Volunteer Interview - Kasper Knapp
This interview was originally published on Go Abroad in September 2022
What inspired you to travel abroad?
I was looking for magic and adventures. I found both along with professional skills and much more. I chose Ecuador because of its differences with Denmark and level of safety. I had 3 months and spent 50 hours researching and it turned out this was the best match for me.
I spent 3 months planning the trip and started working from home so I could be more productive. I had 1 year to pursue my dreams and that is exactly what I did. I couldn't be more happy with the outcome.
Why did you choose El Terreno?
I chose this program because of its uniqueness. I could work in manual labor and also teach. It's a new organization, so there was a big opportunity for influence. The leadership seemed competent and engaging during the interview.
This proved to be true throughout my time there. The branding is good and they have local contacts. I chose it because of the location, the people, and a video I saw. I could relate to the leader. Everyone was also very welcoming. It was hard to arrive, but way harder to leave again when I had to say goodbye. So many memories are there.
What was your favorite part about Ecuador?
The people of the Andes mountains are the most friendly people in the world. I went numerous times to the city by myself and made a lot of local friends. They have a strong drinking culture and are not used to meeting foreigners.
The women are attracted to foreigners, but the guys are the best wingmen in the world. The rest of Ecuador is just as different and beautiful. I would be drinking ayahuasca in the jungle one day and standing on Chimborazo the next. You can do anything you want.
What made your experience abroad extraordinary?
The volunteers, the locals and the surroundings. Running up the hill every morning and sleeping in a tiny village. Visiting the jungle, volcanos, Otavalo market and much, much more. Surviving and thriving during national demonstrations and creating a viral video. This was by accident, but it was used to fight the president. We had to do a special mission and get some girls out of Ecuador in the demonstrations. We were very lucky. Probably the craziest day of my life.
How did the local program staff support you throughout your program?
My role was intern and volunteer coordinator. I got good support from my leadership. I hope the volunteers' thoughts, feelings, and ideas were being heard. Therefore this question is hard for me to answer. You can always ask anyone for help. I used Tinder a lot to get local tour guides for free and friendships wherever I went. There's not a lot of tourism in Ecuador, so this is actually the best way to be social outside of the hostel. The people I met ended up becoming my friends. We are still in contact and still write.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently during your time abroad?
I would have practiced Spanish more. Nobody speaks English outside Guayaquil and Quito. Therefore it's a must to maximize adventure and it's also much safer. I would not do anything else differently because I live in the now and not in the past. I only think about my next trip and the things I need for that. So yeah, I would maybe just find a place where I could work for one year and get paid for it next time I think. Nothing else at this moment.
Describe what a typical day in your life abroad looked like.
I woke up between 6-7am. Went for a run and ate breakfast. Afterwards, we would have a morning meeting about our needs, express gratitude, and discuss feelings. Then we would work for 3 hours at El Terreno. Somebody would cook lunch and we would have another meeting.
We prepare for classes in the afternoon and then welcome the kids. In the evening we relax or go to town. At night I slept well because I was pretty tired. On the weekends we go anywhere we want to and have crazy parties and adventures. You also have to find time to wash your clothes in your hands and call your family.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time abroad?
I enjoyed learning a new set of skills. Being a volunteer coordinator was hard, not only because of Spanish, but because it takes leadership. At the same time I was able to become friends with the other volunteers because we slept under the same roof. Many volunteers came and went and a few stayed as long as me. When I had to leave, I cried. You will get emotional if you go there. That is a part of the culture and it's healthy. You can also find solitude in the mountains or just the abandoned school that is next door. There you can meditate and find yourself if you're lucky.
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
Casa comunal is a big house with 8 beds. It get really loud when it rains, but the view is absolutely beautiful. The house dog is super sweet and the kitchen has a gas stove with running water. There's a workshop and a common area.
The bathroom has hot running water. The water is not drinkable, so bring something to purify it. There's a front yard area and a small terrasse behind the house. It's a 30 minutes walk from town. Normally with 25 cents and you can just jump on the back of any pick up.
What is one thing every future participant should know about El Terreno before their program begins?
You might get sick from altitude or germs. The longer you stay, the better it will be. I stayed 2 1/2 months and became one of the locals. You should go here if you're scared because it will make you stronger. Print a water bottle that can filtrate water. Also bring a lot of cash, but only small bills. Bring sunscreen because it's high up and you will probably lose some weight if you stay a couple of weeks. I lost 12 kg in total. I didn't try to and I was drinking cola every day. You can just ask Milton (haha) but working and eating well is the best natural way for this.
Would you recommend El Terreno to others? Why?
Yes. It's one person's dream project and if successful, will be able to create a huge difference in a poor neighborhood. The leader is all in, he moved to Ecuador and has a wife there. The team is great and the vision is noble.
I will recommend anyone who wants to work with people in the real world. It's a great bonus if you speak Spanish. It's very inexpensive compared to other programs and to be honest. It's better to find a great place to learn than save money. That is of course my personal opinion, but if you feel like me, then you should take this opportunity.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of traveling abroad is?
Becoming stronger, more resilient, smarter as a person. Getting perspective on Western Culture. Learning a new language and people with the same mindset of traveling. After this, I feel like I can do anything. I had a lot more people than usual wishing me “Happy Birthday”. We also celebrated other peoples birthdays with piñatas. It was a great tradition and an unforgettable experience. Getting exposed to people from all around the world is amazing. It shows how big life potentially can be, only it takes bravery to see and live.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I will travel again and learn more Spanish. My future work might be abroad. It was inspiring and amazing to be drunk in the jungle one weekend and just feeling like life was perfect. Now I will study and travel and hopefully find somewhere to work and live in the world.
This is probably the most important trip in my life. It is also not the last time I will visit South America. Ecuador will always have a special place in my heart and I cannot say I never will return again.
What does meaningful travel mean to you?
Whenever I go in the direction that makes me uncomfortable. I need the world to grow. I have to go somewhere new. I want to be afraid and experience crazy things. It's only meaningful if it has an effect on my future. I'm not sure yet about the answer, but it's a good question- what meaningful travel means. Maybe I'll write a book about that one day.
It's not productive in itself, but it has some kind of gift of skills I'm not sure how to define yet. This is a good question that needs further travel for me to answer with some wisdom. But the longest journey is from the heart to the mind.
Did your program provide specific pre-departure Covid support? If yes, tell us what kind of support you received.
Advice on rules and discussion of plans with response and responsibility. Covid restrictions are only present in some places. When you go to a private party, you all drink from the same cup. The same when you go to play basketball.
The culture is different in different cities. Quito, for example, will have more restrictions. When you are a foreigner, few people will tell you to wear a mask. One security guard actually told me to take it off. So Covid is not your biggest concern. There's free healthcare if you need it and Covid is not that dangerous if you're young and healthy. Relax. I had it twice.
How did your program help you stay (and feel) safe abroad amidst the ongoing pandemic?
I was responsible for safety. We were safe during a 3 week national strike and demonstrations. Ecuador is dangerous compared to Denmark, but danger when you feel safe can be fun. I did anything I could to improve safety. I personally felt really safe. Only riding a bike and wild dogs are dangerous. Use a stick when walking. Also, if you look at one of the pictures I posted, you see a magical view. If you want to propose to your wife, this is also the perfect location. You must go and see for yourself.
Volunteer at El Terreno
Come and be apart of building a cultural exchange centre in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes. You'll have the opportunity to get to know a unique culture, practice your Spanish with warm local people and get hands on a variety of interesting projects.