WorldTeach Ecuador volunteer Emily Mueller on teaching English as a foreign language, a new host family, and emborrajados:
One of the beautiful things about travelling and temporarily living in another country is the opportunity to meet new people on such a regular basis. I feel I’m asked all the time, How long have you been here?, and… How much longer do you have here?. The numbers continue to increase for the first question and decrease for the second. Right now I’m at 7 and 5. It’s getting really surreal that this experience is more than half way over, and that my time here will soon be coming to an end.
A lot has been happening and changing in my life here since my last post in mid-February. I finished my second of four cycles teaching at ILE and started teaching my third. I moved host families. I traveled to the Galapagos. I’ve gone through ups and and downs with bouts of homesickness and physical sickness. There’s been injuries. There’s been an abundance of moments where I’ve just been amazed by Ecuador in one way or another. I feel there’s hardly been time to reflect on everything I’ve been experiencing.
The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn when teachers themselves are taught to learn. – Bertolt Brecht
I’ll start with an update on teaching. So far, I taught Level 4 (of 8) Beginner Intermediate and Level 2 Beginner at ILE. This quote above is on point to how I’ve felt about teaching at ILE. First of all, I realized teaching may not be my passion as I had originally thought; or rather, my passion wasn’t so general. I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to adult immigrant and refugee students in Minneapolis. I was so passionate about volunteering at this school, but I did fully realize why until after I arrived here. Now, I am teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at a private language institute to the community of Riobamba. The majority of my students come from the middle to upper class, and are studying English for a variety of reasons. For the high school and university students, the goal is to pass English proficiency exams recently required by the government to graduate from college. Many also have dreams of travelling, studying, and/or living in another country. For my adult students, the goal is normally tied to a current or desired job. Although there is a need and a desire that exists, it isn’t as urgent as what I had experienced in my ESL volunteering position in Minneapolis. There was something about the more drastic and immediate need that fascinated me. Here, I don’t feel that same celebration over the small accomplishments, as the goals of my students are more far-reaching and long-term oriented. I’ve had doubts of my students’ progress and have fumbled many times with how best to teach to my students needs and interests.
Despite the challenges, I’ve learned a lot, as Brecht suggests; for one, flexibility in the classroom is key. Especially when I began to teach beginner students in my Level 2 class last cycle, I often overshot or undershot their language capabilities. I’ve learned it is always best to assume less and teach more – starting with the basics and going from there. Another thing – simplicity. My more complex lessons often turn out to be far less successful than a simplistic lesson I planned at the last minute. I think there’s something to be said for letting the students inspire and shape the lesson. Even more than letting them influence the lesson, I’ve recently been experimenting with letting them teach the lesson. They love the ownership of writing at the board, explaining a grammar point to the class, leading a game, etc. In addition to increasing the students’ amount of language use, it’s also a great way to promote classroom community bonding. What has really been meaningful for me has been making connections to my students and seeing them form friendships among one another. Although my teaching style has adapted and grown throughout my teaching, one aspect that has hasn’t changed is my incorporation of yoga in the classroom. Yoga was something I always thought was important and unique to share with my students, and they really enjoy it. I’ve been able to incorporate it into my class in different ways, sometimes as an energizer, sometimes as a relaxer, sometimes to refocus energy and increase concentration, and at other times to just have some fun and let go. It’s an aspect of my class that students always seem to enjoy.
One of the hardest things that has happened to me during this cycle was changing living situations in Riobamba. Although I’ll spare the internet the details, my old host family’s situation has changed a lot since I first moved in with them. Due to many factors, some within their control and many not, I just felt they had a few too many other priorities that came before hosting a volunteer. Living with a host family was by far what I was most excited to experience in Ecuador. From my experience with my amazing family in Spain, I feel there’s no better way to get an authentic view of another culture and partake in an enriching experience in another country. In the end, I just felt I wasn’t getting the experience I wanted, and it was time for a change.
I moved out as the last cycle finished, went to the Galapagos on break, and came back to what felt like a whole new Riobamba. With a new host family, new cycle, new work hours… it felt like a fresh start for the second half of my year abroad. Although it was a stressful and emotional move, I’ve loved the opportunity to get to know a new family and a new part of the city. I now live with a past student and now friend, Naty, and her beautiful family. They have been so welcoming and accommodating of me, I’m so grateful for them. It’s been such a treat getting to know them over cafecitos and even some family cooking! For example, last weekend, my family and I made chiwiltis. They’re essentially a steamed corn bread filled with fresh cheese and wrapped in a corn leaf. They were delicious, and even more fun to make! We also made emborrajados, fried banana and cheese sandwiches. Like many Ecuadorean dishes, it doesn’t sound that great in theory, but they were pretty delicious as well! My favorite part about them was their alternative nickname – amores escondidos [hidden lovers].
|My host brother, Mateo, working on |
rolling out the dough balls
|In the words of my host sister, Naty, |
the more cheese, the better!
|The hands of my family working together|
on the different steps of the chiwiltis
Something that has been really amazing to realize recently is the relationships I’ve formed in Riobamba. Especially with the turbulent end of last cycle and making the move, I was overwhelmed by the support I received from my friends here. When I mentioned the idea of moving out to them, they took on the responsibility of finding me somewhere new to live; in the span of 24 hours, I went from no place to go, to 4 different living options. They were offering up spare beds, refrigerators, sofas, etc. to make me a make-shift furnished apartment, if need be. I was overwhelmed by their genuine eagerness to help me find a new home in Riobamba. Undoubtedly, I’m so fortunate for the friendships I’ve made here.
-WorldTeach volunteer Emily
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