It was funny though and they did finally get around to it (after again pretending that the presentation broke and they would have to suspend it). 

For each site they gave us the name of the town, the school and some facts about the school. They also let us know if the school was looking for anything in particular or if there were any specific challenges they could foresee. 

After presenting all of this information they had every trainee stand up. They then explained that they were going to give us some hints to who the trainee was that would be placed at that site. If the clue didn't pertain to you you would sit down. As trainees would sit down there would eventually only be one trainee left standing and a huge applause would break out as the trainee realized they were the one who would be going to that site. It was all very exciting and we had some amazing reactions. 

I accidentally sat down on my site and didn't think it was me so they had to tell us all to stand up again. One of the clues was that I love to draw - which is very true but I didn't realize I had mentioned it to staff and I haven't drawn much recently so I just assumed they weren't describing me. Once they had everyone stand back up though and they said "this person has experience teaching in Mexico" I knew I would be headed to PORTOVIEJO!! 

We received this packet with information about our school, our host family and our city. I went go much into details now, seeing as how I'll be visiting Portoviejo soon and will be able to give you more information once I get back from my trip. I will say that Portoviejo is in the coastal region of Ecuador and is about a 45 minute bus ride from the nearest beach. It's the capital of the province, has a population of about 250,000 and I will be joined by 3 other wonderful volunteers who have also been placed in Portoviejo. 

I am incredibly excited about what lies ahead and can not wait to start this next part of the adventure. 

3 week TEFL Practicum

Time has flown by and we are now entering our 9th week of training!  A lot has happened in the past few weeks, including a three week practicum.

Part of our 11 week training includes TEFL training. We have many sessions in the training center on how to teach listening, how to coteach and coplan etc. What has been the most beneficial for me out of all of our TEFL sessions was this 3 week practicum. 

I have to say I was anxious before I entered into this practicum but I was incredibly lucky to be assigned to work with a teacher, I will call Marta, who teaches 7th grade at a military school in Quito. She has been teaching for almost 20 years so has an incredible amount of experience, although most of her experience was with the 5th grade. I was not the only trainee assigned to this teacher. There was a bit of confusion the first day we arrived at the school and I ended up working with another PCT (peace corps trainee) as well. She would coteach the morning class while I observed and then in the afternoon we would switch off. It ended up working out very well. Here are some pictures of the school we worked at: 

I was very lucky with my teacher in that she was very willing to work with us, she had a very high level of English and most of her classes are focused on having the students speak as much as possible. This is very different from what I've heard most Ecuadorian classrooms are like. In general,  from what I've heard, the majority of classrooms here are teacher centered and focus on writing and reading. This is understandable due to their cultures history and due to the fact that most classrooms have upwards of 30 to 40 students. You may be able to imagine how it may be more difficult to incorporate speaking and listening activities in to classrooms of this size. 

I went into the school from 7:15-12:00 twice a week for three weeks. At the end of the practicum we were all required to plan and teach a lesson by ourselves. One of the TEFL teachers came in to observe the lesson in practice. It was difficult but I think my class went relatively well. I would like to see in the future how I could incorporate more games or more realia to make the content more relatable, interactive and engaging. 

Here is a picture of me with one of our classes and my co teacher: 

Overall,  I am so happy we had this practicum as part of our training and I'm definitely going to miss the students and working with the wonderful teacher at this school. I will not, however, miss waking up at 5 in the morning and taking two buses to get to school on time. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

PCV Visit and Picture Update

About two weeks ago I spent four days in Quito, visiting a current Peace Corps Volunteer at her school and in her community in Quito. Before this trip, I hadn't had the chance to see an Ecuadorian classroom and I hadn't been quite sold on the city of Quito. I had been a bit upset, to be honest, after pulling Quito from the hat, when other trainees had found out they would be visiting Cuenca, Riobamba, Otavalo and other parts of the Sierra. I wasn't sad for long, however, because as soon as I spent a few hours in the city I fell in love.

The reality of what the next two years will be like, hit me hard when I had to wake up at 5 am to get to school on time. I am not much of a morning person and I was trying not to fall asleep on the hour long bus ride into town. The Peace Corps Volunteer I visited had already been to the training center a few times to co-teach or lead sessions for our Omnibus, so I had met her a few times beforehand. She is an incredibly kind, intelligent and fun person and I had a wonderful time spending a few days with her and the other volunteers I went on my trip with.

Her school, in downtown Quito, is located in a very fun area of town and has a lot going on. I traveled with two other trainees and we arrived at her school around 7:30 am (about a half hour after her school day had already begun). The day was spent observing many of the classes she co-taught, attending a weekly English meeting she has with her four English Teacher Counterparts and sitting in on her English club. Her classes ranged from an IB class of around 24 students who were quite advanced language learners to lower level classes of around 40 students that were sometimes hard to control and keep on task. Overall it was wonderful for me, to see what a day in the life of a Volunteer looks like, and it gave me more of an idea of what my life could be like in a few months. Something that is sometimes hard to imagine during training.

After school was even more fun. I went to drop my bags off at the hotel we would be staying at for a few days and took around a two hour nap. We then all met downtown to go get some dinner and go salsa dancing. There is this great Cuban restaurant in Quito that gives excellent free salsa lessons twice a week. It was so much fun. I will definitely be trying to go back before the end of training.

Thursday, after school, we had delicious seafood for lunch and then ventured into the downtown area to visit an Artesenal market. A few schoolchildren came up to us in the market and explained to us that they were there with their English class and their task was to interview an American. That was quite fun. I had to think of my favorite place in Ecuador I had visited. Only having visited 3 different places, I had to say Quito. I also bought a beautiful scarf made out of alpaca wool and a little shoulder bag to carry my books in for school.

Friday - we tried to go visit a crater called Pululahua - located right near the equator. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was so cloudy that we couldn't see a thing. Instead of trekking down into the foggy abyss, we decided instead to order a nice cup of coffee and cake in the cafĂ© and relax a bit. That night we went out to a costume party for a birthday celebration.

Overall the trip was quite a success. It was great to be able to see an Ecuadorian classroom for the first time and I also really enjoyed getting to know Quito and some PCVs a bit more.

Over the past few weeks I've also - 

Visited El Cinto with my host family: 

I went to a Quito vs. Toluca Mexico soccer game with some other trainees: 

I also, climbed Quilotoa with other PC trainees: 

And finally I started a 3 week practicum at a wonderful school in Quito where I've actually started to coplan and coteach with an amazing English teacher. 

Next week we find out our permanent sites! I can't wait.