February 6 2014
Felicia Salinas, BSILR '14
I am truly grateful for the tremendous growth that ILR has awarded me not only academically, but also socially, culturally, and psychologically. My experience abroad forever changed my perspective on the world and made me understand the true meaning of poverty and inequality of opportunity in education. It challenged my limits, broadened my cultural and ethno relative horizons, and forced me to adapt and embrace ambiguity. Along with my volunteer service, these elements of my abroad experience made my winter break one of the most self-fulfilling and invaluable challenges I have ever conquered throughout my ILR career.
The station of my volunteer project dealt with the learning environment for children of the disadvantaged communities (barrios perifericos) in Quito, Ecuador. As the national budget of Ecuador only devotes a very small portion of funding to education, certain minority communities are disproportionally affected. Consequently, the literacy rates of indigenous groups are below 50 percent and the lack of educational opportunity culminates to their undesirable placement far below the poverty line. As a result, many children begin to work at a young age in order to assist their family with expenses.
My project was to help decrease this cycle by improving their educational lesson plans and teaching them English to develop language skills for future employment. As a volunteer, I worked with a local teacher to develop lesson plans, lead classes, and implement interactive learning activities for the children’s regular coursework. I found the experience particularly challenging due to the language factor, as nearly all forms of communication were purely in Ecuadorian Spanish with influences of Quechua, the indigenous language. Fortunately, I was able to complete a Spanish course in Latin-American literature at Cornell that allowed me to grammatically contextualize the Spanish language and the variances of dialects spoken throughout Latin America. Encompassed with my ILR training in education and employment, I was able to utilize my language skills and thrive at my project.
For any students seeking out international opportunities, I would highly encourage applying for the ILR International Travel Grant. My abroad experiences have made my time in ILR that much richer, constructive, and fulfilling in indescribable ways. I feel very blessed for this experience and hope that others will not shy away from such a life changing opportunity.