Haley Smith
Haley Smith
Ecuador, 2018
From July -September 2018, I will be interning with Sinamune, an organization in Quito, Ecuador that provides music education and other services to individuals with special needs. I will be assisting with music classes, performances, and more. I am excited to experience the Ecuadorian culture and learn from these incredible individuals! Read More About Haley →


Hello Friends,

As you’ve probably noticed, I have fallen way behind on my day-to-day updates. I am working on filling them in because I really want to communicate what the day-to-day is like for future travelers and any who may wonder, but it might take me a bit to catch up. For now, I made some placeholder blogs with a brief summary of the week. When I have a spare second, I will go back and flesh out the details, so stay posted!

Meanwhile, here’s a brief update with 12 days remaining in my program before I return to the states.

I have the busiest days but they are so fulfilling. Here’s a typical day, to give you an idea of why I fell behind on day-to-day updates.

6:30-7:30 Wake Up, Get Ready, Eat Breakfast

7:30-8:00  Bus to Sinamune

8:00-1:00 Sinamune: Orchestra Rehearsal, Music Enrichment Sessions

1:00-2:00 Bus to Spanish

2:00-3:30 Spanish Lessons

3:30-4:00 Bus to Núcleo

4:00-6:00 Teach Núcleo Choir

6:00-6:30 Bus to Casa de La Cultura

6:30-8:30 Choir Rehearsal at Casa de La Cultura

8:30-9:00 Bus Home

9:00-10:00 Shower, Plan for the Next Day, Hit the Hay

Anyway, that’s my day tomorrow, and I just got home from a three-hour bus ride from a pueblito in the northeast where I spent the weekend teaching. It was a frustrating and exhausting experience due to a great deal of miscommunication (surprise, surprise) but the moments I spent teaching the children were wonderful.

Overall, my program is nothing like it was supposed to be, and in no way is it an “internship.” I am completely on my own doing everything, lesson/session planning, directing/teaching, etc. I have definitely learned a lot from that, but had this been an internship in reality I think I would have had a much more enriching experience. I can do things by myself but there is a lot that I don’t know that I had hoped to learn, but that didn’t happen. There are of course advantages and disadvantages to how things turned out, which I will discuss in more detail later. For now, suffice it to say that I am going to make the most of these last two weeks, and make sure Ecuador wants me to return one day as much as I want to return in the future.



Family Visit: Week 8

This week some of my dad, brother, aunt, and uncle came to visit Quito! I had told them such wonderful things about Ecuador and they took advantage of some cheap airfare and Labor Day weekend and came on down to the southern hemisphere. Sinamune was on break the whole week, which was really nice. I used the time to catch up on my Spanish lessons, for FOUR hours a day, which was a lot. I also continued teaching at the Nucleo. My family arrived late Wednesday night and would stay through the weekend.

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Today was a great day. It was so nice to get back into things, and also to have a reasonable defined schedule where I knew what to expect. I had four straight hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons and it actually wasn’t as bad as I expected; it went by pretty fast.

Then I actually had time to eat a quick lunch before heading to the Nucleo. In my first group, only one student came, so I essentially just gave her a voice lesson, which went really well.

In my next group, I had five students. We did some really good work on technique and then I reviewed the songs we had been working on. I isolated some problem spots using solfege, and they successfully sang in three parts for the first time! It was so exciting because they realized it, and to see everything click and their faces light up was just the best!

I came home and had cafecito with my Quito family and then went to bed early, because I am still a little bit agripada and need the rest.

Muy Agripada: Week 7

After this week, I am more than halfway throughly time here! This week I am really starting to feel settled in. Unfortunately this week I also started feeling really sick. It started out as a bad cold but I think it might have been a bit worse than a cold, because there were days when I felt feverish and achy. Lucky me got to experience going to the doctor in a foreign country. Fortunately they gave me some medicine and I am on the mend, although still not one hundred percent.

Confusion and Frustration: Week 6

Monday, August 13th, 2018

It’s too much to explain everything, but long story short, the lack of communication has made the experience with Sinamune extremely frustrating and stressful. Sinamune is forcing us to come every day this week the whole time, so Cosette and I are not going to be able to have Spanish lessons, because we still teach at the Núcleo. It’s so frustrating because Sinamune is just glorified babysitting, and I try to do what I can but there is only so much knowledge I have of the students and the language and the culture and their needs.

On a brighter note, I am loving teaching at the Núcleo! The classes have settled into a rhythm and the same students return day to day. At first I was disappointed because we didn’t really have enough in either class to form a true choir, but it actually has ended up turning into kind of a group voice class, per the request of the students. I think I’ve mentioned before that most of them have never sung before but really want to learn, so they asked me if we could turn the class into more work on technique and performing. It has been a great learning experience for me and I am really enjoying it.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Today was pretty much the same. Frustration at Sinamune and then a wonderful experience at Núcleo. I was supposed to meet with Diana, my program coordinator in Ecuador, to talk about a solution to Sinamune and Spanish, but unfortunately she had an emergency with a friend and had to reschedule. No matter, I can speak to her tomorrow!


“El Primer Grito de La Independencia!” (Week 5, Part 3)

Saturday, August 11th

Today I slept in and took it easy during the afternoon. Then in the evening I went with my host family to Fiesta de La Luz, a 5-day celebration for “el primer grito de la independencia” (“the first cry of independence”) which occurred el 10 de agosto in 1809. Unfortunately, this first cry of independence was ultimately unsuccessful and did not result in independence, but they celebrate it more than their actual day of independence, because they are so proud of the effort/intention and the fact that they were the first South American country to try to gain independence.

Fiesta de la Luz was incredible. First of all, there were so many people you could barely move. I have never seen that many people in one place at the same time. Also, everyone was so excited! They shut down almost the entire historic center for five nights, and all the streets are for pedestrians only. There were fourteen different sites, mostly churches and plazas, with spectacular light displays. I don’t know how to describe it! I will post some pictures below. I also took a 6-minute video of the entirety of one of the spectaculars, but of course it won’t upload. Here’s a video from youtube though, so you can get the idea.

Unfortunately, after taking the video my phone died, and of course Vicente and I got separated from Pilar and her sister Sofia who came with us. We waited for a while, but there was really no hope of finding them as big as the space was and as many people as there were. But Vicente and I had a fun night. He introduced me to many new typical Ecuadorian foods, including pristiñas con miel (kind of like funnel cake, served with honey) and also morocho (a delicious creamy corn drink served with empanadas de queso. The only sad part is that there was not enough time to see all fourteen of the light spectaculars!

Sunday, August 12th

Today I slept in and then did some laundry. It is still exciting for me to hang it on the line outside to dry, I feel like I’m in a movie!

I forgot to mention last week that one of the ladies from my choir gave me 2 passes to see a traditional dance performance by a group called Jacchigua. I took Paige with me, and we had a great time! It was incredible to see all the beautiful traditional outfits and dances.

I went to mass at the church right across the street from our house. The tiny differences are so interesting. Of course, the sequence and readings and prayers are all the same, but there is just a different feel to the mass, and their “Catholicsthenics” (sitting/standing/kneeling sequences) are a little different. I love how everybody sings all the hymns here. Also, this church had a screen with the songs, which was actually very helpful. What was not helpful was that every slide had about 20 moving graphics, ranging from dancing music notes to a Jesus rapidly kneeling and praying over and over again. It was so funny; I really wanted to take a picture, but refrained. Maybe next time I go. These slides are the most overwhelming things I have ever seen!

Tonight I got to meet a girl named Alyson, who worked at Sinamune and lived with Pilar and Vicente a year and a half ago. She was visiting with her family, and it was cool to spend some time with them and get to know them. Alyson also said that she was at Sinamune during the school year and had an excellent experience, so that gives me hope for September!






Nucleo and New Heights (Week 5, Part 2)

Tuesday, August 7th

Well, I did not have time to post about the surprise party last night, but it went very well. Pictures to come! I continued at Sinamune today and then went to Nucleo. Some of the same people returned and some new people came! Oh boy, what an adventure.

Wednesday, August 8th

Sinamune is still frustrating, but I am loving teaching the classes at Nucleo. My second group is mostly older adults who have not had much/any formal training in singing, and because they are such a small group, they asked me if we could work more on vocal technique and performance skills. I said absolutely, because that is something that I have been interested in trying to teach. So far it is going well; the difficult thing is that I don’t know all the technical terminology necessary for singing, so I have to do a lot of motioning and demonstrating. Fortunately, however, one of the ladies in this group lent me what is essentially a Spanish textbook on vocal pedagogy, music theory, and IPA! It is a Godsend, and it is so helpful to be able to match up my knowledge with the Spanish terminology, and even learn some new things!

Thursday, August 9th

Today was such a crazy day that Cosette and I told Diana the new schedule was not going to work. Here is how it went:

8:00-8:30 Bus to Sinamune

8:30-10:00 Sinamune

10:00-11:00 Bus/Walk to Spanish

11:00-1:00 Spanish

1:00-2:00 Bus/Walk to Nucleo

2:00-6:00 Nucleo

6:00-7:00 Bus/Walk Home

The bus ride itself from Sinamune to Spanish is an hour, not to mention the 15-minute walk, so of course we were late. And then because we were running late from Spanish, we were late to Nucleo, because it’s about 30 minutes on the bus and 15 minutes walking. I felt like I was trying to catch my breath all day, and we didn’t have time to eat lunch! We are really hoping that we will be able to go to Sinamune just a couple days a week and go to Spanish the other days, since our time there is essentially glorified babysitting, but we will see. Fortunately tomorrow is a holiday, so we have the day off from both Sinamune and Nucleo, but we will still have Spanish.

Friday, August 10th

Today was the adventure of a lifetime! Even though it was my day off, I got up early to ride the teleferico up the mountain to summit the volcano Rucu Pichincha. Ashley came with me to the teleferico but decided to hold off on the hike because she had only been here for a week and was still adjusting to the altitude.

I was on my own, but I felt pretty safe for the first two hours as the hike was not too demanding and I passed by several other people on the way. However, about two hours in, I reached a sheer cliff which was very inclined and rocky, and I became a little worried. I really wanted to make it to the top but this was legit rock climbing and I did not feel safe by myself because if I fell, well, I don’t want to think about. It was also hard to determine the exact path. I also had Spanish class to get back too. Discouraged and disappointed, I started heading back to the teleferico.

However, about 20 minutes after starting to return, I ran into a group of three Ecuadorian girls about my age. They were friendly and asked if I had made it to the top. I told them that sadly I had not, because I was on my own and didn’t think it was safe. Then they invited me to join them! At first I declined, because I had Spanish and I didn’t want to crash their group, but they insisted and said they would love to have me join them! I was getting so close at that point, and they were so persuasive, that I accepted and messaged my Spanish teacher that I would be a bit late.

One of them had climbed Pichincha before, but the other two hadn’t. I ended up climbing mostly with Viveca, who was very friendly. The last hour of the hike was definitely the most difficult, as we were basically scrambling vertically up sheer rocks. Also, it was SO COLD! I didn’t think about how cold it would be at such an altitude, but I just had a t-shirt and a rain jacket and I was freezing. My muscles were aching as well. Once we got to a certain point, Viveca and I were both thinking about calling it a day; also we were both only in tennis shoes and not hiking boots. However, some friendly hikers who passed us encouraged us to keep going, that we were almost there, and it was so worth it! So we continued. My hands, nose, and ears, were numb by that point, and there were little patches of ice on parts of the rocks. However, after about 20 minutes more of suffering, we pulled ourselves up to the top.

Unfortunately by this time in the day it was very cloudy and windy, so you couldn’t see much. But every once in a while the clouds would clear and reveal what looked like the entire world, Quito and much more stretching out as far as the eye could see, surrounded by the valley of volcanoes and beautiful greenery. I was so cold and so tired and so hungry, but I would do it a million times over. It felt so wonderful to reach the summit and see the world. And to think that we almost went back when we were so close!

After resting a bit, taking some pictures, and finding the other two girls in our group, we began the descent. The descent was almost worse than the climb! Essentially, you almost had to just slide down on your rear; it was so steep and my leg muscles were so tired they kept giving out. Some of the rocks were not very sturdy either.

Eventually we made it down to the rolling hills part, and by then I was very late to Spanish. I thanked Viveca and the other two girls, and they said it had been a pleasure climbing with me; then I went as fast as my legs would allow to get back for Spanish.

I took the teleferico down the mountain and there were a few men calling “Taxi, taxi!” I was so tired and over an hour late at that point that I went with the first man I saw. (My phone was dead or I would have done Uber.) I told him where I needed to go, and he told me it was a flat rate of $7. I knew that was false and also there was the fact that I literally only had $5, so I offered $5. He accepted and led me to his taxi.

Except it was not a taxi; it was an unmarked SUV. Oh boy, I thought dramatically, this is the end, I survived that deathly hike just to be kidnapped. But like I said, I was exhausted and late, so I got in. Fortunately my worries were unfounded, the driver was very nice and was learning English and wanted to practice with me the whole ride. Just goes to show that sometimes our intuition can be wrong. (Although usually I wouldn’t recommend getting in any sort of unmarked SUV with a stranger, even if they seem very friendly. We aren’t even supposed to take taxis that aren’t certified. Praise God for watching over me in this instance and allowing me to make a new friend.)

I made it to Spanish safely for the last 30 minutes of my lesson, and then took the bus home. I slept for four hours, woke up for an hour, then went back to sleep for the night at 8 pm. It was a wild but wonderful day!

Rucu Pichincha Pictures


The first part of the hike, lulls you into think it’s just some steep rolling hills. Ha ha.


View from Cueva del Oso.


Cueva del Oso, a halfwayish point.


Somehow I climbed that...


Only an hour and a half to the summit!



Viveca and me, halfway up the hardest part!


After almost deciding to go back.


I made it! 15, 406 feet!


Viveca and me at the summit!


My new friends and I at the summit!



At the summit! You can’t tell, but I can’t feel my toes, nose, fingers, or ears!

The Ultimate Differentiation Challenge (Week 5, Part 1)

Monday, August 6th

After today’s 15-hour non-stop day, I almost felt like I was back in music school! I started at Sinamune; Cosette’s and my new schedule had us staying until 10 am, after which we would go to Spanish lessons for 2 hours, and then to La Casa de La Música to start teaching our new classes. However, apparently the director Klever, who Diana had given our new schedule to, had left for a trip to South Korea with one of those students, forgetting to share our new schedule with the staff. Of course, today of all days, the psychology majors had to leave at 10:00 as well for some sort of class. So, the staff had Diana cancel our Spanish lessons so that we could stay until 12:00. We’re getting so used to the schedule changes and lack of communication/organization that we just shrugged and went with it. About 20 minutes after they left, the psychology majors returned. Turns out they didn’t have class after all! By then it was too late to reschedule Spanish again, so we just stayed at Sinamune.

Also, there is a new girl that arrived today named Ashley, who is a junior music education major. She will be at Sinamune for two weeks, and will essentially take Paige’s place. (Paige is teaching classes for Núcleo Pichincha the same time as Sinamune.)

Unfortunately, however, Cosette was sick today and unable to come to Sinamune or the Núcleo. Fortunately, Ashley’s principal instrument is flute, so she was able to fill in at the Núcleo. This was going to complicate the day though, because as Cosette’s birthday is tomorrow Paige and I had planned a surprise party for this evening! (Her parents were coming to visit Ecuador and she would be with them tomorrow, so we needed to do it today! We were just going to have to wait and see, though.

After Sinamune, Ashley and I took the bus to a stop near our Spanish school and grabbed a quick lunch at one of my favorite empanada places. Then we met Diana at her office near there, because she was going to go with us to the new job for the first day.

We took a taxi and arrived at La Casa de La Música. They showed us to the rooms where we would teach. My room was magnificent, with two door-size windows that opened to a magnificent view of La Virgen del Panecillo and the south of Quito. They had also already placed chairs in the room. They had told me that I could use an electronic keyboard that they had, but someone had to go get it. Fortunately, we got it set up in plenty of time. The students were about to arrive!

And now I would like to talk about the danger of expectations. Try as we might not to have expectations, I think it’s part of the human condition that we are going to expect things to go or be a certain way. I don’t know if this is a side effect of imagination, or wishful thinking, or maybe a survival method to prepare ourselves for what is to come. Anyway, I had expectations. You’d think after the past month in Ecuador I would have learned and have known better than to expect things to go the way I expected…

Here’s what I expected. And this wasn’t wishful thinking, because this is exactly how the directors at Núcleo Pichincha told us things would go.

2:00-4:00: Choir with children from 8-12 years old, beginning singers with little/no experience

4:00-6:00: Choir with children 13+, beginning/intermediate singers with some experience

Here’s what I got:


  • 10 students of various ages and abilities (and when I say various I mean VARIOUS)
  • One 6-year-old accompanied by her parents, 3 teenagers, and 6 adults over the age of 30
  • 6 people who had never sung in their life, 2 people who had sung in school choir, 1 director of a music school, and 1 semi-professional opera singer who had studied in Quito’s conservatory but stopped after he kept getting sick and having vocal problems


  • 6 students of various ages and abilities
  • One 8-year-old, 2 teenagers, and 3 adults
  • 1 adult who had studied music in college, 1 teenager who had never sung in her life, 1 professional singer/guitar player, 1 lady who sings in a chorus in Quito, 1 lady who has never sung in her life, and the 8-year-old who said her favorite song was Despacito

I had planned songs and activities for children! Also, in no universe should a 6-year-old and a 44-year-old sing in a choir together! I was too overwhelmed to really analyze the situations, so I started warm-ups and just went with it. I allowed some time for people to introduce themselves and for a 10-minute break, but let me just say 2 hours is a long time to improvise teaching after having to throw away your whole lesson plan.

Somehow, though, I did it, and all of the students were so gracious and patient with my Spanish and truly grateful to come to the class. They all told me as well that they were under the impression that it would be divided by age/ability, but they went with the flow when it wasn’t.

I’m trying to refrain from being disappointed that things didn’t turn out as I expected, but I am a little frustrated again. Also, I have never taught ADULTS, and I feel like I’m not equipped to do that. Add to all of that the language barrier; I didn’t realize how much technical terminology is involved with singing until I tried to explain things in Spanish!

However, I know I’m going to figure something out, and I know I’m going to learn a lot, and I’m trying to view the whole situations as “THE ULTIMATE DIFFERENTIATION CHALLENGE.” Stay posted, wish me luck, and please send me any advice/tips you have about differentiating with such groups. Gracias!



At least the view is fabulous!



Week 4, La Más Mejor! (Part 3)

Friday, August 3rd

Today was a nice relaxing day. We went to Sinamune and did finger painting and play-doh (yes it was as messy as you’re imagining). We had a nice lunch of choclo and some great conversation with the psychology major girls. Then we went to our coffee shop, Serendipity, to work on lesson plans for next week. Jun, the owner is always so welcoming and gracious to us. If you are ever in Quito, go to Serendipity! And that’s about it for today.

Saturday, August 4th

Today Paige and I had planned to take the teleferico up Pichincha and hike to the top, but our plans were thwarted by rain. So instead I slept in and then met up with Paige to run some errands. Cosette’s birthday is Tuesday, so we are planning a surprise party for Monday night. Also, at the mall today, we ran into one of our psychology major friends! Literally, what are the odds?! It’s like being in the US and running into your friend in the mall! Except even less likely because Quito is a massive and there were two other huge malls in walking distance of the 4-story mall we were at.

Sunday, August 5th

This morning I went to mass at La Basilica del Voto Nacional. It was a beautiful mass and a beautiful basilica. Afterwards, I paid $2 to climb to the tower at the very top of the church, which boasts one of the best views of Quito. It was stunning! The way up was pretty precarious, as the stairs were more like straight-up ladders, but it was exhilarating. I feel like it would never fly in the US, but there nobody minded if the wire between the steps protecting you from a massive fall was missing. After that, I explored the old town walking around, so I could get my bearings and figure out which buses I would need to take to get to my new job on Monday. Here are some photos of the basilica and the climb!





Okay, I can’t get the rest of the photos to upload, but I’ll try again later. Or check out my Facebook because I will post them in the album there as well!

Week 4, La Más Mejor! (Part 2)

Wednesday, August 1st

Today we went to Sinamune and found out the plan. Essentially, we will still go to Sinamune in the mornings from 8:30-12:00 because there will be a summer program for students of the school who wish to come. There are three groups of about five students each, who will rotate through music group, flute group, and dance group, each for an hour.

Before we even tried that, all three of us could have told you that hour-long groups were not going to work for these students, but we humored the Sinamune staff and tried it. It didn’t work very well, and all of us were pretty frustrated and concerned about doing this and the other groups in the afternoon. We also didn’t know when we were going to go to Spanish. (One suggestion was six hours on Saturdays – yikes!) We asked Diana if we could meet with her, and she said she could meet with us before Spanish.

Because I was now going to be working with the same students consistently every day, I told the staff it would really help me to have some background info on the students and their needs. One of the teachers, Sonia, said of course and gave me a binder with the students’ names, diagnoses, and basic info. I also asked for documentation of other services and therapies they had had. I don’t know if she misunderstood me, but she said they didn’t have that. I asked, “But haven’t they had at least speech-language therapy or physical therapy, like early intervention stuff when they were younger?” She said no. I couldn’t believe it.

Later that day, we met with Diana and spent an hour speaking with her about Sinamune and the plans for the remainder of the time. It was a really helpful conversation, as she told us some more about Sinamune, attitudes about disabilities in Ecuador, and the background of the students. I told her about my questions about documentation and past therapies and also whether or not there is actually anyone who knows what music therapy is there! Here is what I found out:

  1. Music Therapy at Sinamune: The directors of Sinamune, Klever and Aidita, both know what music therapy is and may or may not be music therapists. However, because Sinamune is technically on summer vacations, none of that has been happening and I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to them because they have been either traveling or in the office working on administrative things. Diana said she would make sure I had a chance to talk to them soon.
  1. State of Disability Rights in Ecuador: There is anti-discrimination legislation in place, but that doesn’t always translate to no discrimination in reality. There is a law that for companies who have more than 100 employees, at least 5% of them must have a disability.
  1. Backgrounds of Students at Sinamune: Diana said that because of lack of education, many of the Sinamune families don’t believe that their children with disabilities are capable of doing much. Sinamune is not only a positive and safe place for them, but it also plays a role in educating the families about the purpose and potential of their children. Diana said that families are sometimes ashamed to have a child with a disability, so they essentially shut them away from the world and keep them locked up inside the house. For this reason, many of them didn’t receive services or necessary therapies in the past. Diana said technically those services are provided free of charge by the government, but actually getting them is a whole other story, especially if families don’t want to admit they have a child with a disability.

All of this was so enlightening; I just wish I had known it the first day. It’s really frustrating that the families don’t always see the potential of the students, but it’s awesome that Sinamune is actively working to change that. I understand a lot more where the students are coming from and why things are the way they are here.

Oh, between our meeting and Sinamune we found a delicious place for lunch called La Torre! It is French-themed and has French pastries but still serves Ecuadorian food. The lunch was $3 for soup, main course, juice, and dessert. Qué delicioso!


Thursday, August 2nd

Today was a chill day at Sinamune. There are about 10 students that come consistently to the summer programming. Cosette, Paige, and I work with three psychology students who are at Sinamune for practicum hours. Their names are Melissa, Katherine, and Veronica, and they are awesome. It has been fun getting to know them as well.

We started off the day with an intense soccer match between the professors and the students. At one point it was Cosette, Paige, and I against three of the students, and they creamed us. It was actually comical how terrible we were at soccer. The students were quite amused. It wasn’t a very competitive game, but at least it was entertaining!

After the game, we did music group, dancing, and played some games. I am enjoying the routine of the same students every day, because I am really getting to know them as individuals. Part of what was frustrating before was the lack of consistency or continuity with any of the students.

Oh, and we got to see the final promotional posters and videos from our photo shoot Monday! I will share them below! I don’t think I’ve ever been this official before!

So, the plan for the rest of the time is this: During August, I will go to Sinamune in the mornings to lead music therapy groups. On days when there is orchestra, I will perform with them first and then lead groups. On days when there is not orchestra, I will only lead groups at Sinamune for a couple hours and then go to Spanish lessons. Every day, either after Spanish or after Sinamune, I will go to La Casa de La Musica in the historic center to teach two different choir groups for two hours each. The days will be long, but I am used to long days and thrive on business. Then, in September when the school year starts for Sinamune, I will go there from 8 am to 1 pm every day. In the evenings I will teach one choir group at La Casa de La Música from 4-6. I’m not exactly sure where Spanish will fit in, but I am sure I will figure it out! Cosette has the same schedule as me, but Paige will not be going to Sinamune anymore because she will teach one dance class in the morning and one in the evening for Núcleo Pichincha. Today is our last day of the schedule all together!



Here’s a link to the video from Núcleo Pichincha!