What is a typical day like in the life of a TEV volunteer?

Your alarm goes off at 5:30.  Naturally, you press snooze once, but by 5:45, you know it’s time to levantarse.  Let’s say you live in Riobamba, but teach in a smaller, more rural town.  You quickly drink a cup of tea and eat bread with cheese, then throw some clothes on and walk out the door.  You have to catch the bus that will get you there by 6:30.  At around 7:15, you reach your school and converse with the teachers there (depending on your level of Spanish- you may kind of just be with them, trying to pick up words you can, but sometimes just zoning out).  At 7:30, the children head to their classrooms, and you head to yours.  Let’s say you’re working in an escuela (elementary school) on this hypothetical day.  You will begin in one of the classrooms, probably teaching for around 45 minutes.  You may begin each class with a greeting song, a classroom chant, or a fun review, but after a few minutes, you and the children get to work with the teaching.  Before you know it, you look at your clock and see that you need to wrap things up and head to the next class.  At around 10:30, the school takes a half hour recess, giving you a chance to buy a 10 cent chocobanana and be swarmed (lovingly) by the students.

By 11:00, you are back in a classroom.  At 12:30, the last bell rings and you are done working with kids for the day.  (If in a colegio, school lets out at 1:30).  You spend about thirty minutes eating lunch with the teachers (soup, rice with some meat and a little bit of salad, and juice- in that order), then you may end up giving them a lesson, or you may leave the school.

You get back into town around 2:15 and head home to plan your lessons for the next day, or just relax a bit.  Perhaps you pop into an internet cafe to see how life in your hometown is, perhaps you answer some emails from potential volunteers who are trying to feel out the organization, perhaps you go on a run, perhaps you spend time studying Spanish, perhaps you have agreed to giving some English lessons.  Later that night, you will probably eat a small dinner with your family, then maybe you’ll hang out with fellow volunteers or local friends.  But you’ll be amazed how tired you are by 8:30 pm… the children are very fun, but also very draining, plus you woke up quite early.  You hit the sack by 9:30 and sleep soundly, refueling your body in preparation for another exciting day of teaching.

What does the teaching entail?

Volunteers will most likely share their work between two schools, and most likely will move from classroom to classroom each day.  Class sizes will very between five and fifty students, and with being in up to 6 classes each day- and perhaps working in more than one school, volunteers will interact with many children!  Directors of the schools will decide how much time volunteers will work with each class, but it will probably be in between 25 minutes and an hour and a half.

Upon arrival, volunteers will get a feel for their students’ current English levels.  They will then figure out what they can do to improve their levels as much as they can in their time in Ecuador.  Volunteers will need to abide by the Department of Education curriculum, but will have some freedom to add lessons and enhance activities from the textbook.  If working in colegios, volunteers will work with English teachers who have probably been teaching for quite a while.  It goes without saying that volunteers will need to respect their teaching styles and help in ways they can without trying to take over.  Most likely, they will assist in large part with modeling correct pronunciation.  If working in escuelas, volunteers will be the sole English teacher.  They will not teach alone (there will always be a teacher in the room with you to assist with management of the class), however they will be much more in charge of English education than the general class teacher.

Volunteer will work from 7:30 to 12:30 or 1:30, depending on the school.  After classes end, you will eat lunch for free with the teachers of the school.  In addition to teaching children, volunteers will almost certainly be asked to teach the teachers in the afternoons.  When signing on to TEV, you are only obligated to teach classes specified in your contract.  There will be some volunteers contracted to teach afternoon classes with teachers, but if this is not the case, you do not have to give any extra classes.  However, if you wish to stay at the school for an extra hour and teach the teachers, it would be helpful.  It will be up to you.

What do I need to do before coming?

  1. Get a passport if you don’t have one yet
  2. Obtain a police certificate indicating that you have no record.
  3. Complete a TEV health form, indicating that you are in good health conditions to live and teach in Ecuador during your period of stay.  Medical travel insurance is recommended, but not obligatory.  Understand that you will be responsible in paying for any health issues you incur in Ecuador
  4. Decide what sort of Ecuadorian visa you will need, whether or not you will obtain it in your home country or in Ecuador, and act accordingly.  You will need to pay for your visa.
  5. Book your flight, making sure that it aligns with the amount of days your visa permits you to stay in Ecuador.
  6. Save some money.  Although your food and lodging is provided by the project, you will need some spending money, especially if you hope to travel.  If you can save $100 for each month you plan on being in Ecuador, you should be set.

VISA

You will need a visa to stay more than 3 months. A tourist visa allows foreigners a 6 month stay in Ecuador.  Both the automatic 3 month visa and the tourist visa can be extended once you are in Ecuador, for a fee, so it is possible to stay and teach for the full school term (9 months).

Vaccines

There are no compulsory vaccines needed to come to Ecuador. But we would strongly encourage you to get the vaccines against

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever

Malaria exists in Ecuador but only in the coastal and amazonian regions. Visit with your doctor before you leave for Ecuador about purchasing once-a-week malaria prevention pills (Melfloquine).  If you do not do this, you will also be able to find pills in pharmacies here that you can take a few days before your trip to the Coast or the Amazon regions, during your trip, and a few days after.  The risks are low, but you may want to be safe, rather than sorry.

Packing List

We suggest that you bring the following items to Ecuador:

  • cell phone with removable sim card
  • camera
  • a small, well-labeled (for customs reasons) medical kit: tylenol (it is much harder to purchase here!), nasal decongestant, tums, and something just in case you get traveler’s diarrhea.  There are pharmacies (farmacias) here, but I figure it’s nice to have some of these things on hand when you need them.
  • an English texbook.  Knowing English does not make you a natural English teacher, therefore it is nice to have something to refer to.  Here is a link to a free, downloadable copy of Interchange.
    student book :
    http://www.4shared.com/get/f0ZPEwrM/Interchange_Intro_A_students_b.html
    workbook :
    https://rs136dt.rapidshare.com/#!download|136l34|397808781|Interchange_3rd_Ed._Intro_TResB_-_OCR__1_.pdf|32564|R~B10D49EF74C9962B97B5708ECCD7F6CF|0|0
  • bathing suit and towel
  • an umbrella (December to May is Ecuador’s winter/ rainy season)
  • Warm clothes.  Ecuador is on the equator, yes, however, we are around 2,700 meters above sea level and in some of the cantons outside of Riobamba, the altitude is even higher.  You will rarely wear shorts or dresses (without tights or leggings).  One or two pairs of jeans, and a pair of black dress pants should be good.  Plenty of socks.  A warm jacket, and maybe one lighter jacket, along with a couple of sweaters should be sufficient.  Of course, bring t-shirts as well, and a few outfits you can wear if you decide to dance on the beach in Ecuador’s party-friendly coastal region (where it is much warmer).
  • A pair of durable shoes that go with everything.  Some that can survive walking in a lot of dirt- probably leather.
  • A black outfit that you can wear if you attend a funeral.
  • (Ladies, it’s very difficult to find tampons in Ecuador… pack accordingly).
  • Your visa and passport!
  • an open mind :)

Travel

You will need to pay for your flight to Ecuador.  You can fly into Quito or Guayaquil.  If you plan on staying for more than 3 months and have obtained a 6 month tourist visa, you will need to register it.  Quito and Guayaquil are the only cities in Ecuador where you can do this, and it can only be done Mondays-Fridays.  It is a two-day process and must be done within 30 days of arriving, otherwise you will be subject to a $200 fee when leaving the country.  Therefore, it is worth the price of a couple of nights in a Quito or Guayaquil hostel to register your visa off the bat, then travel to Riobamba, where the project is located.

By bus, it takes about 3 hours to get from Quito to Riobamba, and 5 hours from Guayaquil.  Buses in Ecuador tend to cost about a dollar an hour, so the tickets also cost between 3 and 5 dollars.  We will be in contact with you before you arrive, and will plan to meet you at the Riobamba bus terminal, where we will then either drive you to your family or introduce you to your family there.

How much does it cost to live in Ecuador?

Surprisingly enough, Ecuador uses the US dollar.  Although your accommodation and meals are provided by your host family and your schools, you will want to bring some spending money.  These estimates are meant to help you figure out how much you need to save up before coming.  Food prices: ice cream on a stick (more like a popsickle, really) is about 30 cents, a 3 course lunch (soup, rice and meat, juice) is around $2, a box of 20 tea bags is about 85 cents, a .  In general, food costs much less here than it probably costs in your country.

Transportation

Your transportation to the schools and back to your home will be provided, but here’s some information on how much you might want to budget for getting around Ecuador.As mentioned above, buses tend to cost about a dollar an hour.  In Riobamba, taxis always cost $1.  In Quito and Guayaquil, the cost is determined using a meter, but will be more expensive.  Quito has an excellent metro system, which only cost 25 centavos a ride.  If you are considering going to Galapagos, the plane ride is a bit pricey (relatively speaking).

Goods

Most items that are imported cost about what they would in the United States.  Clothes, electronics, and household items will probably cost what they cost in your home country.  However, anything made in Ecuador may be less expensive.  It is legal here to download and burn CDs and DVDs, so there is a plethora of multimedia shops selling your favorite movies and CDs for $1 each.  If you are confident enough with your Spanish, feel free to barter here.  Most stores do not have displayed prices, and negotiating is a part of the culture.

Activities

The cinema in Riobamba costs around $6 a movie.  Going out for a drink with friends is not very expensive, because glasses of wine (not the greatest wine, to be honest- we’re not in Chile or Argentina) costs around $2 and a 750 ml bottle of beer costs $1.  Internet cafes tend to cost around one centavo per minute.  Anything touristy will cost a bit more.  To parasail in the popular beach town of Atacamas is $25 for about 5 minutes.  It costs $25 to ride the popular train ride Nariz del Diablo, from Quito to Riobamba.  Climbing Mt. Chimborazo costs $100-$200.

Medical expenses

It is up to you if you choose to purchase insurance.  If you do not have insurance and need to go to the doctor, it costs $10 a visit.  Health care really does not cost very much here, nor do pills you may need to purchase.

In summary, do your best to save up some money before coming.  Technically, you can get by without spending anything, however you probably would not have a great time.  Of course, how much you will need depends on how much you want to purchase, but a good goal is to save $100-$150 for each month you will be here.

Is Ecuador safe?

Understandably, you may be concerned about living in a South American country.  While you will need to be cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times, the Chimborazo province is not very dangerous.  The key is to be intelligent, and not put yourself in dangerous situations.  Riobamba, the capital of the Chimborazo province and the city from which this project is based, is described as very tranquil.  There are about 160,000 inhabitants, but there is not much of a night life, the people are reserved, and customs are quite traditional.  Most people in this area are very warm toward foreigners.  One thing women will need to be ready for is being noticed, called at on the streets, and honked at by cars.  At first, this may feel very unnerving, but these men are mostly harmless.  The best thing to do is ignore them completely.

Here are some pieces of advice to ensure that you have a safe time in Ecuador:

  • Do not walk alone at night, especially in streets that are not busy nor well-lit.  During the day, however, it is safe to walk or go on runs.
  • If you find that a certain taxi driver or bystander notices you on your walks each day, change your path!  You do not want strangers knowing where you live, or following you.
  • Do not take unmarked, illegal taxis!  Legal taxi drivers, who belong with a corporation, have more to lose (their jobs) by driving tourists to places they aren’t asking to go (then robbing them) than illegal taxi-drivers.
  • If you find that your taxi driver is asking you very personal questions (“Do you have a boyfriend?” “Could I take you out sometime?” “Do you live alone?”) and making you uncomfortable, do not have him drop you off at your real host home.  Instead, have him take you to a close corner, or hotel nearby.  One volunteer went so far as to pretend she did not speak Spanish well (used a terrible accent, and only said what she needed to say) so that she could avoid possible awkward conversations with the taxistas.  This volunteer does not find that totally necessary, but if you feel it would help, give it a shot!
  • When riding in buses, be sure that your belongings are on your lap or at your feet.  Do not use the overhead compartments.  If taking a longer trip and you have suitcases that need to be stowed underneath the bus, there should be no problem.  Make sure that the bus driver is the only person that handles your bags and that he notes that it belongs to you.
  • Do not flaunt expensive-seeming items (ornate jewelry, very nice clothes, high-end technology).
  • Listen to what your host family has to say about what is dangerous in the area.  They may seem overly protective, but try and remember that they know the area better than you and that they only want to make sure that you return to your country safe and sane.
  • Be extra careful in bigger cities, such as Guayaquil and Quito, because they are much more dangerous than Riobamba.
  • Do not carry more money than you need to have on you.  Also, leave valuables such as your passport, extra cash, and debit card at your host family’s house.  (Though, you should carry a copy of your passport with you at all times).
  • Bring or buy a cell phone, so that you can communicate with your host family and keep them informed.

The volunteer writing this is a 25-year old female who has been in Ecuador for 6 months.  Not once have I been robbed, or felt unsafe.  I often feel much safer here in Ecuador than I do in the US.  I go running several times a week, and feel completely safe while walking through town with my purse.  As one needs to do wherever they are in the world, use common sense and be alert.