Although I still have to wear my winter coat at least once a week and keep a minimum of two comforters on my bed, summertime is finally here in Latacunga, Ecuador! Unfortunately, our little town is situated between some huge snow-covered volcanoes, including Cotopaxi (one of the biggest active volcanoes in the world). Therefore, it is cold year-round here because of the altitude and the winds that pass over the ice and snow on top of Cotopaxi. Luckily, since we are also so close to the sun (both in altitude and near the equator), we do get some warm afternoons when the sun decides to come out. While the weather is so different here, this time of year still means the same thing for high school students and us teachers: summer vacation!!
However, here in Ecuador, “summer school” is a lot more common for students. If they do not have a minimum score of 7 in a subject, they need to stay for supletorio (2 weeks of classes, followed by an exam). For students who do not pass this second chance, they then have to go through remedial (studying for the rest of the summer on their own time, with an exam at the end of August). For us teachers, that means we also need to stay and work the 2 weeks following the end of the normal school year. In addition to summer school classes, we also had our graduation ceremony for the senior students at the end of July. Therefore, my summer vacation actually only started one week ago!
In the mean time, I have been keeping busy, mostly because of hosting my first summer camp. Trying to control more than 100 students while also keeping them entertained, in a foreign language and culture, proved to be quite a challenge. From my experience of event-planning, I knew to expect many things to go wrong. Having this mindset was especially helpful because every day during the camp there were at least 5 problems (some minor, some major). In addition to organizing all of the logistics for the entire camp, I was also busy working with the 30 students in my group (go team Ireland!).
I never realized how much work needs to go into planning a camp, but it definitely was worth it. After the end of the camp, I collected some data from the students: what they learned, what their favorite parts were, and what their suggestions were for improvement. Seeing the number of students who said “no tengo ninguna sugerencia, todo estaba perfecto” (I don’t have any suggestion, everything was perfect), was very uplifting. There were also many students who said that they only wished the course was longer.
We also asked the students to measure their level of interest in English (on a scale of 1 to 10) on the first day and on the last day of the camp. On the first day, many students were honest and ranked their interest level as 5 or 6. The average score was 8.1. However, at the end of the camp, the average level of interest was 9.8 (almost a 20 percent increase)!! Zero students showed a decrease in interest, everyone either had the same or higher score than the beginning of the week. All of the hard work the past few months was worth it, knowing that this camp might have helped many of my students to realize the importance of English. Furthermore, when asked what they learned during the week, many students mentioned that they met new friends, stepped outside of their comfort zone, and learned to work better in a group setting. In addition to learning new vocabulary and better pronunciation, they also learned valuable life skills.
In my limited free time, I have also been helping out my host mom with her own summer courses for kids. It has been a lot of fun to work with elementary school students again, since I have been working solely with 7th-12th graders since January! On the weekends, I have been able to plan a few beach trips. Getting out of “Ice Town” (as me and my friends like to call Latacunga) has a been a great way to relax and enjoy some summer weather (more or less, because it is actually “winter” right now on the coast of Ecuador).
I was also named one of Pi Kappa Phi’s Thirty Under 30 awardees, which was very exciting. The qualifications/grading criteria for the award were the following: commitment to fraternal values, distinguished achievement, and young alumni in good standing. In addition to this award, I also reached a big milestone personally: 6 months here in Ecuador! Although I still have over a year and a half left of my service, it is still exciting to think that I have spent so much time here in this beautiful country full of amazing people.
While I am going to miss the time to relax, I am pretty excited for the new school year to start soon. I’m sure the rest of summer is going to fly by! I have 2 more weeks of vacation, and they are already pretty booked. I will be visiting a new beach town this week called Puerto Lopez to do some whale-watching. For my birthday weekend, I will be traveling to the Amazon Rainforest again with my friends!! After that, I have a week-long summer camp in Shell (a town in the Amazon region) and another one here in Latacunga the following week. Summer is always a great reminder of how fast time really flies – enjoy every moment of it. Happy summer from Ecuador!