By Emma Mueller
For those who don’t know, the South American Explorers Club—affectionately known as the SAE—is an organization that provides travelers in South America with extensive insider’s information and valuable trip planning advice. Ex-pats and travelers passing through South America should definitely stop by one of the clubhouses to meet fellow travelers and participate in organized events like weekend hikes, pub quizzes, parties and lectures given by local experts. Clubhouses can be found in Quito, Ecuador; Cuzco, Peru; Lima, Peru; and Buenos Aires Argentina. Sign up as a member and you’ll receive local discounts and access to helpful information online!
This week V!VA interviewed Marion Baier, who spent around two months volunteering at the SAE clubhouse in Quito, Ecuador. Prospective travelers looking to volunteer in South America should definitely read on to learn more about this unique and fun volunteer opportunity. For more information, visit the Volunteer and Work Page of the SAE website.
To start, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Marion, I’m 23 and I’m from Cologne, Germany. I study translation in Hildsheim, a small town in the northern part of Germany with the languages English and Spanish. I really enjoy traveling throughout the world and whenever I’m on vacation from my clases, I try to do a trip somewhere. Besides that, I like to do sports, to read, I love music and to hang out with my friends.
What brought you to Ecuador? Who did you come with (if anyone), and was it your first time here?
The first time I came to Ecuador was in January 2009, because I wanted to visit my friend Gabriela who lives in Quito and who I met in the United Stated a few years ago. I fell in love with the city and the country right away, so I HAD to come back to explore more of Ecuador. I decided to do an internship here to improve my Spanish and I stayed seven weeks, which was definitely too short.
How did you hear about the SAE?
Because of my studies I need to do internships that have to do with languages. I looked on the internet and found a Spanish school in Quito that offered to help with internships. I wrote them and they offered me to work at the SAE. After I found out who they are and what they do, I accepted right away because it sounded really interesting and fun.
Why did you choose to volunteer at the SAE?
I chose to volunteer at the SAE because I really enjoy meeting new people and speaking different languages. It just sounded more fun then any other internship I have done before.
Describe a day in the life of an SAE volunteer. What exactly do you do?
I usually arrived at 9:30 in the morning and then started to write on the Quito package, which was started by another German volunteer who worked at the SAE before me. I had to collect information on Quito, on the museums, hotels, places of interests etc. and write small summaries about the different places in and around Quito. Whenever somebody entered the SAE clubhouse, I tried to help them with their questions, talked to them or showed them the house and where they can find what kind of information. There was always somebody around in the house to talk to.
What was your favorite part of being a volunteer? Were there any special perks?
I really enjoyed talking to people and finding out about their trips, where they had been before, where they were going next, etc.
And what would you say was the hardest part about being a volunteer?
The hardest part was probably the beginning. I came to Quito and didn’t really know the city. Because of that it was hard for me to answer peoples’ questions, because I didn’t really know a lot of things either, but they were expecting it from me. But at the end of my volunteering time, I knew more and also had been to some places, which made everything a lot easier.
While volunteering can certainly be a fun and rewarding experience, it can sometimes be difficult to make ends meet financially. How do you manage to get by living here in Quito without receiving a salary? Any tips/advice for the rest of us?
Before I came to Quito, I worked a lot Germany so I could finance my stay. I also received a scholarship, which was a great help. Because I only had a tourist visa, I wasn’t officially allowed to work, but if I had had a different visa, I would have worked in some place to get some extra money.
Would you recommend the SAE volunteer program to a friend?
Yes, definitely. Compared to other internships we have to do during our studies, it is a refreshing alternative.
What’s next for you?
Finish my studies and then come back to South America to explore all the other countries I haven’t been before.