Dashiell Hillgartner - 2007 Program Participant

Volunteers in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos Islands

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program because I was ready to see a different part of the world. I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and I knew that I had a year to do something special before I went to college.

Why did you choose Youth International and their program in South America?

I chose to participate in Youth International's South America program because it combined service and travel. I wanted a program that would allow me to see world renowned sights and also give me the opportunity to help and interact with a foreign community.

What was your favorite part about traveling in South America?

All of Youth International's programs are itinerant and tend to change locations every few weeks. During my South America program we extensively traveled in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

What makes Youth International’s South America program unique?

The program I participated in is unique because its itinerary is full of diversity. Personally, I helped build classrooms at a rural school, taught English at a city orphanage, and worked on a conservation project in the middle of a rainforest. In between these projects, I hiked the Inca Trail, completed a Spanish course at a language school, and went on a canoe trip in the Amazon jungle.

Children running in Malcorancho, Bolivia

Malcorancho, Bolivia

How much support did you receive from local staff throughout your program?

My program had two staff members that worked and traveled with my group 24/7. In addition to organising all of our transportation, accommodation, and meals, they led group strengthening and leadership exercises. Both of the staff members were fluent in Spanish and had previously lived and traveled to all of the trips destinations.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

If I could do it again, I would take more pictures and videos. While I was participating in the program I didn't want my camera to govern every moment, so I often left it behind. Now, I regret not having documented every second!

What was a typical day like during your program?

Each day in the program was different. Nearly always I awoke in a new place and planned to do something I had never done before. During volunteer projects we generally stayed with host families. So a typical day entailed having all meals with your host parents, who always cooked a delicious unique local dish, and working with the community. While in transit from two different volunteer projects, the days varied so much that the transportation could be by bus, canoe, or foot, and the destination could be a rainforest, desert, or city.

What did you enjoy doing outside the day-to-day schedule of your program?

As I have made clear above, there was rarely a day to day schedule. The longest we stayed in one place was in small village in Bolivia and a conservation station in Ecuador. At the small village my favorite activity outside of the volunteer project was playing soccer on the main square late at night. My favorite activity at the conservation station was cooling off in the river at the end of each day.

Hiking along the Inca Trail in Peru

Inca Trail

What was your accommodation like during your travels?

Throughout the program my group generally stayed with host families or at a youth hostel. On a few separate occasions we stayed on a boat, camped out, and slept in hammocks. What I liked best about the homestays was the opportunity to truly see how the local people lived and observe and participate in every step of their daily life. I enjoyed staying at hostels because it allowed me the chance to meet other travellers, many of whom I am still friends with today.

How much has your program impacted your life?

My program drastically impacted my life. As a result of interacting with so many different cultures in South America, I majored in Anthropology and studied Spanish in college. Youth International gave me the confidence to travel abroad and as a result I have been to six continents and over 40 countries. This past year, I returned to South America and taught English in Chile and I am currently about to start grad school where I will be studying International Education Management.