Guayaquil Semester

Study and volunteer in an urban and coastal community!

Students have an exclusive opportunity to work and live with a local coastal community and serve alongside the villagers to help create sustainable change. For a week at the end of each semester, service-learning students live in a sustainable eco-lodge learning about the issues this small Ecuadorian community are challenged with. Working closely with a local National Park located next to the village, students have an opportunity to contribute to the preservation of Ecuador's extensive Marine biodiversity. Students can volunteer with the Geobotanical Reserves helping to identify and catalog native birds, butterflies, plants and medicinal plants.  National Park biologists and students can work together on marine projects with sea turtles and other marine life. Helping the community in their agricultural development with an emphasis on organic farming and agricultural products is another area of service. The local elementary school also welcomes students to work with young children teaching English and teaching them about their natural environment.

Students will spend a semester developing Spanish skills; studying Ecuadorian history, culture, and society at Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo; living with an Ecuadorian family; and serving 12–15 hours a week in an Ecuadorian community organization. The volunteer service immerses students in the culture and deepens your understanding of Ecuadorian society and will also facilitate students' mastery of Spanish. Students return each semester to the coastal village to help further the goals of the community and engage in hands-on service to promote equitable relationships, social justice and sustainable change for local communities.

Ecuador spans the equator on the northwest coast of South America. With its cultural diversity and wide range of environments—the Galapagos Islands, the coastal areas of the Pacific, the Andes mountain range, and the headwaters of the Amazon—Ecuador provides an ideal location for you to live in and learn about South America, encountering directly the issues and concerns of this great southern continent. In Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and gateway to the Galapagos, you will enjoy a tropical climate with varied and abundant flora and fauna and a newly revitalized waterfront, or "Malecon." You will also encounter dramatic contrasts of wealth and poverty, and the social issues generated through that disparity.

Where you'll stay in Guayaquil

You will live in a homestay with a middle-class Ecuadorian family, who provide most of your meals and introduce you to Ecuadorian family life. An integral part of the program, the homestay offers you the opportunity to make life-long friends, reinforce language skills, and experience the culture from "the inside." Host families are carefully selected and experienced with hosting students.

During the Service-Learning Plus extension, students live at a rustic eco-tourist lodge in an Ecuadorian coastal village.

Program Director(s): Christian Parraga, Andrea Losada, Jessica Jaramillo


The program welcomes students of any nation who have a high school diploma or equivalent credential. TOEFL equivalent 550. Academic studies are taught in Spanish and/or English. (See individual course descriptions.) Minimum Spanish prerequisite: 2 years of secondary school Spanish or 1 year of college/university Spanish, or the equivalent.



The program is based at the host institution, Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo (UEES). You will take three required courses and one or two electives  for a maximum of 18 credits. A transcript is issued from Universidad Espiritu Santo upon successful completion of the program. Unless otherwise noted, courses are at the 300 level except for any foreign language course that will vary.

Required courses

Spanish Language 

Students are tested and placed in the appropriate level for Spanish language instruction: beginning, intermediate or advanced. Studies include the culture and literature of Ecuador and Latin America. You may move through one or two intensive modules (levels) during the program.

Español para Principiantes I
Facilita al estudiante extranjero la oportunidad de desarrollar sus principales destrezas en la comunicación: Leer, escribir, escuchar y hablar. De esa forma el idioma español se convierte en un instrumento valioso para estudiar y experimentar la cultura y la civilización latinoamericana, en particular, la ecuatoriana.

Español para Principiantes II
Facilita al estudiante extranjero la oportunidad de expresar emociones, sentimientos, conocimientos, dudas, conjeturas e ideas que le permiten experimentar la diversidad cultural de la civilización latinoamericana y en especial ecuatoriana. De esta forma el idioma español se convierte en una inminente necesidad, dada la convivencia hispana.

Español Nivel Intermedio I
Incremento del conocimiento adquirido en Vocabulario, Gramática Estructural para aplicarlo de forma acertada en la conversación y composición. Uso periódico de artículos, noticias e información general para práctica de lectura, vocabulario y redacción.

Español Nivel Intermedio II
Practica de los elementos para la construcción de ideas en narraciones, descripciones y artículos de prensa. Leer artículos seleccionados y de interés común. Expresar opiniones y sustentarlas. Enfasis en la comunicación a través de ejercicios de debates de ideas contrarias.

Español Avanzado I
Facilita al estudiante extranjero la oportunidad de desarrollar sus principales destrezas en la comunicación: Leer, escribir, hablar y escuchar. De esta forma, l idioma se convierte en un instrumento valioso para estudiar y experimentar la cultura y civilización latinoamericana, en particular, la ecuatoriana.

Español Avanzado II
Examinar el proceso de la comunicación verbal desde el punto de vista del emisor del mensaje oral o escrito. Leer artículos de Prensa para dentificar tema, estilo y adecuación. Expresar opiniones y sustentarlas.

Proyectos Especiales en Español
El estudio de temas especiales de acuerdo a los intereses o necesidades de los alumnos que tengan que complementar sus requisitos de graduación en sus universidades de origen.

Lecturas Generales en Español
Curso que integra los conocimientos de las estructura del español. Los contenidos tienen temas de poesía, prosa,drama, teatro de diferentes autores ecuatorianos y latinoamericanos. Análisis crítico de los textos e incremento del dominio de la sintaxis. Este curso se incrementa en contenidos de acuerdo a las necesidades de los alumnos.

Contact Hours: 45 -90
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3 - 6

Institutions in Ecuadorian Society (Service-Learning Course) 

Examines the ways social institutions relate to and reflect the larger society. Specific issues explored include: culture and development; oil and rights; religion and politics; religion and revolution; development and self-respect; community participation in development; politics and insurrection; gender and fashion; literature and politics; and class structure. Taught in English, but using as much Spanish as the class understands.

This is an essential class to monitor the students’ learning process during the service part of the program. It allows students to reflect, research, and elaborate on the learning processes that they are engaged in through their experiential learning. Students will be able to compare and contrast theories with and the realities they are exposed to every day.

Institutions in Society brings the students' attention to the latest articles and findings in the area of community development in Ecuador and in the countries of the region. Their service component will be taken under consideration for evaluation and grading for this class. Students keep weekly journals that the mentor will comment on, and write a final paper, “Profile of the Agency,” which will include a section of recommendations to the agency and to future participants.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Reflections / SL Practicum Seminar (ONLINE)

This course is delivered virtually and begins before departure and completes after returning. The content includes both pre-departure and post departure information, discussion and reflection and serves to compliment the Institutions in Society Course. The course explores the theories and practical realities of intercultural service-learning to help make sense of the international experience and to develop intercultural competence. One credit will be awarded for 15 hours of academic relections work and 2 credits for the  hands-on service-learning volunteering.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3


One or two other language and academic courses (many of them taught in English) may be taken in addition to the required courses with the approval of the resident Program Director, and students who are fluent in Spanish may participate in any of the regular classes offered at UEES. Some examples of available electives are: International Law, Elements of Economics, Nutrition and Health, International Marketing, Environmental Psychology and Intercultural Communication. A popular elective is History of Ecuadorian Culture.

History of Ecuadorian Culture

This course will introduce students to the different historical issues that have formed present-day Ecuadorian culture. They will explore the Hispanic and Indian background so as to understand how and why our idiosyncrasy has evolved into present-day Ecuador. Religious, political and societal issues are examined to establish a better understanding of modern Ecuador.

The main objective of this course is for the student to understand the dynamics of Ecuadorian social classes, the importance of religion and its influence on people and governments, and the incipient understanding of democracy and capitalism in the Ecuadorian society.

Students will learn about Spain before it embarked on the discoveries of the Americas, the Moorish influence in Spain and the feudal patterns of behavior in everyday life there. We will read the first accounts of the aborigines` life as described by the conquistadors and learn about the basis of economic life in the early years of the Conquest. We will refer to piracy and the vast political control Spain had to develop to check this and other problems that arose from such an immense and sparse continent. Students will be exposed to the problems of social class and caste, the fight between the Liberals and Conservatives in Ecuador in the late 1890s, the behavior of the “Montubio” people from the Coast and the modern period of change and democratic instability. The course finishes with a general overview of Ecuador’s external debt and the dollarization process at the beginning of the 21st century.

Recommended U.S. Credits: 3 per course



With nearly 2.5 million inhabitants, Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city. Like many cities in South America, Guayaquil has experienced tremendous population growth in recent years; parts of the city have undergone impressive redevelopment while other areas of the city have become vast tracts of squatter housing lacking basic urban services. Urban growth is also putting significant pressures on unique, delicate ecological reserves that provide homes for endangered flora and fauna. These many challenges form the framework for the community service agencies in which students are placed.

You will serve 15–20 hours a week in an established Ecuadorian agency. Some of the service placements are in the "invasion" communities of rural and poor migrants. 

Volunteer Service Examples

Following are examples of agencies where students have served in the past or may be able to serve. Other service placements in the areas of heathcare, social and economic inclusion, foundations for at-risk children, services to street children, foundations for ecologically responsible small farming, theatre supporting social causes, may be available. Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

Housing and Micro-Credit (Hogar de Cristo)

An organization somewhat analogous to Habitat for Humanity, this agency provides housing, education, health and other services for the thousands of persons streaming into the “invasion” or squatter communities that encircle Guayaquil. The initial focus of the agency has been to provide low-cost prefabricated dwellings using materials native and adapted to the city’s wet, tropical climate; but a new area of emphasis is on adult education focused on developing micro-business and micro-financing opportunities particularly for women living in “invasion” communities. Students assist with housing construction, English language instruction, and educational efforts with “invasion” community women connected to micro-business development.
Population Served: “Invasion” or squatter community mothers and children
Areas of Service: Construction / ESL / Micro-business

Low Income Medical Clinic (Luchadores del Norte)

This public health  center, located in a squatter community in Guayaquil, provides medical assistance to nearly 600 families. Clinic, laboiratory and pharmacy services are available. Volunteers help with education and information activities about health and prevention.

Population Served: “Invasion” or squatter community residents
Areas of Service: All Ages / Healthcare / Health education

Ecological reserve and conservation agency

Guayaquil is surrounded by two unusual and fragile ecological assets: the tropical dry forest of Cerro Blanco, home to one of the world’s most spectacular and endangered macaws; and the mangrove forests which form a tidal buffer between the city and the Gulf of Guayaquil. This private, non-profit organization operates the Cerro Blanco ecological reserve as well as a protected mangrove forest near the fishing village of Puerto Hondo, both on the outskirts of the city. Students are engaged both in ecological conservation projects as well as education outreach activities to both city and local residents at both locations.

Population Served: Environment and residents of Guayaquil, Cerro Blanco, and Puerto Hondo
Areas of Service: Environment / Conservation

Ecological Restoration and Historical Eco-Tourism Center (Parque Historico Guayaquil)

An ecotourism project and living museum that has restored 3 different ecosystems (a swamp, a humid forest, and a rain forest) plus a system of medicinal plants that are shown to the public for educational purposes. It is a cultural, educational zoological and recreational center made of three zones: wildlife (native and rescued animals), Traditions (interactive shows and events) and Urban Architecture historical recreations. Volunteers mostly work in the area of wild life (fauna and flora).

Population Served: Varied
Areas of Service: Conservation / Environment / Education

Healthcare and rehabilitation center for “invasion” community residents (Fundacion Carino)

A non-profit organization that helps poor families in two locations in the city’s “invasion” communities by providing regular medical care and health education, the foundation is also dedicated to the rehabilitation of young children (infancy to 5 years old) suffering from the effects of malnutrition. Students have performed a wide range of tasks, such as checking the weight and measurements of children, feeding them, giving them nutritional supplements and vitamins, helping with patient intake interviews, assisting therapists with early stimulation routines, and providing general recreation activities for children.

Population Served: “Invasion” or squatter community residents
Areas of Service: Healthcare / Nutrition / Recreation      

Fundación Padre Damien

A mission designed to help people infected with Hansen’s disease (formerly known as leprosy) to live with dignity. The mission also provides patients with daily needs. This foundation provides medical care seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. It also provides well-balanced meals each day, physical therapy, medicine and basic sanitation services. Volunteers are needed in the following areas: nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, wound care specialties, recreational therapy, arts and crafts teacher. At the moment, the foundation has particular needs for work in: arts and handcrafts, hospital maintenance, informal English classes, and gardening.

Population Served: Elders who have or have had Hansen’s Disease
Areas of Service: Healthcare / Elderly / Recreation

K-12 School for children and adolescents from low-income families (Colegio Jose Domingo Santistevan)

A partner school of Espíritu Santo University, this school provides kindergarten, elementary, and high school education to students who come from economically disadvantaged families. It is located at the foot of Santa Ana Hill (where Guayaquil was founded), and welcomes international students to serve as teacher aides in English, Spanish, sports and art classes.

Population Served: Children and low-income families
Areas of Service: Education / Children & Youth / Recreation / ESL / Teaching/tutoring

Occupational Therapy center for mentally challenged adults (Fundacion AMAR)

A not-for-profit private organization founded in 1984 that provides physical and occupational therapy to handicapped adults. sports and recreation, arts and crafts, Volunteers are more than welcome to participate in physical therapy activities as well as in the development of fundraising strategies. This foundation supports itself by selling crafts, bread, and eggnog.

Population Served: Mentally challenged adults
Areas of Service: Special education / Physical therapy / Fundraising / Recreation

Residential home for homeless girls (Sor Dominga Bocca)

A significant social problem in low-income neighborhoods of Guayaquil is that of girls (4-18 years) who have been turned out of their homes or otherwise left to fend for themselves on the city’s streets. This agency provides a home for such girls as well as access to elementary and secondary education and health care. Students provide essential back-up services to the staff of the home, including help with academic tutoring, arts projects and recreation.

Population Served: Homeless girls
Areas of Service: Social services / Homelessness / Recreation / Women's issues / Teaching/tutoring

School for children who work on the streets (Fundacion Crecer)

A significant number of children and youth in Guayaquil come from families who work on the streets during the day and expect their children to work with them rather than go to school. The goal of this agency is to provide nutritional meals and an educational alternative for these children, linked to efforts to help parents understand the importance, for the future well-being of their children, of education rather than work on the streets. Students serve as aides for teachers in classrooms as well as provide tutoring, recreation and companionship for participating children and youth. Families are provided with educaiton around domestic violence, nutrition and more.

Population Served: Children who work on the streets
Areas of Service: Education / Recreation / Children & Youth

Various Hospitals and Clinics for the the economically disadvantaged, physically and mentally challenged (Fundacion AMAR)

Populations served: infants, children, teens, adults, elderly
Areas of service: healthcare, physical and occupational and thermal massage therapy, nutrition, sports and recreation, art therapy, yoga and tai-chi classes

Public Health Center

Foundation that supplies low-cost medical care and public health and nutrition and hygiene education

Population served: economically disadvantaged
Areas of Service: healthcare (clinical, pharmacy, laboratory), health education

Day Care Center and Elementary School (Casa Cuna)

Population served: economically disadvantaged  pre-school and elementary aged  children
Area of service: education/tutoring/recreational and art activities

Urban Renewal Projects

Population Served: urban inhabitants
Areas of Service: conservation, eco-tourism, recycling, reforestation, education, fundraising

Waterkeeper International

Works to safe guard the ecological integrity of the Salado Estuary, a biodiversity rich and culturally unique area that is the source of Guayaquil's drinking water.

Areas of Service: conservation/environment

Animal Welfare (Rescate Animal)

This foundation focuses on the rescue and care of all abandoned, abused and mistreated animals. Has shelter, sterilization, vaccination, vet and adoption services.

Population served: All species of urban fauna
Areas of service: animal rescue/education/ vet care/ shelter and adoption. Students can participate in event planning, marketing, graphic design, animal health and welfare service. Good Spanish is required.

Animal Humane Society (FADA)

Non-profit that cares for abandoned, maltreated and injured household pets and street animals. Has shelter, sterilization, vaccination, vet and adoption services. Their mission is to promote respect for the lives of animals, recognizing their physical and emptional needs.

Population served: domestic animals
Areas of service: education/ vet care/ shelter and adoption/event planning


Things to do

Travel and excursions that broaden your perspective

Guayaquil academic excursions generally include visits to Quito, the historic capital; the Andean mountain towns, including Otavalo (world-famous for its handcrafts market); the Cotopaxi Volcano; the line marking the equator (Mitad del Mundo); Cuenca, the capital of the Azuay province; El Cajas National Park; and local NGOs. A four-day trip to the headwaters of the Amazon River and/or a trip to the Galápagos Islands may be available for an additional cost. Specific field trips depend on conditions and events in Ecuador at the time of the program.

Specific field trips depend on conditions and events in Ecuador at the time of the program but may include some of the following:

  • Six Day Orientation Tour in Quito (including Otalvo Craft Market, Cuicocha Crater Lake, Salasaca, Riobamba, Chimborazo National Park)
  • Colonial City of Cuenca
  • Cajas National Park
  • Inca Ruins of Ingapirica
  • Ecuadorian Coastal Region
  • Manglares Churute Ecological Reserve

****Optional multi-day Galapagos Island Boat Tour for an additional cost and to be arranged directly with the Guayaquil Progam Director. Parade