How to Learn a Foreign Language While Teaching Abroad

So, you want to learn a foreign language while teaching abroad? It’s not going to be easy, but if you’re willing to try new things, make a few mistakes, and be proactive, you have a good chance of making a lot of progress! I studied Spanish in college as my minor, but I forgot a lot of vocabulary and grammar over the years before I left for Ecuador. When my host mom asked me my age, I accidentally said that I was 26 years old instead of 16 years old! I’ve come a long way though (according to my host family and fellow friends).

Learning a foreign language abroad is a great way to make new friends, open up future career opportunities, and understand the culture in ways you never thought possible. It’s always beneficial for your brain, so you can’t go wrong there. Also, yeah, it’s a bit harder to learn a language if you’re older, but it’s doable! Stop making excuses and you’ll start seeing results with some discipline, dedication, and determination.

Learning a language while teaching abroad

A language exchange club meeting I attended in Quito.

I’ve broken down how to learn a foreign language while teaching abroad into three main steps: 

FIRST STEP: Be realistic about your goals. 
If you’re teaching English in a country that predominantly speaks English, you probably won’t make a lot of headway with a foreign language. However, if you are learning Russian in Russia, German in Germany, Spanish in Ecuador, etc., you’ll have much better chances because you’re immersed in a country full of native speakers.

Also, if you’re only teaching abroad for a few weeks or months, then you’re probably not going to become fluent in that language. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment but believe that with discipline, you can achieve your goals! I knew that I was only going to be in Ecuador for 10 months, and I had learned Spanish before in college. My goal was to become conversationally fluent, which was attainable and I succeeded.

Bull's-eye

SECOND STEP: Decide what you want to focus on and how you will do it. 
Do you want to get better at listening, speaking, writing, and/or reading? What about vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation? Don’t forget about slang and idioms!

Here are 10 ideas for language learning abroad:
1. Live with a host family that doesn’t speak your native language.
2. Find language exchange clubs online and regularly attend the meetings.
3. Join sports teams, practice yoga, volunteer, attend social events, take cooking or dancing classes, etc. in the target language.
4. Take lessons at a language school.
5. Practice individually with other relatives of the host family, friends, and English teachers from the area — You can practice in English with them for an hour and the native language for another hour. Be disciplined about it!
6. Immerse yourself in the media: Watch shows, read books/magazines/news, read menus/advertisements, and listen to music in the target language.
7. Practice writing at least 100 words every day in the target language and ask someone is a native speaker of your target language/bilingual to edit your work.
8.  Carry around a dictionary, and DO NOT STOP LOOKING UP WORDS! Vocabulary is key!
9. Try conversing with people in restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, etc. in the target language. 
10. Study a bit of grammar every day with an app or by reading a textbook or language blogs. 

Calendar

THIRD STEP: Use a calendar to block off times for your language learning. 
I highly recommend using a calendar via a gmail account that syncs with your phone. You should practice the language every day for at least 2 hours! Maybe you attend language exchange clubs two days a week, you practice with other people in the community a couple days a week, you read and write every day, and you take classes once a week. Honestly, it’s up to you based on what’s available in the area and your teaching schedule.

The three steps I’ve mentioned for how to learn a language while teaching abroad are based on my own experiences in Ecuador. Just remember, some things will work for you and others won’t. You’ll definitely trip up along the way, but as you continue practicing, your confidence will continue to grow. Life truly begins outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll have some amazing experiences if you get out of yours while learning a language abroad!

Any other ideas for learning a language while teaching abroad? I’d love to hear from you below!

Thanks for reading!

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.

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.

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.

Being Grateful Abroad

Hola readers, ¿cómo están? I’ve now been here for a little over two months! I still feel surprised every morning when I realize that I’m in Quito, Ecuador. Every day brings new challenges, opportunities, and experiences (both good and bad). Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m flowing like water — I feel like I’m flowing like sludge.  I’ve had moments where I asked myself what the heck I’m doing here. When the washer machine is too hard on my clothes, when the weather is hot and cold like the Katy Perry song, when I feel alone here, I wonder. Being grateful is something I have to practice every day. I have to appreciate what’s going right in my life and that what I’m doing here is meaningful and vale la pena (worth the effort).

I started teaching English here on October 24th. I teach two classes that are different levels in the morning to young adults (mostly college students). Not only is it difficult to teach so early in the morning, but it’s also difficult to teach two different levels! Needless to say, I’m always busy. While I’ve had a bit of experience with teaching, it’s nothing like this. I have to remind myself that they’re not going to understand every nook and cranny of what I say every day. I need to draw, act it out, point at things, and talk slowly as much as possible to ensure that they’re understanding the material.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed teaching English so far. While lesson planning never stops and explaining grammar has its moments of difficulty, the best part is when we’re doing an activity and they don’t even realize that they’re using the new vocabulary or grammar. I’m starting to get the hang of some stuff, but like always, there’s room for improvement 😉 I teach in this colonial house:

The biggest thing I’ve struggled with yet enjoyed a bit so far is the holiday season here. I miss fall holidays in America very much! Thankfully, our group of WorldTeach volunteers celebrated Halloween on the 28th in a fun place. I also celebrated myself by watching all of Season 2 of Stranger Things in like two days, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I got November 2nd and 3rd off from teaching because they celebrate Día de los Difuntos here. The family gave me bread that looked like a child with icing on it (called guagua) and some purple sweet liquid called “colada morada.” Um, yum. It represents the body and blood of Christ. Looked a little like this (found online):

 

During those two days off, I traveled to a beach on the coast of Ecuador called “Estero del Platano.” This trip tried my patience, but overall, it was relaxing. I took a 6.5 hour bus ride to Atacames, grabbed some lunch and groceries, and then we took a taxi to a small town called Galera. Uh oh, wrong place. Now what? I rechecked the title of the airbnb house, and it said “Estero del platano.” I thought, “Where’s that?” We asked the taxi driver, and he took us there. This was a pueblo straight up 100%. Not a grocery store in sight. The beach had 0 cell phone service or Internet connection, so I was completely disconnected.

We just happened to see two other volunteers walking along the road when we arrived too. Thankfully, they escorted us to the airbnb house. The house had four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and 10 beds total. The kitchen had everything we needed to cook our meals for the next three days. While not texting my husband was hard, I did enjoy relaxing on the beach. I spent a few hours in the warm ocean water playing with the waves. I got stung by a jellyfish or something, which freaked me out, but I turned out fine.

Here’s the house we stayed in:

Hermosa Casa en frente de Estero del Platano

Here’s me in the water:

Here’s my friend Adriene and I at the beach:

 

Later in November, I went to the historical district of Quito again and visited the Basílica del Voto Nacional. The cathedral displayed glass mosaics illuminating the inside of the church, and I climbed the stairs to the top to see the extensive views of the pastel-colored houses of the city.

As far as Thanksgiving goes…haha, what Thanksgiving? They don’t celebrate that here. That whole week tried my emotions. I ate fish alone that Thursday. Wow, great fun. It was the first Thanksgiving without my husband or family. Thankfully, yes thankfully, the group of volunteers will have our very own “Friendsgiving” with Thanksgiving dishes next weekend.

Back to being grateful: What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for my hospitable host family, wonderful new Ecuadorian friends, language exchange clubs, practicing yoga, motivated students, affordable and tasty lunches, beautiful green parks here, a nearby cafe, fun day or weekend trips, living within walking distance of my job, palm trees and no snow here, learning more Spanish every day, having all the necessities, and good health. Most of all, I’m thankful to be living abroad even with all of its challenges.

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.

 

A Quirky Young Lady’s First Impressions of Quito

The view of dotted lights painting the city of Quito at night? Well, nothing compares to a welcome like that.

A month…okay…roughly 4 weeks have gone by since my Quito arrival. After a tearful goodbye with my husband, taking a red-eye flight from Denver to NYC, a flight from NYC to Fort Lauderdale, and a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Quito, (breathes in), you can only imagine how tired I was when I arrived at 10:30 p.m. at night. After we landed, nearly everyone on the plane started clapping. I knew right away I was in a different country because Americans don’t usually clap on a plane unless the plane ride was bumpy and frightening along the way!

I met up with several volunteers in the airport after customs, and we waited for our shuttle ride drivers. After waiting for other volunteers and the drivers, the drivers walked us over to the two cars. Somehow the drivers packed about 11 people’s bags into/onto (literally on top of) two different cars and drove us to the hostel, which was 45 minutes away. My first impressions of Quito were that the people are welcoming and the city has a mixture of rundown and developed buildings (many are colorful). I nearly shouted hallelujah after seeing a shower and bed at the hostel at 1 a.m.  After a much needed night’s sleep, several volunteers and I explored Quito a bit the next day.

First of all, you have to be careful walking around here because the taxis, cars, buses, and bicyclists are on a mission to get to their destination (pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way). Trees and metal rods jut out of sidewalks, and some sidewalks have square holes in the ground (#justcitystuff).  Vendors and kiosks line the street with odds and ends and goods and more goods. We walked around the famous Foch area and had a bite to eat.

Foch sign Foch area

During the day, the ladies from the first hostel moved over to a different hostel. It had a lovely terrace area, and we played a few card games.

Later that evening, everyone met up (38 volunteers total), and we played a spider web yarn game with the group. We then ate traditional food at a swanky restaurant. I tried ceviche and goat for the first time, and I was impressed with its deliciousness. I also learned that it’s not recommended to drink tap water here, but that’s okay, because the variety of fruit juices are endless (guanoabana for the win), and 2 liters of bottled water is like 60 cents. (It’ okay to use the tap water for brushing your teeth and washing your face.)

goat

We started orientation the next day in CEC, and that evening, the son and mom of my host family came to pick me up and another volunteer. The mom gave us a warm welcome, and after her brother-in-law dropped off our bags at the house, he came back and picked us all up. We live only four blocks away from CEC, so we lucked out in that regard. The host family house has an upstairs and downstairs. The other volunteer and I each have our own bedroom, and we share a bathroom (the host family doesn’t use this bathroom). They also have a washer and clothesline in their patio area.

The next two and a half weeks were filled with orientation activities, from diversity and safety sessions to teaching and culture sessions. I also took 10 Spanish group lessons as well. I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to go in too much detail about orientation, but it was all important stuff we needed to know to have a successful year abroad here teaching English in Quito.

On the weekends of those two and a half weeks, we went on several trips.

First, we went to TeleferiQo, where a cable car transported us on the east side of Pichincha Volcano. It took us up from around 10,000 feet to about 13,000 feet. A few of us hiked up the volcano for a couple of hours. Some made it up to the top, and I was pretty close, but I was cold and hungry, and I wasn’t prepared to climb rocks. The views were stunning though.

Teleferiqo

Teleferiqo

Another trip we took was to Mindo. Here, I zip lined on 10 different lines, swung on a Tarzan swing, and tasted the best coffee of my life after learning how it’s made right there.

Group view

Front

I also checked out Mitad del Mundo with our volunteer group. Here, half my body was on the northern hemisphere, and half my body was on the southern hemisphere. I also balanced an egg on the equator, and I earned a certificate!

Ecuador latitude line

Egg balance

They called me the “eggmaster.”

Egg certificate

Last weekend, I toured the historical center of Quito with an Ecuadorian. We visited a glorious church with golden walls and sculptures (no pics allowed), a cultural museum, and El Panecillo.

Cultural art bell church

El Panecillo

El Panecillo

In the meantime, I’ve been meeting some great Ecuadorians at language exchange clubs, spending time with my host family here and there, practicing some yoga, shopping, and relaxing and studying Spanish as much as I can. I earned a Spanish minor in college over four years ago, so I’m having to relearn some stuff while practicing the best I can.

I’m not going to deny that I haven’t experienced my fair share of challenges along the way. Mostly with struggling with Spanish, missing my husband and family dearly, trying to eat foods without milk/cheese because I’m lactose intolerant, accidentally bonking my head on one of my favorite restaurant’s low ceiling and bleeding a bit (the restaurant painted it red after that haha), trying to practice yoga, being brave to walk outside or ride the buses alone, remembering to throw toilet paper in the trash (plumbing can’t handle it), praying that when I get into the shower it will be warm with full water pressure, and feeling confident with lesson planning and teaching.

What I’ve loved most so far? The host family and Ecuadorians are kind and happy, there’s cute dogs everywhere, the parks are beautiful, supportive WorldTeach directors, other friendly volunteers, the culture revolves around family and friends, not individualism and capitalism, the 25 cent bus rides, endless cultural activities and sites, the mountain views are glorious, the places to shop are endless, there’s plentiful places to eat $2.50-$4 almuerzos (lunches) with soup, rice, meat, juice, and more that will fill you up to your heart’s delight. I grew up in suburbs nearly my whole life, and nothing compares to city living in another country.

I start teaching next Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to working with young adults and professionals. My contributions could open up more opportunities in their careers. While Ecuador has plenty of teachers who can speak English, this particular college is in need of sophisticated native English speakers who can teach those at an advanced and academic level.

I’m also looking forward to getting into a routine, meeting other Ecuadorian teachers, and doing more writing and exploring on the side. Who knows what the next nine months will bring?

I welcome questions. Thanks for reading!

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