12/15/09

Meet Kate! Our Assistant Field Director in Ecuador

Kate Kurnick, now our wonderful Assistant Field Director in Ecuador, volunteered with WorldTeach several years ago and ruminates on the impact that the experience has had on her life and career as well as the differences she has experienced in her two roles as volunteers and field staff in a country that she loves!

Beautiful Ecuador [Photo courtesy of Anique Pegeron]

"My experience with WorldTeach profoundly impacted both my life and my professional choices. First, I fell in love with the country, and then I fell in love with a person from this country. I got married and had a couple of kids and I've never regretted that my life is permanently tied to exquisite Ecuador. I spent two years with WorldTeach in Cuenca, Ecuador because I decide to extend and stay for a second complete year. I suppose you can say that those two years were not enough for me, and I got an independent job as an ESL teaching and stayed in Cuenca, Ecuador for an additional two years. Then I moved to Santiago, Chile for another two years, where I continued to teach ESL. After living in Latin America for 6 years and teaching ESL, I spent four years in Los Angeles acquiring my teaching credentials in both English and Spanish, and teaching in a public high school in California. Now I am back in Quito, Ecuador with my family in tow and working for WorldTeach.

Being a member of the field staff is totally different than volunteering. I feel like I'm in touch with what is happening with our volunteers all over this country, rather than just focusing on one little corner of it. It's an amazing experience and I am continually reminded of what an exceptional place this is. A volunteer will call me and mention that he's sitting on the beach because it's a blistering hot day, while I am wearing my heaviest coat in Quito because a major rain storm has rolled in. The incredible thing is that we could get to one another on a 25 minute plane ride. Every one of our volunteers here will have a unique and individual experience, and being field staff allows me to be a part of everyone's experience. I love the connections that I make with people as a member of a small staff overseeing a large group of volunteers. It's very rewarding work.
A street scene in Ecuador [Photo courtesy of Anique Pegeron]

To illustrate, this is a small story that recently happened to me, but I think it shows that beauty of the Ecuadorian spirit:

The first day of orientation is always a bit nuts for the field staff. Thirty-six freshly arrived volunteers were looking to my boss and myself to help them get through Day One in a foreign country. We took them to a restaurant for lunch, and with such a huge group, the chefs were swamped and fell behind on the orders. The long story short is that my food didn't ever get to me. I was hungry and running on nervous energy by the time I left the restaurant, and decided to swing by a sandwich shop to pick up something pre-made and portable. As I was rushing down the street to get to the the next session with the volunteers, I was not-so-subtly stuffing a sandwich in my face and most likely looking like a crazy gringa. When I passed by a lone man on the street, he stopped in his tracks and gave me a look. I was a little irked at this and therefore totally unprepared when he broke into a friendly smile and sang out "Buen provecho!" (Bon appetit!). Remarkable! A total stranger on the street took a moment that day to wish me well, even though we are nothing to one another and will never see one another again. I think this is a fantastic example of how warm Ecuadorians can be, even when there's no specific reason to be, and certainly nothing for them to gain from acting kindly. It just comes naturally to them. It's one of the reasons I love here living here among these wonderful people."

Kate (on extreme left) with some of her volunteers! [Photo courtesy of Peter Daniels]

Thanks, Kate, for your insights and for all your hard work out in the field!

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