Going the Whole Nine Yards

Since it’s my ninth month here (and penultimate month), I saw it fit to use the idiom “going the whole nine yards” as the title of this blog. My parents and brother came to Ecuador to visit me during the last week of May, which also included my 27th birthday. They also brought me my favorite snacks: Girl Scout cookies, chocolate peanut butter bars, Cheez It snack mixes, and Gardetto’s! Nothing like American salt and sugar.

On Sunday, May 27th, we walked around the artesian markets near the Foch, and I think my mom had a field day with all of the available trinkets. I also showed them around the historical district with all of the churches and old buildings. My family couldn’t believe how cheap the food and transportation is in Ecuador compared to the United States.

We went to Mitad Del Mundo on Monday, and we visited the monument and the museum nearby. We took a picture where half of us were in the Northern Hemisphere and the other half were in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mitad del Mundo

We’re on the equator!

We also walked around the exhibits about the history of the founding of the equator, and we took this fun family photo:

We went backwards in age. Notice my womanly face on a man’s body.

The next day we went to TeleferiQo to see the views from the Pichinca Volcano. We also met a couple from California, and the young lady also taught abroad in Japan for a few years. Anyway, I think the altitude affected my family because they were a bit winded.

Here we are at the TeleferiQo!

That afternoon we went to Quito’s Botanical Gardens, and we saw all kinds of native plants of Ecuador as well as a garden of Bonsai trees. Some of the trees were so small, and they were about the same age as me.

Botanical Gardens Entrance

Botanical Gardens Entrance

 

Botanical Gardens Ecuador

My brother lookin’ a little prickly.

On Wednesday we went to Otavalo, which was the highlight of the week. We took a two-hour bus ride there. We walked around the markets, and my mom had me haggle a bit for some pillowcases and coin purses. I also bought myself an alpaca sweater. Afterwards, we ate lunch and I got some delicious famous pie and ice cream from “The Pie Shop.”

We then took a taxi to the Otavalo Waterfalls, and there was a fun suspension bridge there as well. I enjoyed the greenery and nature because it’s a nice change from the concrete jungle of Quito’s noise and pollution.

Here are my parents in front of the Otavalo waterfalls.

Here is my dad and brother in front of a “do not enter: danger” sign.

That Thursday was my 27th birthday! We went to the artisanal markets that morning, and my mom bought me a red day dress. I showed them where I teach and the WorldTeach office, and we walked to El Mirador del Guápulo.

Here is my brother and me at El Mirador del Guápulo.

We then took a short taxi ride to Zao, which serves an Oriental cuisine. I ate some delicious ceviche and coconut sushi, and my parents and brother ate fried rice and spicy pad thai noodles, and I ate these leftovers for like 2 or 3 days after they left. Yum! I also received a free cake. 🙂

I got some cake and ate it too.

We later went to the Panecillo to see the angel statue in the historical center, and we experienced a downpour, so we moseyed around the statue for about an hour or two. We then came back to our hotel and ate ice cream at Crepes & Waffles. I was thankful that I could spend my birthday with my family in Ecuador.

El Panecillo

El Panecillo

On Friday, we went to Cumbaya and saw “Deadpool 2,” and we tearfully said our goodbyes later that afternoon. I enjoyed staying in a hotel for a week with a comfy bed, hot shower, and extravagant breakfast options. I think my family enjoyed being in Quito, but I think the safety concerns and Spanish language barrier was tough for all of us (I needed to translate a few times). We shared some good meals and had some good times. I hope I see them all again soon.

I was sad to see them go, but that night, my host family and I celebrated my birthday with cake and pizza! My host dad told me it was good to see me smile that evening.

My host family celebrated my birthday with me!

I started my fourth and final cycle of teaching the first week of June. My first class has only 10 students and the second has 21, so it’s a bit of a challenge to accommodate, but we have had a few laughs so far, so I think they’re a good bunch of students.

Other than that, I’ve gotten back in my routine of studying Spanish and practicing yoga during my free time. I also have my end-of-year conference with WorldTeach this weekend. Out of 38 volunteers that started here, we’re down to about 17 people! Anyway, I’m not sure if I will go on any more trips before I leave on August 1st because we don’t have any holidays during this last cycle, but it’s my last month here and I hope I can go on one last weekend getaway.

I’m proud of myself for coming this far with all of the challenges I’ve faced and difficulties I’ve endured. I’m looking forward to coming home to my husband and dog and the American life again. I’m sure there’s a few things I’ll miss here, but I’m going to do my best to soak up the good parts of Ecuador and enjoy my last 40ish days here.

Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

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Magic 8 Ball

The months are flying by like a hungry hummingbird, and I’ve now been in Quito for eight months total (cray cray). I’m not sure what challenges and joys the last two months will bring, but I hope my remaining time here ends well. I’m also trying to figure out what I’ll do in terms of a job after I get back to the States, but I’m considering international education/travel & tourism administration or communications. Magic 8 ball, what does my future hold?

I recently bought a plane ticket to Orlando for August 1st to see my friend before I fly to Denver to rejoin my husband. My third cycle here will end this week and then I will begin my final cycle in June, and I’ve enjoyed having some very motivated students in my class. My cohort of 38 members has now dwindled down to around 20 total, and we’ll have our end-of-year conference on June 23-24.  Who will remain? Only time will tell…

Anyway, I had a few exciting social events this past month. The end of April started off with me visiting an ice cream place called “Dulce Placer” (sweet pleasure), and I practiced my Spanish a bit with mah Ecua-friends.

Enjoying some ice cream!

We also had two days of vacation at the end of April to celebrate Labor Day. Hooray for foreign holidays! During this weekend, Adriene and I went to the movie theatre to see Avengers, but they ran out of tickets, so we got a taste of America at TGIF’s.

The rain didn’t let up much that weekend, but I went to Quilotoa, a giant crater that was formed by the collapse of the volcano, with my friend Adriene and her two friends. Quilotoa is 2 miles wide, and it takes about a half hour to walk all the way down and 2 hours to walk up, as the descent is 918 feet. We didn’t walk all the way down because of the rainy weather, which left the paths quite muddy.

 

Quilota Ecuador

Adriene and I enjoying the views.

 

A wider shot of the turquoise crater.

The next night, my friend Karina invited me to see a ballet called “Carmina Burana.” The ballerinas were literally on-point with their dancing and acting. The ballet included Latin music with a pre-Renaissance feeling to it. Carmina Burana was mostly about the trials and tribulations of love with love triumphing in the end. I enjoyed the ballet, but I was drenched after walking in Quito’s downpour on my walk to the theatre. Note to self: Wear a rain jacket AND bring a giant umbrella from now on.

Carmina Burana ticket

 

Carmina Burana with friends

We’re at the theatre!

 

Carmina Burana curtain call

Carmina Burana curtain call.

I also did eventually see “Avengers: Infinity War” with my friend Paulina, and we enjoyed lots of nachos and popcorn. We didn’t, however, enjoy the ending of that movie. Other than that, I have continued to practice Spanish with my host mom’s niece, Katy, and Isabel, another English teacher from Quito. Isabel and I have enjoyed eating wings and ice cream as we discuss the grammar mysteries of our native languages. I also wrote a blog post filled with Spanish resources if you’re interested in learning (more) Spanish.

I also finally got my health insurance reimbursement, but I have not received my package (*sigh*). My parents and brother will be here next week, so I’m hoping we have fun times together. May is filled with Mother’s Day, my mom’s birthday, my brother’s birthday, and my birthday, so I suppose we’ll celebrate all those holidays when they’re here with Quito explorations and maybe some out-of-town excursions.

Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

The Best Resources to Learn Spanish

Over the past 8 months of living in Ecuador, I have researched relentlessly for helpful websites, blogs, podcasts, phone apps, online shows, videos, and books to help me improve my level of Spanish. Spanish was my minor in college (graduated in 2013); however, I hadn’t practiced it much since then, so when I arrived in Ecuador last September (2017), I realized I needed to get back up to speed.

In all honesty, learning Spanish requires daily discipline and dedication. The first things you need to ask yourself: How badly you want to learn Spanish? What are your goals? You can’t expect to learn it all in a day, and if you want to become fluid, define what fluency means to you, and make a plan on how you’ll meet that goal. Also, how do you learn best? Reading/writing? Listening? Visually? Kinesthetically? Look for ways that will help you best with your learning style.

I have found some Spanish resources to be helpful, and I have categorized them (some are free and some require a price for more premium services). Keep in mind that some are better for beginners, intermediate learners, or advanced learners, and some are helpful for all levels. I hope they can help you!

The #1 best way to learn Spanish, however, is to take Spanish classes and/or to practice frequently with native speakers in addition to studying. You can connect you with other native speakers on HelloTalk, you can also look for language exchange clubs on Facebook, and/or look for Spanish clubs on Meetup.com.

learn Spanish vocabulary:

Learn Spanish grammar:

practice Spanish writing:

Practice Spanish listening:

Practice Speaking Spanish:

Improve Spanish Pronunciation:

pencils

Learn from Spanish blogs:

dOwnload Spanish Phone Apps: 

Mobile app

Listen to Spanish Podcasts:

Remember that language is always changing, and it depends heavily on the culture (idioms, slang, expressions, etc.). Some words are innocent in one country and are vulgar in another! Every country also has its own accent — some are more thick than others (Puerto Rico and Cuba). Some things do NOT translate directly from English to Spanish and vice versa, and collocations and logic are different too (in Spanish, students “give tests” and teachers “take tests,” people “take decisions,” and they “commit errors”). As a native English speaker, I learn new things in English all the time — and even more in Spanish.

Onward and upward!

My list of Spanish resources is just the top of the enchilada! It’s important that you keep an open mind, accept that things are different in Spanish, stay curious, and continue asking questions and searching for answers. Learning a language is like a logarithmic curve — you learn a lot in the beginning, but it tapers off when you reach the intermediate level, so you’ll need to continue working hard to reach an advanced level.

Making mistakes is the name of the game with language learning, but it means you’re trying! You’ll have days where you’re frustrated and want to cry, and you’ll have days where you’ll pat yourself on the back and you’ll treat yo’self. Celebrate the small wins, and most important of all, just have fun with it!

What Spanish resources have you found that have helped you?

Thank you for reading!

Recognizing Growth

Lucky number 7? I’ve now lived in Quito for 7 months, and I went through a bit of rough patch with recovering from being sick/losing my voice. I started my third cycle the end of March with barely being able to whisper! Fortunately, we had Thursday and Friday off from classes, so I spent that time resting at home. On Sunday, I celebrated Easter with my friend Adriene, and I enjoyed the traditional meal of fanesca. Fanesca is made with 12 grains!

Fanesca – photo from Karina Gordillo

My friend from Ecuador graciously cooked Fanesca and brought me a dish, and it was delicious! Her birthday was also during the first week of April, so we celebrated it at a restaurant eating pizza.

Karina’s birthday photo

¿Qué más? I have been continuing studying and practicing Spanish. I have started writing about 100 words of Spanish every morning and used the 365 days of prompts to help me. I feel lucky that I have friends here who can help me improve my Spanish! I also continue to attend language exchange clubs.

Quito Sunday Language Exchange

During the second week of April, I recorded a video of me giving a tour of my host family’s house, and I also took several photos of food that I eat and other activities I do during a normal week. You can see them on Instagram at @storiesbysydney. Unfortunately, in the middle of the week, my smartphone was stuck in a restarting loop, so I had to buy a new smartphone. I continued taking photos during the week.

Friday, April 13th was teachers’ day here in Ecuador, and my students surprised me with a cake! I loved that the cake had a picture of my face on it. 🙂

Teachers’ Day cake

My class 🙂

I endured a couple rough patches, but despite these, I started to recognize the topic of growth. I had a conversation about personal and professional growth with two different people without me bringing up the topic. I then realized – wow – when I arrived here, I could barely speak Spanish, I wasn’t confident with teaching, and I struggled with going out of my comfort zone.

Little by little, day by day, month by month — the progress is real. My Spanish level has increased from upper beginner to upper intermediate (according to a few online tests). I can basically watch shows in Spanish and read in Spanish without too many problems (provided the vocabulary isn’t too technical). The fact that students evaluated me well the end of last cycle and surprised me with a cake this cycle also shows my growth in teaching.

I’ll continue to make mistakes and deal with hiccups, which are facts of life, but it’s important to continue putting your best foot forward, recognize the progress you’ve made, and balance your hard work with enjoyable activities.

P.S. I think my package is coming next month. *crosses fingers*

Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

Ups & Downs of Traveling

Hi, there! Oh, how the months are flying by! I finished my second cycle of teaching here in Quito on March 14th, which went swimmingly well and better than my first cycle of teaching. My students were overall motivated and engaged in class, and it was difficult to say goodbye to such buena gente. It looks like with this next cycle, which starts tomorrow, I will be teaching the same level for two classes, still in the mornings, but in a different building without technology, which will be challenging. I still continue to practice yoga and study/practice Spanish weekly, and I’ve started language exchanging with an English teacher from Quito.

I had a week and a half off for break, and during this time, I was ambitious with my travels. I spontaneously signed up for 3 days/2 nights in Cuyabeno in the Amazon. I took a private bus at night from Quito to Lago Agrio, which took 7 hours, and I threw up along the way with bad motion sickness and didn’t get much sleep. When I got there, I waited for the guide for a few hours, and I chatted with people from Germany and Denmark. The guide came, and I took a bus for another two hours to a small pueblo, and then I took a motorized canoe for another two hours to the lodge.

Here’s the cabins where I stayed in the Amazon.

The lodge didn’t have hot water or cell phone reception, and it used solar panels for electricity, which was limited. I didn’t have any electricity in my cabin, but I could charge my phone near the kitchen during the day. My group had 11 people (including me) with people from the States, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Ecuador. We ate lunch, which was a delicious fish, and then the guide later took us to a lake, and we saw dolphins! We also saw lots of birds and monkeys along the way. It’s very difficult to get snaps of these elusive animals!

The next day, we observed toucans and other birds early in the morning, and then we went on a three hour hike in the jungle, and we saw different types of medicinal plants and frogs and lizards. We also tried ants that tasted like lemons. Later that day, we got into an actual small canoe, and we paddled around a lake that had trees inundated in the water, and we saw a lovely sunset.

Here’s me in a hole in a tree.

Here’s me holding a piranha!

On the last day, we had an early morning motorized canoe ride and saw more birds and monkeys along the way. After that, I went home again via the canoe and buses again. I forgot my coat (later got it back from a friend’s friend) and left with sunburns and bug bites, but I enjoyed seeing the animals and plants, meeting people from all over the world, and eating authentic food.

A lovely heron.

After I got back to Quito, I slept through the night, and then I took a 10-hour day bus to Cuenca. I arrived that night, and I stayed with a friend’s friend (who is now my friend) and her stepmom, two half-siblings, and two cousins. The next day, we took a bus to the ruins of Ingapirca, and it felt surreal seeing these man-made structures from over a thousand years ago.

First looks at the ruins.

Here’s me at the ruins.

Here’s me at the “Face of the Inca.”

The next day, we went to Pumapungo Museum, which was FREE, and we saw lots of lovely paintings done by Cuencan painters from a long time ago, and we saw interesting artifacts about different ethnicities in Ecuador. I also saw an exhibit about the different types of money that Ecuador had throughout its history. We also walked through the garden next to the museum, and it had llamas and a huge cage with lots of different types of birds (toucans mostly). We then walked throughout the city and saw lots of beautiful cathedrals.

The museum had llamas in the garden!

I’m taking a picture of the New Cathedral of Cuenca.

Here’s me inside of the New Cathedral of Cuenca.

Here’s me at the Old Cathedral of Cuenca.

Here’s me in the middle of the sign at night.

On the last day, we went to a place with a beautiful view of the city, and it had lots of adventurous activities like ziplinines and a swing. I rode the swing, which was thrilling and terrifying, but I’m glad that I did it! That night, I took the 10-hour bus ride home to Quito.

Here’s me at the Mirador de Turi — the best view of Cuenca.

Here’s me swinging at the Mirador de Turi.

After I got back to Quito, my health took a turn for the worse. I was exhausted and dehydrated, and my cold got worse. I also was suffering from bad stomach issues, so I ended up having to see a doctor yesterday to get everything sorted out. I should’ve done a lot of things during my travels to prevent this, such as, eating better food, taking probiotics, drinking more water, and stretching and exercising periodically on my bus rides. However, above all, I’m proud of myself for traveling alone to these places and experiencing more of the beauty of Ecuador!

Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

Midpoint Reflection

Have you ever ran some type of race, and when you reached the halfway point, you either wanted to stay consistent, push harder, slow down, or give up? I’m now at the midpoint of my 10-month service here in Quito, Ecuador, and I’ve been reflecting on how far I’ve come and how I want to proceed.

Reflecting on this past month, I went to Baños for our cohort’s mid-service conference, took a trip to Pasochoa (an extinct volcano) and hiked with some new friends, attended a Super Bowl party and ate some wings, and visited Amaguaña for the Carnaval. I also had some coffee with friends and ate a delicious cake for Valentine’s Day, and that weekend, I baked some brownies with my friends as they made delicious aji and lentil hamburgers, and I visited a vegan festival and tried a soy hot dog.

The mid-service in Baños was a pretty fun time despite the 4-hour trip to get there from Quito. We reflected on our time here and our goals, we discussed teaching strategies, and we received alpaca blankets as gifts. Can you find me in the picture? I chose a white blanket because my dog will get his white hair all over it when I get home to the States (haha).

WorldTeach Ecuador

WorldTeach Ecuador September Cohort wearing alpaca blankets.

The following weekend, I hiked most of Pasochoa with a couple new friends, and we discussed life and its challenges as well as other journeys we have endured. I enjoyed being surrounded by fresh air and nature; however, I don’t hike very often, so I nearly passed out from the altitude, but I didn’t have to sit during the hike, which counts as an achievement for me.

Rockin’ my hiking hat with two new buds.

I went to Amaguaña (an hour southeast of Quito) for Carnaval, which was February 10-13, but I was only there on Sunday, the 11th. I went with my friend, her boyfriend, and my friend’s roommate. From a parade full of dancing to concerts filled with music, I enjoyed partying and eating tasty foods. I can’t count the number of times that I got sprayed with foam, smashed with eggs, thrown at with flour and black colors, but I think I’ll never forget my hair feeling stale.

I was covered in black colored dust, eggs, flour, and foam.

I couldn’t help but laugh!

I met a lot of new people this past month, and I enjoyed taking time away from working and studying Spanish. Lately I have questioned if my Spanish and teaching has improved because it’s hard to tell. I have felt frustrated sometimes with these goals, and I know I have to keep moving forward. Thankfully, I have felt more comfortable with teaching this cycle, and it’s a relief to have a better grasp on the material. Sometimes it’s good to take a break and enjoy other things though to recenter yourself and not get burned out.

Enjoying some cake to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

It’s shocking that it’s been five months, and I have five more to go! I was disappointed that I didn’t go to Cuenca for Carnaval, but I’m hoping I can go there during the March break. I also found out my family will come to visit me over my 27th birthday during the last week of May, so I’m looking forward to that. I suppose plans change and evolve over time because life has different plans for you. It’s a challenge to stay grateful and positive sometimes, especially when after 5 months, the mail service here says you can’t have your package…

Each day comes with new challenges and duties, and sometimes I have to be patient and roll with it. It’s hard though to think about what my life will be like after Ecuador when I return to the States! I’m trying to take it day by day and live in the present.

Thank you for reading my monthly journal of my time in Ecuador!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

Goals & Plans

Wow, it’s 2018!  ¡Feliz Año! It’s always hard for me to believe how quickly the year went by, and it’s difficult every January for me to face the new year. At least this year in Quito I don’t have to deal with a cold, harsh winter. It’s been raining here more than usual, and it’s been a little chilly, but we have sunny days too.

Anyway, my husband came to visit me from December 27th – January 3rd, and it was good to spend time together. He tried some Ecuadorian food and met my host family, I showed him north and south Quito and where I work, we watched Star Wars in English, we visited Baños for a day, we toured la Capilla del Hombre (Guayasamín’s house and museum, which I highly recommend), and we spent time together in the Foch.

Every day with him was so precious, and it was difficult for us to say good-bye to each other. I’m glad that he brought me clothing, toiletries, Gardetto’s, and candy to help me get through the next six months! My parents sent me a package in September, and I still haven’t received it, and at this point, I don’t know if I will. It’s frustrating that the mailing system isn’t like the one in the States.

When I return to the States in August, we’re planning on having a Holi-Jo-Sy-day-Palooza (still working on the name), where we’ll celebrate several holidays and our 1-year marriage anniversary with food, candy, movies, frozen yogurt, and cake.

We loved the views of the mountains in Baños.

A picture of us in front of the Basílica del Voto Nacional.

I rode the swing “at the edge of the world.”

Here’s us in front of Capilla del Hombre.

I didn’t do a lot of traveling over the holiday break, but I hope to do more before I leave the first week of August. I’m planning on going to Cuenca for Carnaval in February with my friend, and I’m looking into going to the Amazon in March and the Galapagos Islands end of May (my birthday!). I’d like to go on more weekend trips to places like Ibarra, Ambato, Riobamba, and other cities, but I suppose we’ll see.

This past weekend I went to the hot springs in Papallacta with a few people, and although it was a bit cold and rainy, we enjoyed relaxing in the warm, mineral water that comes directly from a volcano. This upcoming weekend I’m going to Baños again for WorldTeach’s mid-conference, but it’s for professional reasons.

I also started my second cycle of teaching here on Tuesday, January 16th, and I have the same schedule and English levels as the last cycle. The students seem good so far, and I’m going to do my best to keep up with my goals for teaching this cycle, which include more activities, more speaking & listening activities, more feedback, and as always, more preparation.

I’m still practicing yoga three times a week and practicing Spanish at language exchange clubs and with Ecuadorian friends, and I noticed that while my vocabulary has improved from flashcards and asking questions, I still have trouble with some grammar concepts and listening. I’m going to keep trying though, and I urge all of you to stick to your goals no matter what time of the year it is! 🙂

Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.