Nothing can quite prepare you for the feeling of stepping off the plane in a strange country that you’ve never been to before, knowing you’ve got to function in a different language and a different culture for the next 3 months. At the same time, there’s nothing quite like standing on the top of a volcano at 4000m and staring across the city of Quito, looking at the mountains and valleys, literally with your head in the clouds.
Doing an internship or a volunteer placement is so different to a holiday; yes you get the amazing opportunities to travel and to see wonderful places and things, but you also get to spend time in a new culture in a unique place where you’re not a tourist, but nor are you a resident. I’ve now been living in Quito for 6 weeks, working at a foundation for special needs students. I am working as a music assistant, so I help out in the orchestra as well as teaching some piano lessons. It’s been so wonderful to watch the students responding to music, and it makes me even more sure of the power of music. Another great thing about music is that it’s a universal language; I could go to almost any orchestra in the world and be able to play in our common language.
Culture shock is definitely a part of moving to another country, although it is different for each country and each person. For me, the altitude took a while to get used to! In England, where I’m from, the highest ‘mountain’ is only 978m high, whereas here I’m living at 2800m; quite a big difference! The other big shock for me was the lack of organisation and planning here. It is impossible to really plan anything because the information is just not there. As far as I can tell, there is no kind of bus timetable here; you just have to hope that the bus will show up! My Spanish tutor here told me that they don’t really use future tense because they don’t plan far enough ahead for that! For an English girl who likes to be extremely organised, this can be tough sometimes!
But after having been here for 6 weeks, I can say for sure that Ecuador is a wonderful country. The travel guides are right, Ecuador really does have everything! Although day to day life is tiring sometimes, I love working with the students and watching them develop, not just musically, but socially and emotionally too. Although I felt completely overwhelmed for the first week or so, now I know how things work here and I know what I’m doing (as much as you can in Ecuador!)
Rebecca Ward is a PAA Music Intern in Ecuador. She studies at the University of Leeds in the UK.