CISABROAD BLOG · November 15, 2021 · 6 Min Read
Life Abroad Stories: Sending Our Kids on Gap Year Programs in Ecuador

This fall, my colleague and friend, Jeff Palm, dropped his 18-year old son Hunter at the airport for Quito, Ecuador. In 2012, nine years ago, I, too, sent my 18 year old son off to that same destination. Below, Jeff and I talk about our experiences – one fresh and just happening, and one nine short years ago – launching our firstborns to Gap year programs in Ecuador.

A Reflective Dialogue

Kris: Why and how did Hunter choose Ecuador? Or, did you and Kelly (Jeff’s wife) choose Ecuador? He is such a strong academic kid, and fluent in Chinese! 

Jeff: Hunter chose Ecuador for a couple of reasons. One because he wanted to learn yet another language and thought Spanish would be the most helpful for his future. And, two, he had met Diana, the CIS Abroad Site Director, when she visited the office in Northampton one time so felt a little more comfortable going with our company. While the pandemic didn’t necessarily influence his location decision it certainly reinforced his decision to take a Gap year. After remote learning for 18 months, he needed a break! 

Kris: I’m sure lots of current high school graduates  – and their teachers – can identify with that. For our son Aidan, he chose a gap year program through another ed abroad organization called Global Citizen Year (scroll down this page to hear Aidan’s perspective on what he gained), and got placed in Ecuador. I think he was drawn to the community service aspect, the “living off the grid” aspect, and that he’d be living in a village with a family. This was in direct contrast to the large, highly-structured, public high school environment that he was used to. 

How is Hunter’s experience so far? 

Jeff: It’s going really well! Hunter’s hardest moment so far was the realization of how difficult it is to learn a language when it’s not built into your daily school routine starting in kindergarten (like Mandarin was). Kelly and I were so relieved when we talked with him after his first 24 hours in-country and saw the joy on his face. He’s with a wonderful host family who are basketball lovers so, as a hoops lover himself, he is really connecting with them.

Jeff’s son Hunter with extended host family, gathered around the TV.

Kris: Ah yes, that first contact is so important. I remember watching attentively for Aidan’s first social media posts (something I tried not to clue into as his mother while he was in high school). He wasn’t a frequent poster, but kept being tagged in photos. In one, he fell across the equator – legs in the north and head in the south, in another he became a human jungle gym for smiling toddlers, and in another he stood, stadium behind him, in his gleaming yellow Ecuador soccer shirt, one host sister on each side. That let me know he had found his place. 

Kris’ son Aiden Aidan with his host sister and brothers celebrating Halloween/All Saints Day in Los Bancos.

As a parent and international educator, do you have hopes of what Hunter will gain from his gap year experience?

Jeff: Mainly we want him to gain a sense of independence. While we try not to be too overbearing as parents, it certainly happens at times and especially with the pandemic where we were together all…the…time. Being on his own for this year, but supported by onsite staff and homestay families, will make him solve problems, put himself out there to meet new people, and improve his multilingualism. Did you have similar hopes for Aidan? 

Kris: Yes. He came back fluent in Spanish and deeply connected with a diverse set of young people who came from across the US. I think the economic and racial diversity of that initial cohort of US gappers was much greater than what he had known growing up in Western Massachusetts and those friendships continue. That was wonderful, and unexpected. 

Jeff: I didn’t expect that it would be hard to have him so far away! Many of our friends’ children left for college this year, but they are all in the US. Having him outside of the US borders provides us with a bit more of a feeling of distance. He’s our oldest so the first to fly out of the nest… Gives me compassion for all the moms and dads who have done this before me!

Kris: Oh, I remember that so keenly. My friends said when he turned 18 we didn’t just kick him out of the house, we kicked him out of the country! I remember thinking that the mark of successful mothering was the moment I was left behind. Of course, the pandemic has shown They. Come. Back. 🙂 

Any parting thoughts as we wrap this up?

Jeff: Make sure it is your child’s decision. As international educators, we know how much living and studying abroad positively impacts us. But, like all things parental, if we force it upon our kids, they won’t own it.

Kris: Gap years, like my Peace Corps experience, offer a unique opportunity to spend time in community within another culture. Having sisters and brothers in other places will surely be a source of expanding joy for them, just as it is for us. 

Do you know a student that may be interested in a gap year program?

Explore the list of GAP-friendly CIS Abroad programs. 

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