Elizabeth Diaz is a 24-year-old woman from Columbus, Ohio. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Spanish, and is looking to get into bilingual elementary education in the US. She has travelled throughout the US, and spent four months in Granada, Spain while in college. During that time she travelled to numerous countries, including France, Greece, Portugal and Morocco. In March 2012 Elizabeth volunteered for 8 weeks in the “teaching in a after-school center” Volunteer Abroad in Quito. She proved to be a dynamic and very successful UBELONG volunteer, and we are happy to bring you our interview with this wonderful young person.
What motivated you to seek a volunteer opportunity in Quito?
I have volunteered a lot in the US and wanted to practice my Spanish. I am also interested in pursuing a career in education, and when I looked through the UBELONG projects thought the one in Quito would be a good fit. I would be able to contribute while gaining experience for my career.
Ecuador was also attractive to me because my aunt is from Colombia and has always wanted to go to Ecuador. So, I was very drawn to that and excited to make Ecuador the first place where I would volunteer internationally.
What kind of impact did you have on the community?
I think I made a valuable impact on the kids at the after school center. I was there for eight weeks and had the time to build a rapport with the children, which let me understand their needs and build relationships with them.
For example, there was one boy, Gabriel, who was eight years old. He was learning how to do multiplication with two or three digits, for example 11 times 141. He was having a lot of trouble, so with the other volunteers we bought a white board and figured out that if we first did the problem on the board with him and then let him copy it into his notebook he was able to understand and learn how to do the problem. So, I think that sort of personal attention was really helpful and he would not have received it otherwise.
I also think I made an impact on my host family, just as they impacted me. I grew very close to them, and we talked a lot about our lives. We learned about each other’s backgrounds and cultures. That was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
What did you learn about yourself during the experience?
Well, I realized even more that I love to travel and experience new things. I have been to Europe, but this was very different. The resources in Quito are much fewer and how people do things is even more different than what we’re used to in the US. However, I was able to be very flexible and I became even better at adapting to new situations. For example, the first days in the public markets, where some of the projects are located, were tough. It’s unlike anything I had ever seen and it can be overwhelming when you’re thrown right into the activities. However, I dealt with it and adapted, and I think that’s very valuable. Finally, I also fulfilled one of the goals I had in going, which was practicing my Spanish. Especially because I was living with a host family, I had the chance to speak Spanish for hours and this helped me improve a lot.