I've always wanted to travel, but I wanted to be able to experience the cultural rather than be a tourist in a foreign country. I felt the best way to do this was to volunteer.
Why did you choose IVHQ?
I was referred to IVHQ by a friend who had joined them for a trip to Ethiopia. After further research, I found that IVHQ offered affordable opportunities in various countries. I was also attracted to many of their advertisements arriving alone but never being alone.
What was your favorite part Ecuador?
I fell in love with the Ecuadorian culture the moment I got there. But my favorite part was the people I met throughout Ecuador. Everyone I met was very kind and helpful. This was reassuring because when you do research South American countries, you often only here the crime and negative experiences. But I never felt unsafe.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I think the diverse regions in Ecuador made my experience abroad unique. Ecuador has four different regions so there was always something new to see. I explored the Amazon while some of my fellow volunteers took on the coast. There are not a lot of countries that can offer such a large array of activities. Ecuador is one of those places where there is something for everyone.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
I was fortunate to work with two organizations while abroad. Volunteer Connections Ecuador (VCE) assisted in my initial orientation. They also made sure all of our home stays were adequate and all of our needs were being met. They were quick to resolve problems as they arose. They also checked in with us during our second week to talk how our placements were going and if we had any suggestions for how to better the program. UBECI was the organization that I worked with while on project. I assisted them in their daily activities with the street children in Ecuador. They were very welcoming to all volunteers and always made sure we were clear on the expectations for the day. I loved being able to work with both VCE and UBECI.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have done one more week. As I mentioned earlier, Ecuador was a very diverse place. I volunteered for three weeks because I felt unsure volunteering for a whole month. After my first few days, I knew that three weeks was not long enough. I would like to go back because there is still so much to see.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We worked Tuesday-Friday. Breakfast was provided for us at our home stays. On Tuesdays, the volunteers would travel to the office together. There we would review the expectations for the day and then we traveled as a group to the street market. We helped the UBECI staff set up tents and toys. Soon we were surrounded by children ranging from 0-16. After some free play, the children would separate into three groups based on ages and we would help manage the children while the staff would lead activities. Around lunch time some volunteers would travel back to the office to take Spanish lessons. The rest would eat lunch together and then head back to the markets for the rest of the day. At the end of the day we traveled back to the office and then we were free to leave. Typically, the volunteers would have a couple hours until dinner at our home stays so we would use that time to explore the city. Then Saturday- Monday was used for travels.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoyed traveling on my weekends. Most things in Ecuador were within a 3 hour bus ride. I was able to go white water rafting in Baños, shopping in the Otavalo market, and enjoy a nice view from the teleferico. On work days I liked going to a nearby gym for dance classes or hanging out with other volunteers at a restaurant.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?
I stayed in a volunteer house with a host family. I shared a room with one other volunteer who quickly became a good friend. Our host mom cooked breakfast and dinner for us every day. Our host dad greeted us every time we walked into the door. The other volunteers and I would often gather in the hangout area and talk or have movie nights. I think my favorite part of my accommodation was that there was so many of us that I could always find someone who wanted to join me on trips or to explore. I'm very thankful for my host family for being so kind and welcoming.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
The experience you have is completely dependent on the mindset you take into in. There were people who were only there for a few days but it was because they had a set expectation on how their trip would go and were not flexible when it was different than expected. However, with an open mind I can guarantee you will have a wonderful experience.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
My experience has majorly influenced my life. I fell in love with the country I volunteered in. The day I came back I knew that I was meant to work abroad. I am currently applying for more long term projects in Ecuador. It also gave me more curiosity to visit other countries. When you travel with IVHQ, you meet people with varying experiences and backgrounds. As you talk to these people you learn opportunities that you never knew existed and it just opens a whole new world of options. Not to mention you gain friends from all over the world.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
I highly recommend IVHQ to anyone interested. It was easy to plan for my trip. All the information was provided for me and I was supported from the moment I signed up to even after I left. I made friends and had experiences that I'll remember for a lifetime.
iona is 23 years old. She recently graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree in Education. Fiona works as a preschool teacher for low-income families in Nevada. Prior to IVHQ, she had never been outside of the country, and was terrified of traveling alone. She signed up with the hope of being able to help people while also being able to explore new countries.