Student recalls adventure as Rotary Ambassador
February 23, 2010

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From downtown Quito to the jungle of Ecuador, Jandi Heagen got an up-close look at Ecuadorian culture as a Rotary Cultural Ambassador this past fall.

 

Jandi, a senior from Zanesville, Ohio, spent the fall semester in Ecuador as part of Rotary International’s program designed to foster goodwill between countries and teach students about their host culture.

Jandi with members of the Quito Rotary Club

 

“The language barrier initially was a problem, but it was fixed pretty quickly,” Jandi said. The scholarship provided lessons at a Spanish language school in Quito, where she polished her Spanish skills and studied Ecuadorian and Hispanic cultures. “Afternoons after school we would participate in cultural events,” she said. “Any place of historical or cultural significance we got to go.” They visited churches and museums, attended soccer games and went to the markets.

 

Volunteering in local outreach projects was another large part of the Rotary mission. Jandi was involved in an outreach program, “Chicos de la Calle,” helping street children with their homework twice a week after school. Jandi, as the only native English speaker, “got to help all the kids with their English homework. It was fun!”

 

One of the highlights of the trip was a one-week stay in the jungle. “It was completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” Jandi said. Waterfall climbing, caving, and tubing in a tributary of the Amazon River were just a few of the Rotary group’s rainforest adventures. They also visited one of the indigenous jungle tribes.

Jandi at her jungle home away from home

 

Ecuador was not without its challenges. Jandi experienced Quito’s high crime rate first hand when she was robbed in a side-street.

 

Ecuador also is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, leading to a shortage in the hydro-electric power Ecuador relies on. During her last month in Quito compulsory blackouts happened daily at unpredictable times.

 

Although leaving Ecuador was a “bittersweet experience,” she said the memories will last a lifetime. “My time there was wonderful, and I thank God for the opportunity to experience the rich culture, history, language, and people of Ecuador.”