Sunday, October 26, 2014

You Teach English?

Yes, I do. And if you’d told me six months ago that I would be teaching English, I wouldn't have believed you! We all teach English; Kate and Evan even teach both an adult and children's class. Right now we are halfway through the semester and people still come in every day asking if there are open spots.  Many of us gave our classes a midterm exam this week so I wanted to reflect on my journey of becoming an English teacher thus far. Before I got to Ecuador I felt pretty certain about the programs I wanted. I was particularly interested in the health programs which made sense for me as a recent graduate with a Public Health degree.  I honestly hadn't really thought twice about English.  

After the five of us 13-monthers moved in the Manna house and began observing the programs and getting ready to select our top picks, it became clear that we were all going to be teaching English. When the semester started, there would only be seven program directors and there are nine English classes. Looking back, I’m extremely glad I didn't really have a choice about teaching English because I’m not sure if I would have chosen to do it on my own. I was definitely overwhelmed just thinking about teaching an English class. Sure, I know English. But just because I’m a native speaker in no way means I can explain why we usually put our adjectives before the noun (it is the opposite in Spanish for the most part!), why we have so many irregular verbs or why “they’re, their, and there” all sound the same but mean different things! 

The old program directors left us ample resources and lesson plans, but I still felt extremely unprepared walking into my first class. Planning that first lesson was stressful. I stared at old lesson plans and desperately tried to incorporate reading, listening, writing and speaking activities into a one hour lesson. A few days later I would learn that first hour lesson was a piece of cake to plan. I now had to plan activities for a three hour lesson! I try to over-plan because some activities will take longer than expected, like speaking activities; many hate speaking in class. While other take much less time, like vocabulary exercises because the majority of our students have a really good vocabulary and have picked up so many words from music and movies. I’m still learning how to best make my lessons but I've definitely improved and am learning my students’ pace!

I teach the adult intermediate English class (the second level out of five). Teaching adults is nice because they all have specific and interesting reasons for wanting to learn English. Usually adults want to learn English for their job or so they can help their kids. And they genuinely want to be in class - however, some program directors who teach kid’s English would have a different take! I had expected to be speaking a lot more Spanish in class than I actually am but my students really want me to say everything in English. I think this is good because the exposure to new words and my pronunciation is really helpful for them, even if I have to clarify things in Spanish. 

I've really been enjoying teaching English but wanted some formal training to help me feel more effective. Two of the PDs last year took a 160 hour online TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and after successfully completing the course they now have a TESOL certification. Carley and I enrolled in the online course and we are both about half way through. So far we've learned about how to teach certain verb tenses, phonemes, classroom management and even the best ways to give feedback. It is definitely helping me feel more confident in my teaching and by December I’ll be TESOL certified! If I do decide to continue teaching English after my time with Manna, having this course under my belt will definitely serve me well. 

Conclusions: English is hard. It’s probably (definitely) way harder than Spanish.  Currently, English is the third most widely spoken language, second to Mandarin and Spanish, yet it permeates everywhere. I feel so incredibly lucky just to have grown up speaking English and this new-found interest of teaching is incredibly exciting! 

~ Amelia Hulbert ~ 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mama Clement

This week the Manna house was inundated with cookies and chocolate from Trader Joe's, which could only mean one thing... the first parent of the year. My mom flew down to visit for about ten days, which I spent showing her the Manna library and the Valle de los Chillos, as well as travelling with her to Quilotoa and Otavalo. To be honest, it was a little difficult to be away from the Manna house for so long...after three months I feel I have already grown so close to my Manna family that it was difficult to be without their smiling faces and missing out on their daily lives, even briefly. Even taking a few days off and missing out on some of my programs was difficult-- I love getting to know and serve the community here! But I was surprised at home much light my travels with my mom helped shed on these thirteen months as a whole.

As we traveled around Ecuador, we met many expats and had conversations that reminded me just how much I love and appreciate this country. An expat I met in Otavalo who has lived in Ecuador for more than ten years shared how deeply she appreciates the welcome she received in to the community she lives in. Even after ten years, her host family from her semester abroad in Quito call her "ñaña"-- sister. After only three months here, I am already experiencing this deeply moving spirit of welcoming from the Ecuadorians that I interact with every day and am thankful to call my friends. Another expat shared with me how she moved down to Ecuador with her husband to open a sustainable, socially conscious coffee co-op and cafe, and how she appreciates her daily opportunity to give back to others, and how they often give more to her than they even know. Her experiences couldn't resonate with me more... in my work with Manna I have never felt more fulfilled in my work and convinced that I am contributing to something meaningful just by touching peoples lives, in even a small way.

On my mom's last day in Ecuador we visited the Teleferico, a cable car that stretches up the side of the Pichincha Volcano, overlooking the city of Quito and the surrounding countryside. Even though during my first week in Ecuador I took the Teleferico to overlook the city, there was something much more meaningful about seeing the city from the air again three months into my life here. It can be hard to be here sometimes, hard to be away from my family, hard to navigate new friendships and communities while straddling a language barrier (even though it is shrinking every day!), hard to devote myself to such intensive and multi-layered work as community development. But it is so worth it; I love this city and this nation, and I can't imagine how it will feel to have to leave when my time here is up. Seeing the country through the eyes of others-- my mother, my new expat friends, other individuals I met in the past week-- reminded me of how important it is to open my eyes daily to the blessing of being here. Even three months in, Ecuadorians have already begun to open their lives to me, and that is something for which I will be eternally grateful.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Things I Miss from Home - and Two Things I Will Miss When I Leave

Things I miss from home:
1. Efficiency: The U.S. is known for its back-breaking work ethic and strictly timed culture. While living in the U.S. I often saw this as a sad burden, that people worked themselves to death rather than enjoying life. I still believe this to be true and think the work culture in the U.S. should be lessened, but after living in South America I can truly appreciate the efficiency and ease this value brings to basically all things. Whether it's getting a coffee to-go or buying a last minute Christmas present, the U.S. makes it easy to get things done and do them quickly.
2. Variety: The U.S. has choices and variety in absolutely anything you could want or need. Growing up there, one does not realize this because it is simply a part of life. This is actually something fairly unique to U.S. culture. Living in such an environment all my life, the transition into South American culture was definitely rough. In South America, sometimes it's just difficult to find a different kind of cheese than the sole one the local grocery store offers. Although difficult to adjust to, it is a beautiful thing because it represents true Ecuadorian culture. The U.S. has quite a culture crisis in reality because it has items from many cultures available at all times. With so many cultural variations in food, music, language and styles, U.S. citizens often find themselves asking what exactly is "American."

Things I will miss when I leave Ecuador:
1. Sense of community: It never ceases to amaze me how community-focused Ecuadorians are in everything they do. As much as the U.S. is efficiency driven, Ecuador is equally community driven. From the big things like community organized neighborhood clean-ups, which are a regular occurrence, to the smallest things like kids sharing much more easily and happily than children I've seen in the U.S. It still surprises me when a child comes in to the library with the tiniest bag of candy but always gives away more than half of it, without anyone asking for it. Similarly, this sense of community creates such a welcoming, family-oriented society which I find utterly beautiful.
2. Stress-free environment: The relaxed, laid back culture in Ecuador is entrancing. If you're late for a meeting, who cares? They are probably late too. Panicking because of your workload? You just have to take a deep breath and remember the Ecuadorian philosophy; the work will get done when the work gets done. Trying to rid oneself of the U.S. ideal of accomplishing as much as possible in one day is difficult, but once you're free of it life is incredibly less stressful.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Yo No Hablo Espanol

The Manna group recently participated in a discussion about the difficulties and strategies of studying a new language. One of the hardest lessons I learned when moving to Ecuador was discovering that just because you got an A in high school Spanish class does not mean you can speak Spanish. Not even close. Language immersion can be very beneficial to learning but it can also be both overwhelming and isolating. The constant feeling of having so much to learn can often be an impediment to understanding a new language. My experience so far was best summed up by a TED talk on the subject. The speaker explained why language immersion isn't always the most effective way to learn, saying "you can't teach a drowning man to swim."  While I think all of the Program Directors have improved since our arrival and are no longer "drowning," we still constantly have to work to improve despite the occasional frustration. While it is exciting to see how much each of us has improved in three months, hopefully it will be even more rewarding to see how we progress after thirteen. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Our First Retreat: Banos

This past weekend the program directors took off for our first work retreat. We went to Baños, only a few hours away but a whole new world. Baños is one of the most incredible places I have ever been. The town houses one of the most active volcanoes in the world; Tungurahua. Surrounding the incredible "mother" Tungurahua is lush rolling hills, mountains of all sizes and more greenery than I've ever seen.
During the retreat we biked "la ruta de las cascadas," or the waterfall route. Along this route we saw mountainous scenery and a total of 4 waterfalls. It was so much fun (despite the cold rain we were caught in for the first hour) and I can't imagine enjoying it more with anyone other than my Mannamily (Manna family). The retreat wasn't all fun and vacation time, we also got down to business. Luckily, the work part of the retreat was discussions on culture and leadership; two things we are all passionate about. It was great to have such in-depth conversation with the other program directors about things we care about. The discussions deepened our relationship and made us feel more united in our motivation and hopes for our time in Ecuador. The morning before returning to Quito, we trekked up to "la casa del árbol," a famous tree swing on a mountain side.
We each took our turn swinging on the wreck-less, haphazard mountain side swing; laughing wildy and taking in deep breaths of mountain air. It's hard to explain, but that tree swing touched each of us profoundly. Whether it was the danger, the beauty or the combination of the two; it was one of the most wonderful feelings I've ever felt. I'm so glad that I left Baños closer to my friends and closer to nature and I can't wait to return.