Emily Della Fera - 2014 Program Participant
Enjoying the hidden waterfall of Taxopamba after a 30 minute hike.
What inspired you to apply for an international program?
I've always loved traveling and learning new languages. I wanted to give others the opportunity to learn English while I was able to be immersed into the culture.
Why did you choose the Tandana Foundation?
I liked the location, as well as the opportunity to teach in multiple schools.
What was your favorite part about Otavalo?
How much there is to do! I love traveling to all the different communities to teach at different schools, as well as getting the opportunity to explore the area around Otavalo.
What makes the Tandana Foundation’s program unique?
The connections you make in the community. You live with a family. You participate in their celebrations and in their traditions. You eat their food.
You become a part of their families and a part of the indigenous culture in a way you wouldn't be able to just coming on your own.
What surprised you most about Ecuador?
How much of a presence the indigenous culture has. There is racism and an obvious difference in the social standings of indigenous and mestizo people. But there are indigenous people in places of power and the indigenous culture has a very loud voice in the country.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff was always checking to make sure everything was going well in my classes. The manager always made herself available. She would stop in my classes to see how things were going and to give me pointers. She would also help me plan my lessons if I needed help. Overall, she was extremely helpful.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before teaching in Ecuador?
I wasn't prepared at all for the living conditions of the kids. It was really shocking. Some of them don't have pencils or markers or even a uniform that fits them. I don't think it would have changed me coming down to teach, but it would have been nice to know a little bit more about where I was going to be for almost a year.
What was a typical day like for you as a teacher in Ecuador?
My days changed so frequently. I would wake up and go to the office to get all the materials I needed to teach that day. I would either walk to the school where I was teaching or I would catch a ride with the teachers. Then I would spend a majority of the day teaching. Afterwards, I would get together with the other interns or go home and spend time with my host family.
What was the hardest part about teaching abroad?
Keeping the students interested. I was working in very rural communities with a lot of poverty. Many of the kids didn't think it was important to learn English because they didn't think they would ever use it. Not many English speakers come to those places and the ones that do usually speak only English. They didn't see themselves going to university or living anywhere but where they were so sometimes it was hard to keep them motivated and wanting to learn.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I could have done more in some of the communities. I worked a lot in the community where I lived, but I would have loved to have split my time into two or three different communities.
What did you enjoy doing on your freetime?
Exploring the area. There are tons of hikes and waterfalls around Otavalo, so many hidden things that you can explore.
What was your housing arrangement like? Did you like your accommodation?
I lived with a host family. I had my own room, but for the most part I was always with the family. I loved everything about it. I was adopted by my host family. I always got to spend time with my three brothers or with the cousins that lived on the same hill as us. Everyone shared stories and shared food and it was an amazing experience.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Not very difficult, seeing as I speak Spanish. It was difficult in the communities because they speak the indigenous language there called Kichwa. Most people are bilingual in Kichwa and Spanish, however some people from older generations that live farther away from bigger cities are monolingual Kichwa speakers.
How has teaching abroad impacted your life?
It has helped me live more simply. You see how these people live so happily even though they have so much less. They've given me a different perspective on life and how I should be living it.
The famous artisan market in the center of Otavalo
If you could teach abroad again, where would you go?
I'd like to stick with South and Central America for now. Maybe I would come back to Ecuador or possibly check out a new place like Chile or Colombia or something.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of teaching abroad is?
You learn so much. You can't just go into a classroom and teach English and think that everyone wants to learn it, everyone is going to learn it, and you are going to change the world. You have to deal with the day to day challenges that any teacher faces, and then multiply it by 10 since you are trying to adapt to a new culture.
You have to make connections to things that the kids understand. You have to speak in a way that they understand, which may be really similar to how you teach in the States and it may be the complete opposite. And when you can finally break down those barriers, that are instinctively there simply because you are a foreigner, and you can start to immerse yourself in their culture while immersing them in your culture, you know you are making progress.