I know I start off every blog post with some statement of the sort, but it’s been a good week! Four weeks in and I absolutely love it here. I can already consider this the best, most influential semester of my life- the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned thus far have impacted me and will continue to impact me.
First, I LOVE the other students in my program. We’ve very quickly become amigos: we all love food, adventure, and laughter. These three things have created some great bonds. This week we’ve reflected a lot on how thankful we are to have such a genuine, hilarious group to embrace the semester with. On Thursday night, to celebrate the end of Week 3 of classes, we went out for margaritas at a cute outdoor Tex-Mex restaurant down the street from the IES Center. On Friday, we explored Cumbayá (a town on the outskirts of Quito, and yes, it’s pronounced like the campfire song) and Universidad San Francisco de Quito. On Saturday, we went on a class field trip to two museums and spent time eating ice cream, walking through botanical gardens, and sitting by the lake at Parque La Carolina. Today is Sunday and we’re hanging at a hip café, drinking coffee, and doing homework.
A highlight of Friday was going to see the movie “Sing” in Spanish at a theater in Quito. Watching movies in Spanish is a truly surreal experience: for the first 10-20 minutes, I had to actively concentrate on translating the movie and doing mental checks to make sure I understood what was happening. However, after a period of time, your mind adjusts to the language and you just watch it without thinking. When the movie ended, I had forgotten that I was watching it in Spanish. In the words of my IES amigos, we felt “shook” (in a good way) after this experience. We all agreed that it was a fun movie and it felt great to sit in a theater and be entertained for 2 hours. Sometimes, it’s the little things in life.
This week it hit me how far I’ve come as far as public transportation goes. On Friday night, my friend Becca and I took the bus back to our neighborhood after the movie and a walk around Parque La Carolina. The bus was incredibly crowded- one of the most crowded I’ve been on thus far in Quito. I was smashed against so many people and had zero personal space, yet we laughed the entire way home. “That was so fun!” Becca exclaimed when we finally broke free from the packed bus and walked out into the streets of our barrio, El Inca. I agreed wholeheartedly, and it was a good moment of reflection on my growth thus far. If that bus ride would’ve taken place during Week One, I would’ve been SO anxious. Yet here in Week Four, it was a total blast! This was a really great reiteration of the fact that growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone!
On a more serious note, it’s been very ~interesting~ to watch Trump’s presidency unfold from Ecuador. On one hand, I feel slightly disconnected from the events at home. On the other hand, Trump’s actions make up most of Ecuadorian news every night, so I’m still exposed to a lot of what’s going on in los Estados Unidos.
One thing I’ve become infinitely more aware of in the past week: The United States of America is not an island. I’ll say it again: we are not an island, isolated from the rest of the world. Our policy changes, economy, and actions have real and direct effects on multitudes of countries around the world, Ecuador included. Ecuador is currently in the midst of an economic recession and relies on trade with the United States for a large portion of their economy. (Fun fact: one of their main exports to the US is roses- most of the roses you buy come straight from Ecuador.) The threat of decreased trade with the US is very scary to Ecuadorians, who are already dealing with economic struggles and where over half of the population lives below the poverty line.
In addition to this, the anti-Latino/immigrant sentiments in the US right now are deeply felt by the people of Latin America. Why do you think Trump won? is a very common question that American students receive from Ecuadorians. However, in this question I can see a deeper, more personal question: do Americans hate Latinos?? I won’t sugarcoat it: people here are straight up worried about the US. Our current political climate is being seen and felt by the entire world.
Honestly, my heart is breaking as I see news of building a wall and suspending refugees. I’ve come very close to tears watching the news in the kitchen with my host family over these topics, which are very near and dear to me. We are in the most severe humanitarian crisis since WWII, and we are in danger of failing those who are suffering far greater than we can imagine. This is not a post intended to push my own views on anyone, but I do ask people to think with open hearts and minds! I firmly believe that if we lose empathy for people, no matter who they are, we have lost as human beings. Have empathy for the other side. Think about people who are outside of your nationality, race, ethnicity, economic status, political party, religion, etc. There’s a whole world out there and I believe that while we don’t need to agree on every issue, we should absolutely, absolutely love people well!!
Although I am loving my time here, one of the things I’m looking forward to the most upon my return home is getting to work with unaccompanied child immigrants and refugees in foster care for my social work internship. Time will tell how these kids are going to be affected (for realz- pray for them), but right now I’m incredibly grateful that I have the tools of a Social Work education and a Spanish language proficiency to help me work with, advocate for, and empower these populations in the US when I return.
All in all, watching this process from South America has been a unique and valuable experience to me. I’m learning a lot about how the USA affects the entire world, and this is not something I’ll ever forget.
In other news, I’ve almost been here for a month! My host mom has been teaching me to cook a few Ecuadorian dishes, which is awesome. On Thursday night, 18 of us will head to the coast for the weekend. Looking forward to some quality beach time!
Also- check out this music video. We watched it for my Spanish class this week and it’s a really beautiful reflection of the spirit/cultural diversity of Latin America.