Zoe Geiger is a Kinesiology and Dance student at Western Washington University. She completed not one, but two PAA programs in 2016, and the Dance Internship in Quito, Ecuador program was the second one.
Within minutes of landing in Quito, I was warmly greeted by Franklin, the head of the Spanish school I would be attending during my internship in Quito. He would be taking me to my hostel and later to my homestay as well. Each person I met involved with the program upheld the high bar set by Franklin. Everyone was caring and enthusiastic about welcoming me and helping me become accustomed to Quito and its culture.
PAA works along with Ecua Explora in Quito. Another volunteer arrived through Ecua Explora and we were placed together the first few nights in a hostel to get adjusted and explore. This was an excellent way to relax, adjust, and spend time with someone who was also new to the country. We were quick friends and traveled together on several weekends during our time there.
My family was not only welcoming but they were involved in my life in Quito, inviting me to their family dinners and festivities. I was grateful to live with such a wonderful family. As only the older daughter spoke any English, my host family played a major role in the improvement of my Spanish.
Throughout the 8 weeks of my internship, I attended one-on-one Spanish classes three days a week. While this made for long days after my internship, it was invaluable to my learning and understanding of Spanish.
As an intern at SINAMUNE for two months, I truly felt I had made a positive difference in the lives of the people with whom I worked. This was my goal above all other goals in this adventure. I spent my days helping the Dance Instructor, Rosita, at the school for students with special needs. Without volunteers, Rosita teaches these dance classes, sometimes with 20 students or more, on her own. She works with the classes on movement and choreography.
Even with two instructors, this job is hard work. Classes include students of greatly varying ranges of abilities and needs. She was tremendously grateful for my help. Several times a week, the school would host performances for tourist groups to raise money for the program. Students participated in the Orchestra, led by the genius behind SINAMUNE, Edgar Palácios, and several performed choreography by Rosita. I spent most my time with these students helping prepare for the performances and change between dances. I was also given the opportunity to choreograph a solo ballet piece to be performed with the orchestra. Watching these students perform often brought me to tears, watching their joy and the happiness they brought their audiences.
While my days during the week were long, I managed to travel on almost every weekend. Diana, the head of Ecua Explora, had given Carlee (the other volunteer) and me several suggestions on places to travel. I made it to Otavalo, Baños, Ambato, Mindo, Montañita, Los Frailes, and parts of the Amazon near Tena and Puerto Napo. The bus system, although incredibly crowded, is both affordable and easy to navigate. While most of these travels were made with Carlee, a few were alone. Traveling alone through Ecuador, while I was alert, I felt safe and as though I could always find help from the kind people I met.