5 Things I Learned While Volunteering in Ecuador

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Now that I’m back in my real life routine at school, I’ve been daydreaming and reflecting on my summer in Ecuador. Here are a few of the reflections and questions I’ve been thinking about since returning from my ISV program.

1) I have a different perspective on what the term “developing country” or “third-world country” means. I had been to China before coming to Ecuador, but only urban China, which is much more developed than what I think rural China would be like. In Ecuador, I hardly saw any of urban Ecuador, and mostly rural Ecuador. It made me see a different way of life.

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2) It’s really weird to have stray animals on the street. They are everywhere, all the time. It really threw me for a loop when I first arrived there. Roosters, dogs, pigs, cats. You never know what you’re going to see!

3) The people you travel with make all the difference. I think my experience in Ecuador would have been a lot harder and more isolating if I hadn’t been surrounded by a spectacular group of newly-made friends. We could laugh off the uncomfortable cultural differences together, and discuss the feelings of helplessness when we saw inequality or poverty. We could have fun together at night, and then work hard on the volunteer project during the day. We could motivate each other to try new things, and support each other’s hardships. There is no way I would have liked this program as much if it hadn’t been for the other 19 people with me. They were amazing!

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4) I learned a lot about myself. I selfishly went on this program as a way to escape my life in Wisconsin for a bit. As many people know, I’ve been struggling through a break-up, not knowing what I want to do with my future career, and growing up too quickly. This trip was the perfect escape for me, and it is exactly what I needed at this time in my life. I truly believe that traveling is the best way to really deal with issues because you are forced to confront yourself by confronting the world around you. You realize how unimportant your issues are and get outside of your own head. You can feel completely alone in a room full of people simply because you don’t speak the same language. It really humbles you and puts everything in perspective.

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5) I’m obsessed with traveling. I’ve already known this for a long time, but this trip brought it to a whole new level. It helped me realize how many different ways there are to get abroad. You can work abroad, volunteer abroad, travel independently, live abroad, study abroad. there are so many options and college isn’t the only time that you can do it. Many of the people in my group had long-term plans to pursue travel as a life-long passion and I aspire to be one of those people. The feeling of euphoria when you arrive somewhere new is unbeatable, and I just love learning about the world by exploring it.

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Are you ready to volunteer abroad? Learn more about the project International Student Volunteers sponsors at their website.

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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