Saturday, May 4, 2013

I wanna be the only one for miles and miles

I've finally recuperated enough to blog once again. Not that I was sick or hurt or anything, I just had such a busy weekend last weekend that it I couldn't believe how much it took out of me. I took an awesome road trip with Tori, Eva, and Nico to Alausi, Inga Perca, Cuenca, and Cajas National Park. Thank you so much to Nico for driving us everywhere! Cuenca is a good 8-10 hours away from Quito, so it was quite a trip. It was so nice to be in a car for it, though, because we were able to see different parts of Ecuador that I would not have gotten to see otherwise. Although it was a non-stop trip, I am so happy to have gone on it and can say it was definitely one of the best trips I've been on since I have been here (probably second after the Galapagos)

So our adventure started on last Thursday after classes. We drove about half way that night (roughly 4 hours) to Alausi. On that ride, though, we saw some of the most spectacular views of the mountains, such as Vulcan Cotopaxi. It was awesome having Nico with is because he seriously could tell us everything we wanted to know about anything, and he would simply pull over and ask anyone if he didn't know the answer.

Many of you who do not know about Ecuador probably don't know that it is one of the most bio-diverse nations in the world. As of now, and probably how it is going to be until the end, I have been to basically every region but the rain forest (I know, I suck. But it was either rainforest or Galapagos because the two are both so expensive). During this trip, we got to see something I really had never gotten the chance to experience before: a desert. This isn't quite like the Mojave or the Sahara because it's not completely barren, but it is still a desert nonetheless. Also, it is settled inbetween mountains, which is pretty cool if I do say so myself. So that was pretty neat to drive through.

That night, we pulled into Alausi somewhat late, but we got to say the very end of a group of indegenous women doing a traditional dance. Our hostel was pretty awesome that night, but we did not get to enjoy it all that much because because we had to wake up really early, but the reason was totally worth it. That morning, we went for a ride on the famous Nariz del Diablo train ride. In the early 20th century, President Eloy Alfaro connected the country through the railroads, an event that was monumental in the history of Ecuador and definitely crucial to the development of the country. Before this, there was basically no way to get from Quito to Guayaquil and vice versa. Although it is basically out of commission right now, it will soon be reopening (like July or August) as a tourist attraction. The part that we rode on has remained open this whole time, probably because of the dangerous history that comes with it. This stretch of railway is very sharp and is hard to get around. So it is obviously really fun. However, it is also one of the most deadly stretches as well. Nearly every single person that created this stretch, 2,500 I do believe (might have even been 25,000?) lost their life to connect this stretch. Talk about patriotism and dying for the well-being of your country! Hence, they said it was cursed by the devil himself. It also happens to look like a face with a pointy knows. And that is how the name Nariz del Diablo (Nose of the Devil) comes about. I loved at the end, we had the opportunity to dance with the local indegenous tribe! Not too mention that it was an absolutely breath-taking route!

Next, we started driving again with our next stop Inga Perca. This is the only perserved Incan ruins in Ecuador. This was also pretty awesome, but it would have probably been better if I knew a little more history behind it to begin with. There was the funniest old man in our group, who happened to kind of think he knew everything about Inga Perca. Anytime the lady said something he believed to be wrong, which was literally at every stop, he would say "Disculpa! Pero..." (Pardon me, but...) and would question her. Every single time, the tourguide defended herself, but it did not deter the gentleman from questioning her at every other stop.

So after Inga Perca, it wasn't too much further to Cuenca, the heart of our weekend. Nico's cousin lives there, so he was able to show us around a little bit and help us to find a place to stay. Cuenca was literally one of the prettiest cities I've seen. It is very well planned, and every single house and nearly every building have a red roof to make it look uniformed. Not to mention that it is also settled in the mountains and a river runs through it. What was awesome was that there was a free concert with a famous Ecuadorian singer (can't remember his name for the life of me) in the main park. We got a bite to eat, went to the concert for a bit, and walked around the city. I don't know what it is about cities at night, but something about them just gets to me. In that moment, I feel so small because I can see that there are so many different people that come with the lights, but yet somehow I have this feeling that everything is going to be okay. I mostly ge this feeling with Pittsburgh, but I definitely got it here as well. We took a bus trip the next morning, too, which was funny a unique experience in its own right because the bus almost left without Eva! She was off taking pictures, and they left early, Tori and I tried to make them stop, but they wouldn't. We then see her running like a madwoman down the street, and luckily we were stopped at a red light.

Despues de Cuenca, we camped out for the night in the nearby Cajas National Park. Talk about incredible. I've never been a huge nature person, but this literally took my breath away. I'll have to ju post the pictures on here because I seriously cannot describe these wonders. Plus, it always helps the people you are with as well. I don't remember the last time I had that much fun. Not that I don't have fun, but rather this was a whole different level. I felt something so different. On top of those mountains and next to the lagoons, with great friends beside me, I literally felt like anything in the world was possible. If God could create something this breathtakingly beautiful and keep it so well perserved, then anything just has to be possible. I've literally never felt so in touch with nature and with who I am as I did in that night.

On the way home, we stopped at a couple of gorgeous churches, learned a little more history of Ecuador, and saw a volcano erupt in the distance. Not too bad for a three day trip. It looks like, though, that it will be my last big trip in Ecuador. I couldn't be more thankful, though, to end on such a high note going into finals. Ecuador, we've sure had our ups and downs, but you'll always have a very, very special place in my heart. I will honestly never forget the friendships and memories that I have made here, and I all that I have learned about myself.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marcelo, el taxista, a.k.a my renewal of hope for mankind

One thing I should be doing more is mentioning the day to day aspects of life in Ecuador instead of just my more adventurous days. Truth be told, I am not that adventurous of a person. Yes, I like to portray to the world that I am, but there are a lot of days as well, days like today, that I just want to write, read, or watch a movie. The Quito weather just brings you down sometimes, like yesterday when we were on a walk and it started pouring. And let me just tell you, Quito rain is not the warm, refreshing rain that one might think would happen at 0 degrees latitude. Quito rain, because we are so high up, is freezing, like bone chilling cold. And, when you are as forgetful as I am when it comes to your material objects and have lost your raincoat and your umbrella, that rain is not fun. But that is againt the point of this blog. For today's blog is about a subpopulation of Quito. Yes, I am calling them a subpopulation because of the numerous amount of them.

Taxi Drivers.

Usually I refuse to take a taxi unless I am with someone else, even in broad daylight. Even if the sun is starting to go down, and the bus just happens to be there, I'm going to take the bus. First off 25 cents for the bus? Can't beat that! Plus, even though technically speaking there are more people that can rob me on the bus, I'd much rather just have my crappy Ecuadorian phone stolen than a taxi express kidnap me, take me to ATMs around town, force me to take out all of my money from my checking account, and then leave me on the side of the road in a part of town I don't know. Am I probably overreacting a little too much? Probably. Should I have realized the guy from the embassy in the beginning was probably trying to instill fear into us? Yea. Was watching Taxi Driver a few days before leaving for Quito a terrible idea? Absolutely.

Let me just also preface this by saying one of the first taxis I took, albeit in the middle of the afternoon, was probably the creepiest experiences I have ever had in my life. The driver basically pulled down a street I didn't know and made me get in the fron tseat. Super creepy. Luckily the only thing he really tried doing was grab my hand and pat my knee, but I was still freaked out. I sat as close to the door as possible for the rest of the trip. Hindsight, definitely could have been a hell of a lot worse, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

Well it turns out the other night I had to take a taxi by myself. Sure it was only 8 pm, but I didn't want to do it. Really, I just want to be able to drive places. It just so happens that this taxi is dropping a girl, probably about the same age as me, right in from of my building. Perfect. So after a little haggling of the price (he still swindled me for $5), I got in the taxi to go to La Mariscal. I wasn't too sure about him in the beginning. One of the first things he asked of course was what country I was from. Usually, as soon as you say the United States, the driver gets creepy, asks if you have a husband, asks to be your husband, etc. However, this wasn't the case that night.

Instead of being creepy, he asked what I was doing in Ecuador. When I told him I was studying, and that I am a Spanish and political science major. The talk got somewhat serious. He wanted to know what I thought of the political system and overall government infrastructure of Ecuador. He then went on to ask what I thought of the people of Ecuador and how they could improve. This guy wasn't like the rest of the taxi drivers...

I then asked had he always lived in Quito. He said no, but he had moved here 30 years ago to attend one of the universities. He became a taxi driver to add additional money to his salary to better support his family. He ended up loving it because he got to hear and share ideas about how to make the world a better place. He was happy to report that his 3 sons, ages 24, 22, and 16, were all doing well. The oldest son just got his medical license and the 22-year-old is in his third year of college to become and architect. He was extremely proud that he was able to make their dreams possible. Like any good parent, he slipped in, "you know, they are both single if you are interested..."

What really struck me as something more profound than the average taxi driver was that he loved being able to share ideas. He said that that is one of the most important things in the world-that we all share our ideas. That is the only way we are going to improve the world. According to him, there are two types of people out there: those who are doing jobs just for money and those that are wanting to make a difference. He said he could tell I was the type that wanted to make a difference. Because of him and this chance encounter, I really wanted to make sure that I keep focused on helping others instead of just worrying about making money. I know in the field of law that that can be difficult, but it is important. As we got closer to my destination, he told me his name and gave me his phone number so that I would have a safe taxi to call if I needed it. Thank you, Marcelo, for not only helping me realize that not all taxistas are creeps, and to realize that there are so many different ways to make a difference in the world, even if it is just sharing your ideas with passengers.


It´s a Hard Knock Life

I know I haven´t written a blog in awhile from the topics that the Office of Global Education have been giving us, but this one I feel really drawn to. The topic for this week is:  Having had an experience abroad has changed my perspective on international students at W&J in the following ways______________.” Being abroad myself now, I regret that I haven´t taken enough time to get to know the many international students that W&J welcomes every semester. It always seemed like they just wanted to keep to themselves, so I would try to stay out of their way. This is the first way my perspective has changed on international students. The majority of my friends here are other international students, predominately from the United States. Luckily, I have met some really good Ecuadorian friends as well, but they are mostly from classes that are very interactive and force me to talk. I have come to find that it is not that the international students don't want to meet knew people from our school. In fact, it's the exact opposite. They probably really do want to make new American friends, but it is just so much easier to stick with the other international students. As an international student, you feel completely overwhelmed by so many different aspects of the experience-food, transportation, language barriers, etc. It is actually really comforting to find others that are going through the same kind of conflicts as you, and you sometimes get stuck in what feels comfortable. I am really excited to be able to go back to W&J now and get to know the international students better so that I can make there time at W&J that much easier and more fulfilling.

Another aspect that I would definitely say has changed in my opinion of international students is that they made it seem so easy! Nothing against the USA (believe me, if my time abroad has done anything, it has strengthened my love of America and has made me really defensive of it!), but a lot of time we Americans have this idea in our heads that we are a little bit above the rest of the world. Because of this, I really did little to no preparation before coming to Ecuador. Seriously, that was the dumbest mistake that I could have made. My Spanish was pretty rough at first (at least speaking wise, reading and writing were pretty good). I saw so many international students coming into W&J that spoke what appeared to be perfect English and excelled in all of their classes. I just thought that studying abroad was a walk in the park. Wrong, definitely wrong. Students that come from other parts of the world have a lot more preperation going to the USA than American students going elsewhere. Instead of just going to their orienations with whatever their equivalent of the Global Education Office is, they researched, explored possiblities, and brushed up on their English. Not to even mention that they learn Enlish basically as soon as they can talk and take probably have of their classes in English all through their education. I guess what I am trying to say is many international students bust their butts so that they can study abroad, and that is why they make it seem easy. Not that it is easier, but they put more hard work into it.

Being abroad this semester has definitely helped me to look at people, cultures, and the world differently. Although there have been rough times when I could not wait to go home, the great times have definitely beat out any of the bad. I am so thankful that I can look at the world with an open mind now, and couldn't be more thankful for this experience.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Galapagos Adventure, yo

Well again I have failed you all as a blogger and have not blogged in two weeks. I'm so sorry for this!

 Now to the part you are all wondering about...THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!!! Seriously, I have never felt before like I was in paradise like I was in the Galapagos Islands. It was so weird at times because it's not like any other place you have ever been too. For example, one minute it looks like you are on any other tropical island with the bluest water you have ever seen and sand that is white as snow (sorry for stealing your line, Snow White). But then all of a sudden, you are surrounded by mangroves, so still pretty tropical, kind of everglade-ish in a way. But then, you turn another corner, and you are in a cactus forest! Yes, you read that correctly, a forest of huge cactus everywhere. And that was just on the beach! There were other parts in the highlands that looked like a regular forest, but then there were lava tunnels and lava rocks jutting out everywhere. This was all just on one island, Santa Cruz. I also visited Isabela, which is the biggest island despite Santa Cruz being the main island.

So where to begin? I guess the beginning, of course. We got to the Quito Airport (which by the way, just opened last month and now is like a million miles outside of Quito) early in the morning, ready to embark on our journey. Some people in the group already had plans, however myself and four others did not. Thankfully, Ivan's host mom hooked us up with a sweet deal in an amazing hostel. I shouldn't really call it a hostel because it was more like an apartment...we had 3 bedrooms for 5 people and a full kitchen all for $25 a night when it was regularly $45 a night. To steal a quote from the trip that Cam said constantly "that ain't bad, yo." Even though our hotel that was included in our tour was nice, it really seemed like it sucked because our first hostel was so freaking awesome.

So we just chilled mainly on that first night. it was a pretty long day of travels. But the next day, we decided to take a day tour to Isabela. This trip was amazing! We walked around a little island that was still pretty lava-like that was home to millions of marine iguanas and also to the white tip shark. There is this little creek type water-way right by it and we saw sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles all swimming together in perfect harmony. Got to love the Galapagos :) Later on, we had the amaziing opportunity of snorkeling with these creatures! This was seriously the best day of snorkeling because everything was so clear and perfect. We also got to swim at the beautiful beach on Isabela, which again was nothing short of perfect.

The next day, three of our comrads took a day tour to Floreana, however Joe and myself decided to stay on Santa Cruz and do a little exploring of our own. We first went to Tortuga Bay, la playa mas hermosa en el mundo. Miles of sands with perfectly blue water, but then it also had mangrove and cactus forests where the animals could hang out. We had to have seen around 25 or so iguanas just hanging out under the mangroves. It was so cute when one would literally put its arm around the other one. Then, when we are actually just hanging out at the beach, 3 sting rays sawm right up to the shore and started playing with everyone. Now how cool is that?

Next we went to Las Grietas, where you can go cliff jumping. I didn't end up doing it because I was too scared to climb up the steep cliff, but Joe did it with ease. The only bad thing was it was a hike and a half to each of these places...30-45 minutes for Tortuga Bay and then about 15 across lava rocks to get to Las Grietas.

On Monday, then, everyone was reunited and we began our tour. 17 USFQ study abroaders and our guides Janina and Luis. These days were nothing short of amazing. We saw the giant tortoises, both at the Charles Darwin Center and at a coffee farm, went into a lava tunnel, did some more snorkeling, took a tour of the bay, and went back to Tortuga Bay. Although I would have definitely liked to see more islands, I am so thankful that I had this opportunity to experience Santa Cruz at least fully. Also, we had such an amazing guide that seriously new so much and helped us out in so many ways even outside of the tour. Lastly, it was awesome to get to know everyone better and share this once in a lifetime experience with them.

I feel like I have so much more to say, but yet I can't seem to put the last week into words. You all know how rare it is to have me left speechless...

Well, I definitely over spent my budget and need to be super stingy for the next six weeks, but this trip definitely was for sure vale la pena (worth  the pain)! I would do it again in a heartbeat-this truly was the most amazing experience in my life. If you ever have the chance to visit the Galapagos, I am begging you to take it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lucky Me

I'm so sorry that it has been over 3 weeks everyone! I really have been super busy, I promise! Well, maybe not super busy, but busy enough. I'm not going to necessarily write out for you in this one blog what has been going on, but I am hopefully going to post a few blogs within the next few days...

First off, I am having sever problems with concentrating the last couple of days because I GO TO THE GALAPAGOS ON FRIDAY!!! So yay! There is my little quick rant about my excitement for the week to come! Can't wait to share my experience there with all of you soon :) Oh, and HAPPY ST. PATTY'S DAY TO ALL OF MY FELLOW IRISH!!! Ok got that out of the way, too :)

Next, today has not necessarily been mmy best day emotionally speaking. Not that I have necessarily felt sad, but more that I have had a lot of feelings, like a rollercoaster worth. I think it happened because it is Sunday. Sunday just has always seemed to be my favorite day and my day to really think. So cheesy, I know. I mean it's not like I just sit down and say now you must think of something very deep and profound, but it's more or less the only day my brain is not overly occupied with other stuff. I love Sundays. I love going to church. I love going to my grandparents when I'm home to have pasta, watch whatever sporting event is on tv, and hear the same old stories over and over again that never really get old. When I'm at school, I love going to brunch with my friends. I love having chapter or whatever Delta Gamma function there is. I loved having to write my officer report and going to CMT this past year. It's just an all around great day for me. I relax on this day, and even if I'm not relaxing, I'm still doing something that I love. Clearly, this is the day I miss most while I'm here in Ecuador.

In Ecuador, I basically do nothing. My family usually goes somewhere, like to the cousins' house or something. Not really sure where it is that they go, but they left pretty early this morning. I basically sat around attempting to do work all day, and then went to work on a project with a friend later on. Basically, though, I was left to dwell on a lot of thoughts, some good, some bad. Today was really the first day in a while that I've felt ready to go home, but not because I was sad. I just noticed things a lot more today that reminded me of home. Things that I feel like I have taken for granted until this point in my life. Things that I miss and cherish deeply. I guess, since it is St. Patrick's day and all, you could say they are the things I feel "lucky" to have in my life.

The first thing that really got me was seeing young children on the bus with their parents. I mean I see this everyday, but it hit me today. It reminded me of how great of parents I have. First of all, I thought to myself that my mother probably would have never taken me on a bus filled literally to the doors with people, but that beside the point. Or is it? My mom would do absolutely anything for my brother and I so that we could live the best life possible. She would have sacrificed everything, worked two jobs, etc. instead of making us ride a bus where we would be exposed to numerous disease and possibly abducted. I can honestly say that I have never seen any human being display as much love as my mother does for her family. I mean, I might be a little bias, but my mother would literally do anything for her loved ones.

My dad on the other hand...well he might have looked at it at as an adventure more than my mom. Ehhh maybe not, but the story about this dad on the bus today, which really made me emotional, is something that my dad would do. So I was waiting for every at the Rio Coca station for my bus literally forever. It finally comes, and this dad with his 3 kids..two running along side him and one on his shoulders and just make it onto the bus. This dad obviously doesn't have it all together as far as parenting goes by a mom's standard, but his kids were some of the happiest kids I have seen in Quito. He played peak-a-boo with the little one the entire ride, and then tapped the older boy on the head, teasingly blaming the toddler. All three of the kids laughed histerically. It reminded me so much of when my mom first went back to work when I was in 2nd grade and Vince was in Kindergarten. We literally made Stove Top stuffing or mac'n'cheese with something simple like cheeseburgers every night, but we sure had fun doing it!

So, I'm obviously lucky to have the best parents in the world, and I am sorry that I sometimes lose sight of that fact. I am so thankful for days like today that remind me how good I have it. I hope to be at least half the parent that these two have been to me.

Also, I read a lot about the 30 for 30 about NC State today. Unfortunately I couldn't watch it from here, but it made me think about Jim Valvano. Which of course, knowing me, made me go watch all kinds of videos and read a whole bunch of stuff about Jimmy V. This was really that extra boost that I needed to keep trekking on. If Jimmy V. didn't give up, neither am. Yea, today might have been a little more emotional and I didn't do anything overly exciting like rafting, but I felt like a human again. Sometimes we may have this false sense of being happy, but that's because we aren't feeling. You have to feel to be alive. You have to have goals and dreams. You have to keep your enthusiasm to get what you want. You have to feel and not just go through the motions. So thank you, Jimmy V., for helping me realize this. And thank you, Quito, for making me realize how lucky I have been, and how appreciative I need to still be.

Well, since I've gone through my last pack of tissues and have taken over an hour and a half to just write a few paragraphs, I think I'm going to hit the hay. Hopefully I will have more time to write about my adventures sometime this week!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Life's little surprises

Well hello again everyone. Time for another weekly blog, and I promise you this one might just be the best. Well maybe not from a literary point because I am just going to be narrating my week. But this week has been really remarkable without really meaning to be. Three interesting topics to talk about: Trivia Night on Tuesday, Day of on Wednesday, and meeting my new Ecuabuddy today. Plus a surprise at the end! I guess I should clarify first that we didn't have class on Wednesday because of the opening of the new Quito airport, which really isn't in Quito, kind of how "the University San Fransisco de Quito" really isn't in Quito either haha.

So on Tuesday night, then, Claire and I decided that we wanted to go to trivia night at a bar called Finn McCool's...as did probably every other gringo living in Quito. Literally more than 75% of the international students from USFQ were there since we didn't have class the next day. Finn McCool has charity trivia night on Tuesday. It's an Irish pub owned by an Irish family, so everything is in English. Claire and I helped out a team next to us since all of the"regulars" already had their teams. After trivia had ended, we went to a bar that was literally called "No Bar" and met up with some of Claire's Ecuadorian friends from her soccer class. Dancing with them was seriously so much fun. People actually dance here, not just the good ole American bump and grind stuff. It doesn't matter how much of an idiot you look like either as long as you are having fun! At least that is how I'm interpreting it? I might just be the stupid gringa that feels this way, but hey, I'm enjoying life right now.

Next, Wednesday was for sure an adventure and a half. I met up with Carley near her house around 10:30 so that we could meet some other friends at the Quito City Museum for a class. Well, it took us about 30 minutes or so to walk to the Trolley Bus on the other street, and then another 20 minutes or so on the bus. We were supposed to be there at 11:00, and I am sure you can all do the math. Luckily, nearly everyone else also grossly underestimated the time as well, and got there around the same time or after us. So after waiting around awhile, we finally go into the museum. Have to say I enjoyed it, but then again I always enjoy museums. Yes, I know, I just committed social suicide, but I think I can deal with it. This museum used to be one of the first hospitals, maybe the first, in Quito, so it was really cool because they had a lot of historical plaques and stuff to commemorate that, besides all of th other stuff from the city. They had a really cute display of an imaginary city that visitors and children created to show all of the different influences of the world on Quito. I noticed that there was nothing repping PA, so I added my own (really terrible) rendition of the Clemente Bridge and some good ole New Castle fireworks. I know it was nothing special, but I felt really proud to have my home there. :)

So after the museum, we walked around Centro Historico, got an almuerzo for $1.50, then headed back on the trolley. Next we switched buses and took it back to our station. We walked a couple of blocks to my local Super Maxi to get some snacks, and then we tried to head to the picnic that all of the international students were going to. Key word here is tried...

So we start walking to the park, which isn't necessarily close. We find this short cut entrance and literally start walking through trails. Like there is nothing to be seen anywhere. I was an idiot and didn't buy any snacks, so you know I was getting pretty ticked off at this point. We had no idea where we were going at all. Luckily, there were about 10 of us, so we were safe. I'm complaining the whole time we are trying to climb this mountain. I kid you not that this park is literally a mountain. Well maybe not a mountain, but pretty darn close to it. We turned around, but then this girl walking through the park on her way home from school told us we needed to go the other way. Not sure if she didn't understand us or wanted to trick the gringos, but we definitely needed to go the other way. When we finally get to the top (which we didn't have to do), there is this little community of not the nicest houses and dogs guarding each house. I thought that this was really interesting because everything is so modernized in Quito. I sometimes feel like I am not getting a genuine Ecuadorian experience, but this definitely made me see the class differences in a developing nation. Very interesting, but also very sad.

So once we all make it out of the neighborhood alive without being eaten by dogs, we keep trekking through the forest. I was starting to feel like I was in some sort of enchanted forest that we were never going to get out of, especially because it was getting later and later. We saw many oddities along the way, such as two bulls just tied up to trees in the middle of the forest, and also some wild llamas just running through the park.

Once we finally saw civilization, aka like maybe two people biking or running, we came to an overlook of the valley. This was literally the most beautiful view I have ever seen. We took so many pictures and got to see for miles and miles. My breathe was literally taken away...and I might have fallen down the path to get there, but I still got there. I just kept saying "I love my life" over and over again, to which Carley nicely reminded me that I was singing a different tune about 20 minutes before that. This crazy adventure that we went on was well worth it, and I made so many memories along the way.

We finally did make it to our destination, the picnic, but just as everyone was leaving. So we went back down the hill with them, and luckily one of the Ecuadorians had a car and took us to the restaurant/hookah bar people were going to. I didn't stay long because I had a test the next day, but I did eat some awesome shwarma, which was basically a chicken gyro.

So then on yesterday, I met my new Ecuabuddy, David. My other Ecuabuddy never really has contacted me at all after orientation, so David said I could join his group. It's somewhat of an interesting story how this came to be. He added me on Facebook the one day and then messaged me. I was surprised to see that he said he somehow knew a person who knows a person who works for my dad. At first I was going to tell him he had the wrong person because he said my dad was a doctor, and technically my dad isn't even though he works in the medical field. I'm glad this happened, though, because David is so nice and very genuine. I have kind of felt on my own here in Ecuador because all of my friends had Ecuabuddies that would do stuff with them or show them around. I am so lucky now to have a great Ecuabuddy! He also organized the Chiva last night, which is an open-air party bus essentially. It was so much fun and I hope we have another one before we leave.

And now to the surprise...I found out that THARY CHEA IS COMING TO VISIT!!!! That's right folks, Thary, one of my very good friends at school who I haven't seen since last year because she was in Quito last semester, will be spending her spring break here in Ecuador. I couldn't be more excited to see her!

Disclaimer: to keep it authentic, I don't proof read these, so sorry if there are any typos!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Biggest Adjustment...

As you might know (I think I've mentioned it before) the Office of Global Education at W&J has been kind enough to send us weekly prompts for possible blog topics. Sometimes I loosely tie them in with my other stories of being abroad, sometimes I've just been going off of my own adventures. This week's topic is “so far my biggest adjustment has been _____________ because……” For this blog, I'm going to focus on just that topic because I think that it is an especially important topic to address for any of my readers that are thinking of going abroad. Sometimes things that you never expect hit you like a brick wall while you are abroad, but other times, you know you should have seen it coming because you know how you are and how you react to certain situations.

I definitely should have seen that living with a different family was going to be a problem for me, yet that was something I looked for when I was trying to decide where to study abroad. I had the option of going to Pamplona, Spain, as well, but the fact that I would be living alone was a huge turn off for me at the time. I'm not sure why, but I was really comforted by the fact that all of the other program options had a homestay with a family. I should have realized, however, that I've always been sort of uncomfortable staying with other families for an extended, and also the fact that I've been living in dorms the past couple of years. I've been lucky that my roommate, Jenna, who I was paired up with freshman year has been, and is still, the best roomie I could ever ask for. So looking back, i should have seen this coming a mile away that my biggest adjustment would be my living situation.

Luckily, I do have a great host family that consists of my host mother and 14-year-old host sister. Even with a great host family, though, living with a host family is a HUGE adjustment. Think about it, you are sleeping, showering, eating in house that are essentially strangers. My family and I have connected from the start, but it is still really weird to think about sleeping in a house of people you don't really know. So I guess my first advice would be DO NOT think of them that way! The university you are attending has matched them up with you for a reason, and most of the time they have had many students in the past.

Also, you will start to notice that the smallest things are different in each country, and those are things that you will really start to notice in your family because they are the people that you spend the most time with. It is very stereotypical to think, but I thought that my host family would be really close and always spending a lot of time together because that is how many Latin American families are portrayed in movies, tv, etc. in the US. One thing I've learned from my history class, though, is how different each Latin American country really is in culture. In Ecuador, the extended family is very close, but once we go home, everyone kind of does there own thing. My host mom works until 7 or 7:30 and doesn't get home until 8. My sister goes to her dad's or cousins' after school and then her mom picks her up on her way home from school. We eat, and then everyone goes to their own rooms. This was super hard for me to adjust to because my family usually does stuff together until someone goes to bed. This was definitely the hardest part of living with a different family-I wasn't used to being so alone in a "home." Sure, there are times at W&J where I am alone for long periods of time, but that is different because that connection of home and family time isn't there like it is when living with a host family. It has helped a lot to talk to my friends here about my situation because I can see that it just isn't my family that does this.

Lastly, I know that they are basically getting paid to be my lodging, but I still feel bad about going out at night, coming back late etc. because I few them as my family. At the same time though, I want to go out with my friends occasionally because that is what I am used to at school. I always feel bad at home coming home super late because at least one of my parents have always stayed up for me, even if it meant just walking home from my best friend's house who lives 3 houses up the road. My host mom doesn't do that her, which makes me feel a little better about going out, but the guilty feeling is still there.

Obviously, there are many perks to having a host family as well, and I am definitely happy I chose a school that uses this system. First of all, no way that I would ever have learned to get to school  without my host mom Sandra! Also, it's nice to have someone come give me a hug when I'm feeling homesick or watch MTV with my host sister Rafaela (she's at that early teen stage whenever you still think Jersey Shore is "super cheverre"-super cool in English!). You won't believe how much watching Snookie be an idiot will make you feel better. Seriously, you probably make less of a fool of yourself in a strange culture and different language than she makes daily! Also, I would have no idea how to do the simplest things like get to the grocery store or get my internet setup. Having a host family is definitely worth it, but it is the biggest adjustment because you are living all the time in the culture. If you get an apartment or dorm with other internationals that probably would not be the case because you would be speaking in English and doing very American things.

Other adjustments like transportation and food might be emphasized in your daily life, but that's because it isn't something that is always right there. Plus, at least in Ecuador, there really is no adjusting to the transportation system or the food. You just have to dive head first and hope the water isn't freezing. I have found better routes to take (i.e. walking a longer distance to get to a different stop that is less crowded) but I still have yet to find an adjustment to the food. -_-