Intensive Beginner Spanish & Healthcare in Ecuador
Experience the rich culture and history of Ecuador's vibrant capital city, Quito, located in the Andes mountain range. This program is a perfect fit for those with little or no Spanish language skills and an interest in healthcare and global health. Gain practical experience and proficiency in this vital skill used everyday in today’s healthcare setting. Practice Spanish skills in local NGO’s, hospitals and clinics and learn about health care delivery in low-resource settings.
CFHI’s Intensive Beginner Spanish Programs are unique in that participants begin with volunteer placements rather than clinical rotations. In this program, receive increased Spanish language instruction in preparation for entering healthcare settings. During the first two weeks, take 50 hours of intensive beginner Spanish classes focusing on basic grammar, conversation and medical vocabulary used in patient histories and physical exams. After language classes, volunteer at local non-profits that work with vulnerable populations such as orphans, underprivileged school age children and families, and domestic violence victims.
The last two weeks will focus on practicing Spanish skills during clinical rotations at local healthcare facilities such as, community level clinics on the outskirts of the city serving low-income populations, or government hospitals delivering free high-level diagnostic, specialized, and emergency care. Other rotations include a public maternity hospital where high-risk pregnancies are managed, and a military hospital focusing on internal medicine and surgery. Participants will come away with more confidence communicating in Spanish within social and professional settings, as well as a holistic view of healthcare systems in Quito and how Ecuadorians access these services.
Become immersed in Ecuadorian culture and language while living with a local family in Quito. CFHI participants may also organize weekend trips to destinations such as Tena in the Amazon region, known for its waterfalls and adventure sports like kayaking and zip lining, the town of Mindo and its subtropical forest, and Otovalo, an indigenous community with a bustling weekly market.
Volunteer Placements (First Two Weeks)
Public Nursery School/Kindergarten- At this facility work with children ages three to five, generally from low-income households. Each class is comprised of twenty to thirty children, all of whom have basic knowledge of English. Volunteer with teaching, giving presentations about health and hygiene, helping instructors grade assignments, and facilitating recreational activities during recess such as soccer matches, dancing lessons, and a variety of games.
Public Secondary School- The school has a capacity of eighty or more students between the ages of twelve and eighteen, each class comprised of ten to thirty students. Most students come from broken families, where resources are scarce and the fathers have left Ecuador to find work. The children may live alone or in families with various social problems. Volunteers have the opportunity to teach English, as well as assist with other activities at the school. At the high school, assist in teaching English or provide after school tutoring for accounting, computers, physics and social sciences classes.
Street Children NGO- A center for street children ages 12-17 that serves about 80 kids. This NGO promotes a healthy lifestyle, providing help with homework, meals, psychological and spiritual guidance, and recreational activities. Volunteer teaching kids basic English and tutoring on reading, writing, computer skills, cooking, etc. Volunteers are encouraged to share any personal skills or knowledge with the children such as art, music, or sports.
Clinical Rotations (Last Two Weeks)
Government Primary Health Clinic- This small clinic serves low-income populations and is managed by a family medicine physician in a poor neighborhood in northern Quito. This public facility has a small emergency room, a dentist, and a psychologist. Patients come to receive free services such as pediatrics and obstetrics care, preventative medicine and vaccinations. Clinic staff also conducts home visits for patients that cannot travel to the clinic.
Outpatient Obstetrics Rotation- A community clinic in northern Quito offering primary healthcare services, pediatric and obstetrics and gynecological services. This rotation focuses solely on obstetric services. Join a local obstetrician in providing free services to low and middle class patients. Join activities alongside the on-site preceptor in the clinic such as prenatal check ups, general obstetrics consult, which can include focused physical exams, differential diagnosis and discussing treatment options with patients. In addition, participate in home visits providing care to women on bed rest due to complications such as Placenta Previa.
Tertiary Care Hospital- Houses approximately 400 beds and provides services to military staff and families as well as civilians in the central part of Quito. Citizens from all over Ecuador are referred to this hospital and present a variety of pathologies. Rotate alongside hospital staff within two of the busiest and most dynamic areas of the facility, the internal medicine and surgical wards.
CFHI is considered a global health ethics leader therefore CFHI programs uphold strict standards and comply with all local laws regarding student involvement in health settings. Your experience on the program depends on your previous clinical training (if applicable), Spanish level, and the relationship you build with your supervising preceptor. Above all, YOU are the most important factor in making the CFHI experience as fulfilling as possible by being respectful, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning experiences which you will encounter.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador, one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. It was founded in the 16th century atop the ruins of an Incan city. Today, this modern metropolis boasts a diverse population of about two million people. As the capital and economic hub of the country it attracts migrants from rural areas - mostly indigenous groups, as well as immigrants from neighboring countries.
Quito is nestled in a valley within the Andes Mountain Range, surrounded by volcanoes and impressive peaks. At an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level, it is considered one of the highest capitals in the world. Due to its close proximity to the equator, the climate is spring-like all year long, with warm days and cool nights. Quito’s historic center is one of the largest and least altered in the Americas and one of the first world cultural heritage sites declared by UNESCO in the 1970’s. As the nation’s capital, it is a lively urban center with dancing, dining, historical sites, shopping and museums.
Things to Do
CFHI participants have free time during most evenings and weekends and may choose to organize weekend trips to nearby destinations and take part in cultural activities offered within Quito itself.
In Quito, popular activities include visiting the “middle of the world” or the equatorial line, the famous Guayasamin art museum and home, and the historic city center. Quito is also served by various bus lines thus is an ideal jumping off point to see the rest of the country. Travel to the Amazon to hike, nature watch, and visit jungle communities. Closer to Quito and ideal for a day or weekend trip is Otavalo, a primarily indigenous town that has maintained its traditional way of life and is renown for its weekly market.
Accommodations & Homestays
Participants stay with homestay families, chosen and screened by the CFHI Local Coordinator and language school. Homestays are located in a middle class residential neighborhood in the northern part of Quito. They are located in close proximity to one another and the language school, allowing participants to walk to language classes and meetings with ease. In some cases CFHI participants may be housed with others in the same homestay, but will always have their own room.
Homestays provide a unique opportunity to learn about local culture and practice Spanish skills on a daily basis in an informal setting. Accommodation includes two meals a day and laundry once a week. At the welcome orientation, participants will be instructed on recommended transportation from homestays to clinical rotations and getting around the city.
Eligibility: Who Can Apply?
This CFHI program is ideal for students of all levels who are beginner Spanish speakers or those who do not speak Spanish who are interested in improving their Spanish skills. Non-students are also eligible. The program offers a perspective on health in Mexico largely through visits and experiences within hospitals and clinics. To confirm you may apply, please read CFHI's general eligibility requirements.
Minimum Language Required: English; Novice
Novice: “I neither speak nor understand Spanish, other than a few words and phrases.”
- I can understand a few words/phrases such as greetings and introductions, but do not feel comfortable speaking.
- I’m unable to communicate basic needs without use of hand gestures or English words/phrases.
Leading this program on-site are CFHI’s Medical Director and Local Coordinators (see Local Team tab), all native Ecuadorians who speak Spanish as their primary language, but do know some English as well. To provide authentic learning experiences translators are not provided. Daily interactions will be in Spanish, but CFHI’s local team is able to support and help you through your experience.
All CFHI participants applying to programs in Latin America will evaluate their Spanish language skills as part of their application. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you, versus accuracy with grammatical tenses. All CFHI Latin America programs include Spanish language instruction on-site.
Not sure about your Spanish level? View a full list of CFHI’s language levels for all Latin America programs on our Spanish Level Guidelines page.
Participants should arrive in Quito, Ecuador on the program start date and will be picked up from the airport by a CFHI representative and taken to their homestay. A welcome orientation will take place the Sunday or Monday after arrival.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens staying less than 3 months in Ecuador. More information on travel and logistics will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.
- Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco before departure
- Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.
- Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to homestay in Quito with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Spanish Classes: 50 hours/month of Spanish classes, including medical Spanish instruction and cultural activities
- CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response
- Weekly meetings and lectures on local healthcare system and socio-economic determinants of health
- Placement and coordination of clinical/public health activities
- Accommodation, two meals a day, and laundry services once a week
- Local cell phone
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health
- CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved
Uniquely CFHI, 50% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more.
Meet the Local Team
Dr. Susana Alvear - CFHI Medical Director in Quito. The role of the Medical Director is to arrange clinical and public health placements, supervise the participant experience at these sites, and provide instruction on healthcare topics during weekly meetings. Dr. Alvear is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings.
Dr. Alvear has served CFHI since 1996. She is an accomplished family physician who obtained her MD and specialty certificates in Ecuador. She then completed clinical education courses at the University of New Mexico and workshops at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Dr. Alvear teaches at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, where she manages their residency program. Dr. Alvear has participated in several international trips providing healthcare services to countries after natural disasters stricken areas such as Pakistan and Ghana.
Rosita Tamayo - CFHI Local Coordinator in Quito: The role of the local coordinator is to organize housing, transportation, orientation and weekly meetings. Rosita is a great resource for any questions related to navigating the program locale, cultural norms and tips on planning weekend travel.
Rosita has served CFHI since 1998. Rosita is co-founder and owner of the language school that CFHI participants attend and also regularly hosts CFHI students from in her home. She participated in an intercultural exchange as a young student, and lived the United States for a year. Rosita graduated from the Universidad Central del Ecuador with a degree in International Relations. Rosita has a passion for volunteerism and supporting underserved communities.
What Alumni Say
"I now know that I am on the right track pursuing a primary care occupation. I also now have a much broader world perspective and understand that there are many more ways to regard life than the way we do in America. Ecuadorians had a way of embracing life that was thrilling and refreshing."
--Pierre Sebastian, University of Minnesota, Pre-Health Undergraduate Student, May 2016
“Initially the biggest difference between this hospital and those in the US was that there were so many patients in one room, all of them laboring together. One morning I counted 13 patients packed into the main room! The patients would stay in this room until just before they were ready to deliver, and then…” read more on Megan’s blog.
-- Megan Bright (CFHI Reproductive Health Program Participant, October 2011)
"Participating in an international health rotation, such as the Intensive Beginner Spanish course in Quito, Ecuador, has been a goal for many years. I am drawn to underserved populations, both in the US and abroad, and felt that this one-month immersion program in South America would be perfect. As a future Internal Medicine resident at the University of New Mexico, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study Spanish and immerse myself in the Latino culture."
--Annonymous, CFHI alumni from Western University of Health Sciences