Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So after three days of being a teacher at the school in Turi, I'm not really settled in yet but I am already learning a lot. I am starting to see the less romantic side of working cross-culturally/the non-profit & volunteer world (the one I hope to work in once I graduate.) It's rewarding and I love it, but it's not as easy as I thought it would be. It's not just playing with niños all morning and teaching them how to say "dog" and "cat" in English.

It's figuring out the bus system all by myself. It's learning that I need to be prepared to teach any level, any day, because the school doesn't appear to have a set class schedule. It's adjusting to dealing with a culture that does not function on the same time table as my own. It's having to deal with children who won't stop asking for the bathroom key, won't stop pulling each others' hair, won't stop cheating at the games, won't bring their notebooks to class, and having to discipline them in Spanish. It's putting in lots of extra time designing my own curriculum without access to a good printer or any school supplies for that matter. It's learning to be flexible and helpful in other ways when I show up to class and the teacher has forgotten to tell me the students have a science exam at the same time they asked me to teach.

On the other hand, it's adorable niñas who yell out the window "I want english with you today, teacher!!" It's getting to know the kids, getting to ask them about their lives, watching them start to slowly open up. It's an invigorating challenge. It's feeling really special when one of the students spends her last 15 cents to buy me a galleta. It's putting in all my effort and hoping that by the beginning of May, the kids are a little more excited about learning English. It's their extreme excitement when they win the game that involves practicing the alphabet. It's not what I expected but it's so worth it! And I can't wait to see what my last six weeks have in store...

Friday, March 25, 2011

I started my new classes and my new internship this week - finally! I have a pretty odd schedule this half. Sometimes I have class 8-10am or 5-7pm or 4-6pm, but it's all good. I am taking two classes - Pre-colonial & Colonial Latin American Lit and a Service Learning class to accompany my internship at the school in Turi. My literature class has been interesting so far and we do fun things like go on little field trips and watch videos occasionally. 

This week was my first week teaching classes at the school in Turi - an area on the outskirts of Cuenca. It's basically right up the mountain from my house. As I've said a few times before, Latin America generally operates a little differently than the U.S. Some might call it inefficient, some might call it slower-paced, I just call it Latin American style. My first day, a teacher put me in a classroom of 30 7th graders, told me to teach them English for 2 hours, and left. By the way, they don't have books and I didn't have a lesson plan. However, I was able to wing it by practicing basic vocab and teaching them songs in English. The second graders were much more challenging because they were very poorly behaved. I ended up taking them outside and just playing for half the class. 

The second day, I found out that another English teacher/volunteer from the U.S. had been assigned to the same class as me, and the woman who is supposed to be coordinating all of this hasn't been to school at all this week. Latin American style. However, it looks like between us we have 6 classes to teach, so we can just split it up and make it work. It's going to be tiring work for me because I have to make up all my own lesson plans, find my own materials, and I'm there for 4 hours each day Tues/Wed/Thurs, but I am excited!

In other news, I went to my first Capoeira class last night. Capoeira is Brazilian fight dancing... we did some fighting/dancing with sticks in rhythm to the music, then a bunch of floor movement, which I don't really know how to describe so if you want, you can watch this video I found on youtube. (Obviously our class was NOT this advanced haha)


And while I'm putting up youtube videos... here's one of a song called Danza Kuduro - it's SUPER popular here and I hear it playing all the time, and I love it =]


Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring break!

So we went to Peru for spring break and had a lot of fun adventures. I also learned a heck of a lot about planning trips because it was the first time we were 100% on our own.

We started the week in Guayaquil - the biggest city in Ecuador. It's on the coast so it's much hotter than and it's just so much different than Cuenca! It was so weird seeing McDonald's and people wearing shorts. They have a very cool malecón (boardwalk) over the water and we spent quite a bit of time hanging out there. To be honest I was totally exhausted and feeling a little under the weather so I wasn't really listening to our city tour (we've had a lot of tours this semester...) but it was still fun going there.

El malecón

Iguana park! (they get fed in the park so they apparently never leave)

Pirate ship on the malecón

When we left Ecuador, the real adventure began! We flew to Lima and spent the day in Miraflores - a cute barrio of Lima. Then my group split into two: three of us girls were going to Machu Picchu and the other three were going to remain in Lima for the week. This is where the ridiculous amount of travel difficulties began. We planned to take a bus from Lima to Cuzco, but when we went to the station we found out it was cancelled for fear of tsunami waves. Long story short, it took several hours and visits to different travel agencies to change all of our tickets for the week. (No, you can't just do it online, you have to do it in person...) We were so thankful we spoke good enough Spanish to figure this all out without misunderstandings. When we finally found a hostal for the night I basically passed out from being so tired. Every single Peruvian we met along the way was SO kind a helpful to us though!

We headed to Cuzco on our luxurious bus and traveled for 21 hours. Yep. 21 hours on a bus. When we arrived in Cuzco on Sunday, we found out they were still celebrating Carnaval there! That was a surprise to us and we still don't really understand why. We attempted to explore the city, but ended up getting completely covered in espuma (foam) and water.

I found Cuzco to be a very charming city! We mostly stuck to the area around our hostal and the main plaza. It was more rustic and I could feel the elevation when we went up the stairs. There was a lot of really beautiful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, cool restaurants, and an awesome market in which I bought an alpaca sweater. At night, even on the week nights, there were tons of people out and about and there were hundreds of people in the main plaza practicing traditional dance! So fun to watch. We also met a lot of interesting travelers from around the world in our hostal. 

Monday was the big day... Machu Picchu!! We woke up around 5:30 am to catch a taxi to the station where we boarded a bus that drove us through the mountains for a couple hours. I think I exhausted my playlist of Spanish music on my ipod. Then we waited awhile at the train station and boarded a train for two hours. The train station was kind of magical. It was cool being so high up in the mountains, and the Andes continue to amaze me.

If we thought we were done traveling, nope, we had to take another bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. It's so hidden... you literally can't even see it until you're there. No wonder the Spanish never found it! We decided to hire a guide for 2 hours which was a very good choice. It was so incredible!!! 

They used rocks to chip/shape these boulders... must have taken awhile... 

The terraces the Incas used for agriculture - engineered to withstand heavy rains and not fall down the mountain.

Temple of Three Windows - it's aligned with the stars so that light shines into the windows on celebratory days

The Sacred Rock - I felt it appropriate to take a picture with it given my last name

It was really incredible seeing MP, but I'm not going to ramble on and on about it so as not to bore you =] Unfortunately, our bus BACK to Cuzco was also cancelled because some rocks fell onto the highway. Luckily, we were experts at rearranging and were able to secure a cheap flight for the next day and rearrange all of our hostals as well. We spent a day/night in Lima with our friends just hanging out and went to a fancy restaurant for dinner on the pier. Then the rest of my group headed back to Chicago (their program is only a "quad" or 1/2 semester) and I finally headed back home to Cuenca!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Well as you all can guess I've been quite busy! Last week we had finals (much less stressful than at North Park.) My literature final was literally "write whatever you want about what you learned" and I quoted Pocahontas. This past weekend we celebrated CARNAVAL in Montañita - a hippie/surfer town on the beach. Carnaval is a huge 4-day holiday in Ecuador. Every city celebrates it differently whether it be with dancing, parades, etc. It is comparable to Mardi Gras I guess, except it's more of a family holiday and people celebrate by playing with water. More than just playing, attacking you with water balloons, hoses, buckets of water etc. all day every day. There are also lots of special food for Carnaval - especially chancho (pork) and lots of dulces (sweets.) I had my first fig actually!

Carnaval in Montañita was probably one of the best vacations I've ever had in my life. Our hotel was beautiful and the other group of students at our school rented a huge beach house with a private beach just down the road. We took surfing lessons, swam in the sunrise, went dancing, ate some decent seafood, made a bonfire on the beach, and had such an incredible time. I actually got made fun of once for my "cuencana accent" which is pretty hilarious to me. (Random fact: All over Ecuador, Cuencanos are known for their very musical accent - when they talk it's more like singing. I hope it sticks when I go back to the US and speak Spanish because I think it's really pretty and unique!)

(Surfing lessons - they had us practice on the sand first)

(The view from the beach house)

Here are some pictures from some other stuff we've done:

(Zip-lining through the mountains on our one free weekend)

(Baños de Cuenca - pools heated by hot springs)

(Futbol - Cuenca vs. Quito... it was a tie)

(View from our hotel in Saraguro - a weekend trip to an incredibly beautiful indigenous pueblo in the mountains)

(My group from North Park with some of the staff at CEDEI. Love them all!)

(Río Yununcay in the morning)

In other news, I'm going to change the location of my internship for the second half of the semester. I absolutely loved the school I was at before, but it was so unorganized and I didn't really have anything helpful to do there. Today we visited a school in Turi - a mountain pueblo right outside of Cuenca. I don't know a lot of details about the school at the moment, but I know it's the only school in Turi and it serves poor children. I also know that I absolutely LOVED spending the morning with the kids today. They are quite underfunded and are pretty desperate for teachers. If all goes as planned, I will be actually teaching English classes for the kids and probably spending time playing outside with them too. I don't know the details, but I am so incredibly excited to work there. It will be a lot of work preparing classes and I'll be spending many hours there, but I can't wait to get started. It feels good to finally be doing something to serve the wonderful people of Cuenca. 

Tomorrow I leave for spring break. We're going to Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador) for a day, then spending a week in Lima, Peru and Cusco to visit Machu Piccu! I honestly feel like my life here is a dream and I can't believe how blessed I am to have this beautiful experience.