Excellence in Ecuador: Ivan Olivas Looks Back on His Quest
Upon returning home to the U.S., United Planet volunteer Ivan Olivas felt overwhelmed by the wide roads and open spaces. After spending 8 days in Quito, Ecuador, Ivan became accustomed to the charming, narrow pathways and clustered buildings that line its picturesque city streets. Initial feelings of claustrophobia quickly melted into a sense of warmth, comfort and togetherness. Gearing up for the approaching school year, Ivan looks fondly back on the memories and feelings unique to his time in the cozy city of Quito, Ecuador.
Ivan’s journey began with an opportunity provided by Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). The institution offers a scholarship for first generation college students to volunteer abroad to foster cross-cultural immersion and understanding. Following an extensive application and interview process, Ivan was one of 10 students selected to participate.
Although this was his second time Ivan was travelling out of the country, he could not anticipate the profound and positive impact this experience would have on him. He recalls leaving the airport and his immediate shift in perspective,
“My first memory from my experience in Ecuador was seeing little kids about 6 or 7 years old with broomsticks begging for money. This was late, around midnight. Throughout the week, I noticed it was common to see kids and the elderly selling bracelets or trinkets on the street to make money.”
Self-reflection continued to play a major role in Ivan’s time in Ecuador, during which he and the other EKU students volunteered at a daycare center in Quito. There they worked to improve the physical space of the Center, including painting a mural, fixing a fence, and other minor building repairs.
“Contributing in that way was special to me,” he recalls, “I remember we also brought some light bulbs and when we put them in all the kids started to clap. Making the Center brighter and seeing the kids in a better environment helped me to see the impact of my work.”
The most surprising aspect of Ecuadorian culture for Ivan was the everyday demonstrations of kindness and thoughtfulness. While on his Quest, Ivan formed strong bonds with Ecuadorian people and with his fellow EKU students. He became especially good friends with their bus driver Fernando, and truly saw the value of cross-cultural friendship. “He was interested in learning about us, just as we were interested in learning about him,” Ivan remembered. With these words, Ivan envisions his part in creating a global community, one relationship at a time.
Knowledge of the Spanish language was incremental in forming relationships with Ecuadorians, and he was able to translate for other students. Although none of the EKU students knew each other well beforehand, they are now “…lifelong friends because of the special trip that [they] embarked on.” As the students return to campus this fall, they hope to bring back new perspectives and some of the compassion shown to them in Ecuador.
“This Quest really changed the way I look at things now, and seeing a different way of life helps me appreciate what I have back home. Travelling abroad opens your eyes and opens your mind to new things. Also, it helps you to be grateful for what you have and helps you realize the world is bigger than you think,” he said.
This Fall Ivan hopes to continue volunteer work on campus and benefiting his community. Further, studying abroad is now “not even a question,” and he is excited to explore different opportunities to grow his global citizenship even more. To all future United Planet volunteers, Ivan offers this piece of advice:
“Come in with an open mind, be ready to adapt to certain living situations you may not be accustomed to – simple things like water pressure, toilet paper and other little things. Be aware that things are different in new places.”
Cultural differences, however, are what make the world so incredible––what makes us a genuine global community, through this cross-cultural understanding. The breathtaking views, delicious food, and kind people are what Ivan will miss the most about Quito, Ecuador. And the most challenging part of Ivan’s Quest?
“My biggest challenge was that I did not want to leave.”