Jordyn DeHaan - 2015 Program Participant

Students standing on the equator in Ecuador

Our group from LSU visiting the Equator

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program because I saw it as an opportunity to grow personally and become more open minded, while getting to help others in the process. I thought it would be a great experience to submerge myself in a different culture and become more aware of what is going on in another country outside the United States.

Why did you choose United Planet in Ecuador?

I have always had a fascination with South American culture, and I have volunteered with children for many years, therefore this program jumped out at me. This trip was organized by my school, but they chose United Planet for the reason that they organize everything, including seeking out the volunteer sites. The fact we were going to do service in different communities is what made what this program unique to others, and why we chose it.

What was your favorite part about Ecuador?

The first location we were at was the capital of Ecuador, Quito. My favorite part about this location was being part of the hustle and bustle of a big city, but it being completely different than any other city in North America. The pace of life just goes slower there, giving time to enjoy the little things. It is nestled in a valley, completely surrounded by mountains, with amazing architecture and infrastructure. This is also where we got to experience the food for the first time and use our Spanish skills the best we could.

We then went on to a second location, Otavalo. This is a much smaller city, where we really got to explore and be more submerged in the culture. My favorite part of this location was doing service in the tiny village of Chilcapamba, where we got to work with indigenous children and they sang to us in their native language.

What made your program one-of-a-kind?

What makes the United Planet Ecuador Program unique is that they give a really good balance between tourism and service. Even though we spent a lot of the days volunteering at the different sites, we also got to do fun activities as well. Some things we got to do were a city tour or Quito, zip lining, Spanish classes, and even a Salsa lesson. They also gave us plenty of free time to explore on our own or go shopping in the local markets.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

During this experience, we got to work with and even become friends with the staff from United Planet. Pablo, our coordinator, was so helpful in making sure we felt comfortable and safe and enjoyed every moment of the experience. Our bus driver, Fernando, and our tour guide, Alberto, were even at the sites with us helping to do the volunteer work, which really made them feel like part of our group.

What's one thing you wish you could have done differently?

I wish we could have stayed longer and done more volunteering. The smiles on the children's’ faces made all the handwork completely worth it, and it made us all strive to do our best. I wish we could have had even more time to help even more children than we already did.

International volunteers at a school in Ecuador with local children

Our group with the Children of Chilcapamba in front of a mural we painted

Describe what a typical day was like for you as a volunteer in Ecuador.

Wake and go to breakfast with the group. Get on the bus to go to our work site. Spend the day usually painting, cleaning, and playing with the children. Go to lunch, which was usually typical Ecuadorian cuisine. Return to work after lunch and go back to the hostel around 4 p.m. We would then meet for dinner and usually all go to a local restaurant. Once we returned we had free time or rest up for the next day. Every couple days we would have a fun activity planned that we would do instead of going to the site that day.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activity outside the normal schedule was Salsa dancing lessons. It was a really fun way to bond with the other members of our group and have a really fun time doing it. We were all equally as good (or bad), so it let us all just be ourselves and we all had a blast doing it.

What were your housing arrangements like?

We stayed in two different hostels during the experience. What was great about the hostels was that the staff took the time to get to know us, and we felt like they were really taking care of us. We ate our breakfast every morning at the hostels, so it felt more personal than staying in a hotel. They were also very unique and a great representation of Ecuadorian culture, which was a great way to submerge ourselves even more in the experience.

Now that you're home, how have your experiences volunteering abroad impacted your life?

Now that I'm back home I've learned to appreciate the little things a lot more. We live in a culture of convenience to make everything happen sooner, or easier for us, and that makes us miss the little things in life that can be truly special. I have learned to appreciate the people I am with at the time a lot more, and appreciate simple things, such as time without a cellphone or meaningful conversations. I am also more open minded towards new experiences and opportunities, and can truly appreciate everything I have in my life that many people do not have the opportunity to have.