JESS WESTON TRAVELLED WITH LATTITUDE TO ECUADOR WITH THE DESIRE TO LEARN. BACK IN NEW ZEALAND HER EXPERIENCE HAS INFLUENCED HER UNIVERSITY PATH.
I was led to volunteering as I was unsure as to what I wanted to do after high school and have always been passionate about learning about other cultures, travelling and helping others. I chose Ecuador for the unique placement offered in the Andean cloud forest. I wanted a placement where I would be in a rural community and could get my hands dirty. I wasn’t afraid of change or being shocked and in fact I was almost wanting that to happen. I wanted a completely unique experience and knew Ecuador could offer me that.
I was mainly involved in the reforestation project the village is part of but I also did many other things. The reforestation project takes place all around the cloud forest and I would wait in the morning at the village shop with my lunch (rice and beans) for an old pick up truck to come rattling along the dirt road and get me then we would go off for the day.
I taught English at the school and also in the village shop a few days a week to people aged from as young as 2years old to people aged over 50. The village school had 14 students at the time I was working there and I would take 3 different groups as English levels differed. I took other classes under the village shop with toddlers and we would sing songs and jump about. High school students who lived in the village would also have a class, as did adults with varied English levels.
I helped out in the house they have for tourists, cooking and cleaning when tourists came. I assisted on farms and in vegetable gardens. I helped in the construction of a restaurant and many other things: I helped out in the organic village garden, I worked on a construction site helping build the restaurant painting and hammering, I helped make cheese and jam, I had a chance to help create small paintings and bracelets they sell in the village shop, and I helped out on farms milking cows etc.
My accommodation situation was very unique. In the village I changed families who I lived with every month. Through this system I got given a unique way to experience people’s lives from different walks of life. I moved from the village to the city on weekends, to a modern apartment that was similar to a penthouse which had a pool, sauna and gym.
Although I could not speak any Spanish when I arrived in Ecuador it didn’t cause me any troubles when it came to making friends. I found doing activities with people really helped, I played a lot of village football and we would also dance to music a lot. I started to understand Spanish pretty quickly, and after 8 months in Latin America I can say that I’m almost fluent and I constantly write to my friends in Ecuador in Spanish! I never enjoyed languages during school but learnt very quickly when I was immersed in it! I think being able to speak another language is a great skill to have especially if you’re like me and want to travel the world!
I was a very shy person when I left home and had never really been very confident in myself and the things I pursued. I now would say I’m an outgoing person with a lot of self confidence. After 8 months away I feel like I really know myself a lot better than I did before and I’m very confident in myself and the decisions I make. I also feel as though having that life experience has really made me grow as a person overall. I have a much better perspective on the world knowing we don’t all have easy access to clean water and a minimum wage.
I’m now home, doing a BSc & BA at Victoria majoring in Environmental Studies and Spanish! I have always been passionate about the environment but last year during my travels around South America my eyes were really opened to some of the hardships my generation is going to face due to damage done before us. Also Spanish as I fell in love with Latin American culture and have my compass set to go back as soon as I can!