Name: Paige Polk
Hometown: Houston, TX
Nationality: United States
University: Rice University
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate), and Portuguese (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Quito, Ecuador
Duration: 4 weeks
Claim to fame: Paige is a Gallery Attendant and Assistant at Rice University.
What were your major challenges?
My project in Quito with UBELONG was my first extended time spent in Latin America, and the first time I went to Latin America alone. I knew that I wanted to participate in a service project, and I knew I wanted it to be in South America – however, I didn’t anticipate how much I would miss home during my stay. I was able to relay how fantastic my experience was to my friends and family back in the States, but it was definitely difficult not being able to share the moments with them in real time.
Regardless, the Coello family made my four weeks in Quito feel like a home away from home. The entire group is so wonderful and loving that it made it difficult to leave when the time came!
What is your favorite memory?
For a Friday daytrip, we took the kids from my project up Mountain Ilalo.
Personally, I’m no mountain climber, and the altitude in Quito made climbing it a tad more difficult than expected. Granted, it did seem difficult when I was staring up the green monstrosity beforehand.
However, the kids were sprinting up and down the mountain, practically running circles around me during the trip.
At first I was astounded at how physically fit these 5-12 year-olds were. After I got my pace down, I appreciated how beautiful the view was as we were trekking up.
I also learned to laugh a little about the fact that 5 year-old Alejandra was beating me up a mountain.
What surprised you?
There is literally a panadería every 30 seconds on the street when you walk around Tumbaco – and they’re all delicious. I didn’t grow up around legitimate bakeries, so this fact was a delightful surprise. I made an effort to try a different type of bread every day after volunteering.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
There was a couple that dropped through the volunteer house for a few days before heading off to their project, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. They had been together for ten years, and had just quit their jobs in California to travel through South America for a year. However, it wasn’t their inevitably adventure-filled future that caught my attention. Marcela and Andrés always seemed sincerely interested in whatever conversation they were having with someone. Though their lives were definitely exciting, they were far more interested in the opinions and experiences of the family and other volunteers.
I always value good conversationalists, and it was refreshing to experience them while in Quito. In fact, I met plenty of volunteers during my time that had a similar effect on me.