I’m not sure how time has passed so fast, but this past January marked two years since I came to Ecuador.  Then, in February, my Volunteer Omnibus 119 had our “Close of Service” conference to reflect upon our accomplishments, think about what’s ahead and say our last goodbyes to our Peace Corps friends- who have become our family- over these past two years.  

An important part of this conference is to receive our Certificates of Completion, give a small speech and ring a bell to symbolize the near completion of our service.  When it was my turn, I had a little story to tell.  I hadn’t told anybody, who is still in Ecuador, this story before.

Two years ago, I arrived in this country a little frazzled after the death of so many
family members – my brother, my aunt, my mom – and life as I had known it.
But I came to this adventure ready to shed the weight of my past, to heal, to grow
and transform in new directions, and to learn more about myself and the world around me.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, I struggled with unsupportive host families, unsupportive
teachers at my assigned school, and even (unbelievably so!) an unsupportive volunteer
at my site.  And I really struggled with the language.  Then my Dad died.
The beginning was really hard.
But poco a poco, little by little, I found a place in my community of teachers, students, 
volunteer site-mates, and new Ecuadorian friends.  Then I found a family.
I didn’t know how much I needed a family, until I found them.
I think the Universe had something to do with that.
Since then, I’ve continued to navigate myself into a variety of jobs at the local university
andat a second K-12 school.  I help teach English to students of all ages, work with a
variety of English Teachers and Student Teachers individually and in teacher workshops,
and I have developed cultural programs and after-school clubs to enrich student knowledge
in world geography, cultures, and -especially for girls- self-esteem, goal-setting
and family planning.  Here’s a few photos to give you an idea of the breadth of my days. 
5th Graders at Teodoro Gómez de la Torre loved their Halloween art project
The International Baccalaureate Students graduated from my Culture and Geography Club
My Girls’ Club warmed up each day with some yoga exercises
Students at Agustín Cueva Dávila learned about Halloween in the US
This group of high school students are enrolled in a special US Embassy Program to improve 
their English.  For their class, I taught a series of lessons about regions in the US.  
I designed this “Best Practices in Teaching” Workshop for the beginning of the
school year and several of my teachers and student teachers attended.
This group of English teachers from Quito participated in my “Strategies for
More Classroom Speaking” Workshops during a 3-Day Teaching Conference
And probably my favorite part of my job, teaching these student teachers about lesson
planning and best practice methodologies at the Universidad Téchnica del Norte.
I’ve also improved my Spanish enough to get myself around this 
beautiful country for a multitude of adventures.
All in two years.
The commitment to Peace Corps is only 27 months.  I’m supposed to leave in April.  
Almost all of the other volunteers in my group are applying for new jobs in other countries,
getting ready for grad school, or just happy to be heading home.
But I’m not there yet.  I’ve been so busy working over this past year that I haven’t yet
figured out what I’m going to do next.  And even if I returned to the US, where would I go?
For me, the easiest answer is to stay here.  To just enjoy it.  My heart is telling me so.

Luckily, Peace Corps has an option to apply for a 3rd-Year Extension.  It’s available for volunteers who want to take on different positions in different cities during their third year.  But since I’ve worked so hard to develop a community and make a life for myself here in Ibarra, I want to stay another year to reap the benefits of all I have worked for.  And another year of practicing Spanish will only benefit my options for the future.

Immediately, my Peace Corps supervisor agreed that I could stay in Ibarra, as long as I change to a new job.  So, I have successfully obtained a contract with the local university, Universidad Téchnica del Norte, to volunteer full time with the students and professors in the English Teaching Major.  This will allow me to work closely with the Student Teachers, and observe them in their classrooms to help them become more dynamic English teachers in the future.  My schedule will be flexible enough to allow me to continue teaching some of my remedial English classes at the University and even return to my high-schools to support future programs there as well.  I will start this new position in April.

And of course, I’m going to continue living with the Angamarca- Quiñaluisa Family.

As my sister said, a big reason I’m staying is a five-letter word beginning with P_ _ _ _ _.
Ofcourse, it’s Pablo!  He’s stolen my heart!

The last bit of really, really good news in all of this, is that when a Peace Corps Volunteer extends for a third year, Peace Corps pays for a 30-day leave back to the United States.  This means that I’m coming to Illinois and Oregon this summer for a round of hugs from all my family and friends!

The past two years have been an amazing adventure.  I’m so lucky to have had it all.  As I rang the bell at our conference, and said goodbye to my friends, I felt so content with my decision.  This is where I need to be.  And later, as the bus drove me north into the mountains through the mist of the setting sun, I paused to appreciate all that I have here: a family, an exciting new job, friends, a community; it’s a new lot on life.

When I arrived home, Margarita was just setting the patio table for a special merienda, or supper, with Jose, myself and our good friends, Faby and Wilo.  She had just bought some beautiful woven linens at the artisan market and they were the perfect accompaniment to her favorite hand-built pottery mugs. A fire was burning in the corner fireplace and smoke was billowing all around.  As we nestled into our bread and tea- leaves just picked from the shrub around the corner- a smile enveloped my body.  I know I made the right decision, because right now, there’s no place else I’d rather be.

23 Graduates from the 119th group of Volunteers in Ecuador celebrated
the completion of our 27-month service.  I’m so proud of us all!