Abi Nelson participated in PAA’s Music Internship in Ecuador in Fall 2017. She is from Edinburgh and has just begun a job at The Orpheus in Surrey just outside London, an opportunity she says grew directly out of the work she did during her PAA program. Another exciting example of a PAA participant using our program as a springboard for her career in the arts!
Getting ready to leave university is a pretty daunting thing. Will I get a good grade? Where will I be in a few months time? How will I pay for things without student finance? Will I get a job?? I never would have guessed that just 3 months after walking across that stage in my gown and cap that not only would I have travelled across the world to live in Ecuador for two months doing something amazing, but I would also get a job that I not only get paid for, but I LOVE. And who’s to thank?
Performing Arts Abroad.
In my final months of my university career, I had a lot of thinking to do. I knew I wanted to travel after I graduated. I also knew I wanted to work in the field of Theatre for Development. What I didn’t know is that I could do both those things immediately after I finished university and that one would provide a kickstart for the other. How did it all happen? Well, that’s a long story. But I’ll try cut it down for you…
Going back a few years, when I was 18 I went to study Drama at Kingston University in London. Not exactly a parent’s dream – especially when I threatened to study Law just a few years prior – but my favourite subject nonetheless. Apart from knowing I didn’t want to be an actress, I didn’t have a clue what I would do with a degree in Drama. I loved directing, teaching… anything that helped others achieve anything they wanted. But it wasn’t until my third year of university that I discovered Theatre for Development (TfD – theatre used as a developmental tool). I had finally found what I had been looking for, putting my passion for the Arts into helping others.
It was while searching for a way to combine my new found love with my old one – Theatre for Development and travel – when I stumbled upon Performing Arts Abroad, an amazing organisation offering study abroad programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities all over the world in the Performing Arts.
Skipping ahead a few months and I’m all set to head off to Ecuador! The team at PAA had made everything so easy. They had listened to everything I hoped to achieve during my time abroad and tailored a programme just for me. I was off to work in Sinamune, a school for disabled people with a focus on the Performing Arts. And although the school didn’t have drama lessons, they said I could start my own drama class. It seemed too good to be true!
As soon as I arrived in Quito I knew I was somewhere special. From the beautiful mountains and volcanos to the exquisite streets and parks, I had a feeling I was going to have an amazing two months. Arriving at Sinamune only confirmed that.
Sinamune is an amazing organisation founded by Edgar Palacios, Ecuador’s famous trumpet player. Starting as just music classes for a few disabled people, it has expanded to an amazing school with around 80 students studying music, dance and art, along with regular studies such as language skills and maths. From my second week, I was teaching 15 students drama (and 3 students Piano). It had its challenges of course, like the students having no previous drama experience and me having not too much skill with Spanish (the language I had to teach in). But with 6 hours of Spanish classes a week after school and the ever-growing confidence of my students, we very quickly got into the swing of things. And we had something to work towards! The school wanted the class to do a performance at the end of my 8 weeks in front of fellow students, the students’ families, and tourists. I remember feeling so much pride and love for every one of my students that day.
While doing some research for what to do with my drama class, I found the website for an amazing company in the UK doing a similar thing to Sinamune The Orpheus Centre is an independent specialist college in Surrey that increases the confidence and skills of young disabled adults through the performing arts. I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it, and there happened to be a job going in the fundraising department. I have always enjoyed fundraising and I knew it can be an invaluable way of ensuring the continuity of organisations like Orpheus and Sinamune. Although I was worried about my reasonable lack of experience, I applied. Not long after, I was having an interview over Skype. They were so interested to hear about the work I was doing at Sinamune and thought it gave me invaluable, transferable experience that I could bring to Orpheus. I was overjoyed when I got the job offer.
After a tearful leaving party, and an incredible trip through the Cloud Forest, Andes and Amazon with my dad, I was ready to head back home. I had a few days at home to say hi to the family, then I was back down South to start my next adventure. I truly believe my experience in Ecuador not only gave me life-long friends and memories, but it also gave me a much clearer picture of what I wanted to do and a huge boost into my career.