A Part of Something Greater
By Worldteach Ecuador volunteer Lindsay Mahaney, 2016
Arguably the best place to get a doughnut in Quito is a little bakery called Skull Doughnuts.
The very first time I went was during my first week in Ecuador. You’re met with the scent of fresh pastries when you walk through the door. There’s a counter to you’re right with a wall of chocolate, sprinkled, creamed and glazed treats behind it. A sweet, tiny woman greets you with a pleasant smile and friendly chatter, as you get to survey the cornucopia of deep fried doughy goodness.
After careful consideration, and a lot of gesturing, I managed to convey my desire for a doughnut with chocolate frosting on this first occasion at Skull.
Some things you should know about me: First, I took four semesters of Spanish in college and got good enough to communicate with simple sentences in both present and past tense. Unfortunately, I stopped taking classes after completing the minimum college requirements. Second, before coming to Ecuador, I was confident all my Spanish knowledge would come flooding back to me once I heard a little bit of the language. Third, this is by far one of the most ludicrous notions I have ever had.
“¿Para aquí o llevar?” the lady behind the counter asked.
She was met with a blank stare.
After an uncomfortable moment of silence, a friend whispered, “She wants to know if you want it for here or to go.”
“Ah, sí,” I offered apologetically, as I gestured to the door, forgetting every other Spanish word that could help me in this situation. The woman gave a kind smile, and with a slight shake of her head, wrapped up my doughnut to go.
Spanish language: 1
WorldTeach’s mission is to provide volunteer teachers to meet local needs and promote responsible global citizenship — identifying oneself with the global community above an identity of one particular nation or place. Now that I live in a country that speaks a language and celebrates traditions completely different than those I grew up with, the sense of belonging to this global community has a stronger impact than ever before. I know I’m part of something so much greater than myself.
The fact is our global community consists of over seven billion people, and more than 6,000 spoken languages. Before coming to Ecuador, I spoke one language. One.
As I watch my students coming to class every day, some as young as 16, to improve their English, I am in awe of their dedication and intelligence. They are going to be fluent in at least two languages. When I think about the positive impact that could have in fostering cross-cultural relationships, it boggles my mind. Whether they realize it or not, what they are learning is giving them the capability to create peaceful dialogues and promote understanding with a huge sector of the world’s population.
The least I can contribute to my community is showing them I care by working harder to learn Spanish. I owe it to my students, colleagues, friends and at the end of the day myself. Learning, hearing and speaking Spanish every single day serves as a constant reminder that I am only one small part of something so much bigger than myself. While I have come a long way, I know I have a long way to go — and I want to use every minute of this opportunity abroad to give back to this community I love.
Lindsay is currently living and teaching in Quito, Ecuador. You can follow her on Twitter at @lindsay_mahaney or connect on LinkedIn.