After years spent with vague plans to travel, I could wait no longer and followed the urge to go abroad. With nothing more than a desire to see beautiful places and practice my Spanish, I settled on Ecuador as my destination. Traveling alone, I couchsurfed in Guayaquil, learned how to paraglide in coastal Montanita, and then decided to explore the Amazon. I had heard that the Yasuni National Park was a diversity hotspot from a few past classes, and thought it would be the perfect place for someone such as myself. The only way into the park was by riverboat from the nearby town of Coca. In Coca, I found a small family-owned tour operator that offered me something interesting. She said that I could be guided into the jungle if I would teach English to their village, up the river Tiputini.
Their village was called Llanchama, and the people who lived there were Kichwan. They spoke Kichwa as their primary language and Spanish as their secondary language. They wanted to stay out of petroleum development and were hoping to get into ecotourism, so they needed to work on their English. I ended up taking the beer barge towards the village, a ride with frequent stops but a discount price. When I reached the village (after numerous delays and miscommunications that equated to a setback of two days) I was enchanted. My preconceptions about the lifestyle in the jungle had been shattered. There was a generator supplying electricity, and in the huts some people watched european singing competitions. There was a contrast between the village built structures where everyone lived, and the government funded educational buildings made of steel and concrete with nice bathrooms and plumbing.
I imagined a set curriculum that I would be expected to teach from, and regular class schedule. Instead, I went around with my host to every hut, where he told the kids that Joven Kevin would be teaching English for the next few weeks and that they should come by the school building sometime in the morning. No set time, just the morning. When I asked what I should teach them, he told me to teach pronunciation and whatever I thought the kids would like to learn about. I was put into a situation where I became the teacher, set the curriculum and learning style, and had to be adaptive for a broad range of ages and skill levels. I took it very seriously and it stressed me out more than I'd like to admit. I mean these kids' educations were in my hands!
I learned as much from them as they did from me (I know so cliche). Through this experience I learned both about their culture and about myself. I gained so much respect for the profession of teaching, and for alternative ways of forming societies. I tested theories on motivation that ranged from treats and positive rewards to making learning fun through games. In summary, here are the skills I took away from this experience.
- Designing English courses for indigenous Amazonian youth
- Motivating and facilitating student learning and development
- Demonstrating Spanish proficiency and cultural awareness
- Adapting to challenges in new environments