Summer typically means a break from school, but for Campus Pastor Tamara Shantz, this past summer was her chance to be a student again. Shantz applied for a faculty grant from the Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning that would allow her to study Spanish in Ecuador for four weeks.

Shantz traveled to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, to attend classes at Simon Bolivar, a school for international students who want to learn Spanish. She studied one-on-one with a teacher for four hours every morning, giving her plenty of time to explore on her own and take advantage of the many field trips offered by the program. “The school provided a selection of weekend trips that exposed us to various cultural aspects of Ecuador,” said Shantz. Simon Bolivar also offered classes on Ecuadorian culture in the afternoons at no additional cost to students.

During her time in Quito, Shantz stayed with a host family which included her mother, father, and two younger sisters. “Plus my 18-year old sister’s boyfriend, who was constantly around,” added Shantz. “They were all so warm and friendly; they definitely made it clear that this was my home.” Shantz joined her family every day after class for the main meal at 1:30 in the afternoon. Following that, she would take some time for herself to do homework, go to a museum, or take a nap. “Studying language for four hours in a row every day makes your brain hurt.”

The highlight of Shantz’s trip came during the third week, which she spent in the Amazon jungle. Simon Bolivar sends students to study at Yarina Lodge, which is an extension of the school that is cooperatively owned by the local indigenous community. Shantz went as part of a group of five students and two teachers. She spent half of each day studying and the other half hiking with an indigenous Spanish-speaking guide. “He taught us everything he knew about all the cool plants and animals we saw,” said Shantz. “My new favorite animal is the Tapir, which I never even knew existed.”

Upon returning from her week-long jungle excursion, Shantz was asked to preach at the Mennonite church in Quito. This is the home congregation of Daniel Moya, a student at GC, whose parents also serve as pastors of the church. Shantz prepared and delivered a sermon in English, which Cesar Moya, Daniel’s father, translated for the congregation. “It was supposed to be 20 minutes long,” Shantz said, “but with the translation it ended up being more like 40 minutes. It was my first time being translated for…my Spanish is still not good enough for public speaking.”

This is understandable, considering that Shantz only began studying the language when she took Spanish 101 at GC last fall. “The best way to learn is definitely by immersing yourself in the culture,” said Shantz, “but I never would have been able to afford something like this on myself, which is why I’m so thankful to CITL for making such a grant possible. This was like my own mini-SST.”