Hello from Quito, Ecuador!
I’m sitting in my new room, listening to the sounds of the busy street that I live on. In one week, I have already learned so much and done so much that I can barely believe it. It hasn’t been an easy week, but it’s been a good one and I’m so thankful.
First things first, I love my host family. My EcuaMama and my hermana here are absolutely amazing. They are both so kind, have a great sense of humor, and have given me so much grace in my less than ideal Spanish skills. I’m so excited to continue to get to know them and live with them this semester.
Most of the week has been spent in IES Orientation. We’ve spent a lot of time learning about safety, cultural customs, and daily life here. One of the highlights of the classroom portion of Orientation for me has been learning Ecuatorianismos (common phrases here in Ecuador) and Quichuismos (phrases from the indigenous language Quichua that are popular here). My two favorites are qué chévere (very cool!) and achachay (the English equivalent to brrr when one is cold). It’s fun to know some of the local slang and to be able to use it in conversations.
IES also did a great job making sure we got out into the city during the week. On Day 2 of Orientation, we had an extra long lunch break, so a group of us went walking in La Parque Carolina, which is a gorgeous park right across the street from the IES Center. On Thursday, we spent the late afternoon and evening exploring the historic district of Quito. We visited La Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is a huge church with impressive architecture. However, instead of gargoyles like those in Europe, all of the gargoyles on this church are animals that can be found in the Amazon Rainforest or the Galapagos Islands- a really cool representation of the culture here. We also visited the Ecuadorian equivalent of the White House, a serene monastery, and El Panecillo. El Panecillo is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, which is on a giant hill in the middle of the city. We went at sunset, and the views were absolutely amazing. On Friday, Juan Carlos, one of the staff members at IES took us on an adventure around the city- through a park, to the mall to buy cheap cell phones, out to lunch, through the party district (Gringolandia, as the locals fondly call it), and on the most crowded bus of my life.
Yesterday was the highlight of my time here so far. We traveled out of Quito into the mountains, visiting a huge waterfall, a local indigenous town, Otavalo (a giant indigenous market), and la Laguna de Cuicocha (a beautiful lake in the crater of a volcano surrounded by mountains). Overall, we spent 14 hours together as a group, which lead to a lot of laughter and bonding. I genuinely love everyone in my program and am excited to spend the semester exploring Ecuador together.
As fun as all the adventures have been this week, culture shock is definitely a thing and it’s definitely affecting me. Here are some new things that I’m adjusting too:
-Personal Space: anyone who knows me knows that I love having space and am not extremely fond of physical touch. However, I’m quickly getting over my need for personal space. In Ecuador, it’s custom to greet everyone with a hug and a kiss on the cheek (un beso y un abrazo), and I’m starting to enjoy (!!) this practice.
-Riding the Bus: I have about a 20 minute bus ride to school everyday. The buses here are less organized than in the US and I’m learning how to pick the correct bus to get onto. In addition to this, they are so crowded! I’ve never been pressed up against so many people in my life. Like I said, I’m quickly getting over my need for space haha. This week I have to start riding the bus without my host mom or sister, but I think I’m ready!
-Meals: Here, breakfast and dinner are relatively small, whereas lunch is the main meal. For breakfast, I usually have a cafecito or a tecito (which is a coffee or a tea) along with bread, fruit, and jam. It’s perfect and I love this meal. My host mom is a great cook and I enjoy the food here.
-Altitude: Living at almost 10,000 ft above sea level makes me feel pretty weak sometimes, especially when I’m winded after climbing up one flight of stairs. However, I’ve adjusted well and feel great most of the time (PTL).
-Speaking Spanish: I know way more Spanish than I thought I did. I know way less Spanish than I thought I did. Sometimes I’m impressed by the things that come out of my mouth. Two seconds later I can’t remember the word for spoon. It’s hard, but I’m determined to keep improving every day.
Classes start tomorrow, and this weekend we’re hoping to travel. Overall, I love it here and I’m so excited about the semester ahead of me.