During October of my junior year at West, an announcement over the PA system changed my life. An announcement from the State Department introduced me to a scholarship offered by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, sparking my interest in world travel. The same night, I started my application for the scholarship to go to China and learn Mandarin Chinese. I also searched for other affordable study abroad options. Luckily, one of my Google searches yielded a result for Global Citizen Year (GCY).
GCY is a premier bridge year fellowship designed to grow the skills of the next generation’s leaders through a unique learning environment. Taken directly from the GCY website, “Global Citizen Year is for bold high school grads who are hungry to make a real impact, and to make college count. Each year, we select a class of talented high school seniors as Fellows and provide them with the opportunity to live and work in Brazil, Ecuador, India, or Senegal during a gap year abroad before college.” Sounds cool, right? I thought so too, and I added my name to the list for reminders to apply when the application opened for my year.
GCY offers apprenticeships in various fields of work: women’s empowerment, environmental conservation, education, public health, social enterprise, agriculture, and more. I was originally drawn to GCY for the opportunity to teach English as a second language, a career goal of mine, and to solidify fluency in Spanish. GCY also offers financial aid and scholarships to help cover the cost of the program which makes this amazing formative year available to anyone no matter their socioeconomic background.
I applied the day of the December deadline, one of four; August, December, March, and May all have deadline dates and the earlier the application the better chance to receive primary country choice and the best financial aid. Within three weeks of submitting my application, I had a video interview conducted by an alumni and two weeks after that I received an acceptance email notifying me I was going to Ecuador.
Before long, I was saying goodbye to my friends and family as I boarded a plane to San Francisco for pre-departure training at Stanford University. At Stanford, I met the 140 or so fellows that made up the global cohort. Within just a week, between attending lectures, eating ice cream in the intense August heat of California, and fountain hopping on campus, I formed close friendships with some fantastic people. I then had to say goodbye to many of them as they headed off to different countries.
I suddenly found myself back in Quito walking the same streets and visiting the same attractions I had the year before on the Spanish Department field trip. During my time in Quito I was assigned a placement. For the next seven months I would be living in the province of Cañar in Cañar City in the south of Ecuador with a host family of six and co-teaching at an indigenous school for all ages. I was extremely excited to be living in the historical and cultural capital of my province, experiencing a family setting extremely different than that of the US, and to volunteer doing exactly what I entered the program hoping to do.
As I walked into my host family’s house for the first time, I was met with a welcome sign, balloons galore, homemade pastries, and 20+ family members. Since that day, I’ve met a new family member every week, shared the joy that is the game Uno with my siblings, and eaten rice twice a day, every day. I’ve witnessed dramatic arguments between my siblings. Every day I make the juice for lunch, often from a fruit I can’t pronounce and have never seen before. I’ve learned how to crochet and bonded with my mother over our mutual love for the craft. I’m confident that GCY made the right choice when they placed me in this unique family, and I look forward to the last four months of my time in Ecuador with them.
Entering my apprenticeship did not go as smoothly as my host family experience did. The biggest cultural shock about Ecuador is one I face every single day at my apprenticeship. Classes of 30 children that scream, play, and generally do as they please with no attention to the teacher. During tests, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk, walk around the classroom, and cheat off each other’s papers. Little by little my experience has been improving. I now have a few classes in the middle school and high school.
I also set up pen-pals between one of my high school classes and the two CAPP Spanish classes at West. I’ve integrated games and songs into classes to keep the attention of the elementary students. Now, almost in my fourth month, I’m finally comfortable around small children and I regularly receive hug attacks and my appearance is met with enthusiastic cheers of “Ingles, Ingles, Ingles!” My apprenticeship was an unexpected challenge, but I’ve learned to adapt and make the most of my experience.
A part of Global Citizen Year is taking a step outside of your comfort zone and living in your stretch zone. I’ve definitely experienced time in my stretch zone and grown as an individual because of it. If you’re interested in taking a Global Citizen Year, please see Mr. Scott for my contact information.
To read more about my time in Ecuador, including crying in front of a room of strangers who have become family and dancing in a parade through my city, follow my blog at: https://globalcitizenyear.org/author/jamie-constantine
I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be in Ecuador with Global Citizen Year. I’m only able to have this year due to the financial aid I received. Before the end of my year I must raise money for the fellows’ fund so that next year’s students (that could be you!) can receive financial aid just like I did. Please visit my fundraising page and make whatever size donation possible: https://donate.globalcitizenyear.org/JamieEcuador