I’d wanted to study abroad ever since I knew it was an option. My family has always been a “summer vacation” type of family, and I knew I wanted to see more of the world. So when I found out about a program that hosted a Spanish language-focused semester in Ecuador, I was interested.
The program included an orientation week in the Amazon Rainforest, a spring break trip to the Galapagos Islands and a farewell week in Peru. I was so excited for myself and somewhat ready to just be selfish for a while—by buying tons of souvenirs, improving on my Spanish-speaking abilities and focusing on my grades—and I definitely did all of those things. But I had no idea how much I would end up giving back to my foreign community.
While in the rainforest, we stopped at a very small village (imagine tiki huts and people that still speak their indigenous language) to learn about how their pottery is made. The children there all spoke Spanish and were able to communicate with us. They were so excited about the visitors to their village. My group decided to give the kids some colored pencils and pens to color with, and I’ve never seen children so thankful for a gesture so small. They sang us a song to say “thank you” and waved us on as our boat took off down the river.
After that, I knew I wanted to continue working with children while I was in Ecuador. My school was extremely helpful with recommending places for me to volunteer. I decided on one called Casa de María Amor, which was a home for what they called “battered women.” I didn’t like the term, but nonetheless these women had been beaten by their husbands and boyfriends and had found a safe place at the shelter. My job as a volunteer was to work with their children. We finger painted, played soccer in the courtyard and played with baby dolls. Occasionally, they liked to throw potatoes and pull each other’s hair, but they taught me patience, understanding and acceptance—more than my other foreign endeavors ever could have.
Guest blogger Mandi Hefflinger is a senior journalism student at Ohio University. Read more about her here.
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