Getting Grounded.

I’ve officially been in Ecuador for a whole month and it’s been full of
lots of crying, lots of laughter, lots of connections, and a lot of

Sunday, August 26th, everyone arrived at Stanford University in California
as we begun preparation for our next year in country. The first week at
Stanford was full of some amazing motivational and inspirational speakers.
One of my favorite speakers, Ashanti Branch, talked about the masks we wear
and something he said that really resonated with me was that “the furthest
distance you will travel is the 18 inches between your head and your

He started an activity where we got into groups and said “You can’t tell
this by looking at me but…” and through this activity and so much more, I
got extremely close and connected to so many fellows at Stanford that are
from all around not just the country, but people that came from all around
the world. On Wednesday, we took trips and I had the wonderful opportunity
to visit the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative office and learn more about what
they do and what their mission is. They work hard in order to promote
access to affordable housing, criminal justice reform, equality in
education, scientific research and so much more. Their company was really
inspiring and I gained a lot of knowledge on what they do and who they are.
Throughout this first week, we worked hard to prepare for this huge journey
we all were about to have.

(Ecuador Cohort at Stanford the day before departure!)

Saturday, September 1st, the 4 countries split off as we headed to the San
Francisco Airport and departed to our countries. Upon arrival at Quito, we
were greeted by the Ecuador Staff dressed in Ecuadorian soccer jerseys and
a sign welcoming us to our “new home”. We rode a bus through Quito to a
convent where we spent the next 3 days. The 3 days in Quito involved a
scavenger hunt, learning more about the culture and language, and getting
ready for what was to come. The third day was very emotional for all of us
as The South cohort split up from the North and we had to say our goodbyes.

(Ecuador Staff greeting us as we got out of Customs)

(my group after we won the scavenger hunt in Quito)

Thursday, September 6th, after a 12 hour bus ride, the South Cohort arrived
at a hosteria in Gualaceo. We found out our team leaders and got to learn
more about our apprenticeships and host families in detail. I was filled
with a lot of mixed feelings. I was excited for this adventure and excited
to meet my host family and start my apprenticeship. I was worried my host
family wouldn’t like me and extremely nervous because of the language
barrier. During our few days in Gualaceo, we all got to visit a place where
they made and dyed textiles and we got to help dye the fabric and see the

(Owner showing and explaining the dying process)

Saturday, September 8th, I met my host family. Everyone in my host family
was extremely nice and welcoming from the second I arrived. It was a little
rough at first because I came in with practically no Spanish and they have
practically no English so it was (still kind of is) like a game of charades
and hand signals and using google translate to communicate. My host mom,
Maclovia, or Maco, is absolutely amazing. She owns a restaurant which is
right across the street from our house, and also regularly goes to visit
her cows which she brings the milk home for her yogurt. There is a little
mother-in-law suite behind our house which is where my host mom and her
women’s group work together to make and sell yogurt. Our house, and town
has a lot of animals. We own one adorable yellow lab, Ramon, but 3 strays
love to live in our front yard. Behind the house is a fenced area where
there is chickens, geese, and cuy (guinea pigs).

Maclovia has 5 daughters, 2 of which live with us Jessica and Viviana, both
in their 20s, and she has 5 grandchildren, 3 of which live with us.

Our house is in the small rural town of Bella Union which sits in the city
of Santa Ana in the Southern Sierra in the Azuay region, just about an hour
south of Cuenca. Everyone in my town knows each other and most of them are
related somehow. My host mom has hosted 4 times before me and loves to tell
me about her past fellows and show me pictures. Everyone in my family and
town is very loving, compassionate, and respectful towards me and I’m so

(Me helping my host mom make and package yogurt!)

(beautiful view from the side of my host mom’s restaurant)

Thursday, September 20th, I began my apprenticeship. I am an English
co-teacher at Colegio Daniel Hermida, a high school in Santa Ana which is a
10 minute bus ride from my house. I have now been at the high school for
about 2 weeks and love it. My supervisor, Viviana speaks fluent English and
is so incredibly nice and helpful. I have my own desk in the teacher’s
lounge. And I get to help come up with games and activities to help my
students learn English. My first day I had to go with my Supervisor and
Principal to every classroom introducing myself in English then in Spanish.
The students were all so respectful and nice to me and if I pass my
students in or out of class I usually get a “Hello Dena!” or a “Good
morning!” which I find really sweet.

(Students celebrating Flag Day at the Colegio)

I’m still in awe that I’m actually here, living in Ecuador. And I am so
grateful for everyone and everything that supported me and got me to where
I am now.