2006-07 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
School: Eastside High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Guayaquil Centenario Rotary Club
District 4400, Ecuador
Hola! My name is Mélanie and I’m from Gainesville, Florida. I was born in France and am 16 years old. I’m a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate Program at Eastside High School. I live with my mom and younger brother Christophe. One of my favorite things to do is play sports. I love soccer and basketball and I also run cross country and track. I sing in the chorus at school, and I help teach the little kids at Sunday school. I also enjoy listening to music, watching movies and spending time with my friends.
I can’t wait to go to Ecuador! I hope I learn a lot about the language, the culture and the people. I know that I’m going to have a great experience and I know that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Thanks Rotary for giving me this life changing opportunity!
September 14 Journal
I can't believe that I've already been here for one month! The time has gone so fast. I've met so many nice people and seen a lot of beautiful things. My family is so great. They have helped me so much with learning the language and getting adjusted.
I just started school on September 11 and it's a lot of fun. My school is called Liceo Naval and it's a military school. I have three different uniforms and I have to wear a hat everyday. Every morning we have to stand in formation and sing the Ecuadorian National Anthem. My class always gets into trouble. We always have to run laps and do squats as punishment. It's hard being at a military school because it's very strict.
I've only been in school for four days, but I already have tons of friends. Their names are Mafer, Veronica, Pili, Karla, Jess, Andrea, Oscar, Michelin, Sebastian, Andres and Jonathan. I'm the only exchange student at my school and everyone knows me. I think I met half the school on the first day because everyone wanted to help and ask me questions about the United States. I'm part of the soccer team and we are going to play our first game very soon!
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I go to Spanish classes with the other exchange students. There are seven of us and there are no boys! Four of us are from the United States, one is from Canada, one is from Austria, and one is from Germany. We are all really close. They are such nice people. I've seen many beautiful sights already such as Salinas (a beach), the Malecon and Las Peñas. I'm having so much fun here and I have learned so much about the culture and the language!
October 23 Journal
The last month here has been great. I've done a lot of traveling. Two weeks ago I went to Quito with my family and my best friend Ann-Christin, a German exchange student. We took a bus at 11:00 at night and it took nine hours to get there! I got to meet my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Everyone was really nice and I can't wait to go back. We also went to Mindo, which is a little town 2 hours from Quito. My cousins from Quito came and we hiked and swam. We stayed in cabins in the forest and it was a really neat experience.
I also got to experience what the elections are like here. On October 15th, my sister had to get up at 6.00 to work at the election booth. Here, everyone has to vote so there were tons of people there. The voting is held in different locations and there are separate lines for men and women. They can only vote one at a time and they get a huge piece of paper with all of the candidates names and pictures on it. There were a lot of candidates running for president, I think there were almost 30. After 5.00 no one can vote anymore because they start counting the votes. They don't have electronic machines to count the votes so the people working at the booths have to count them all! So far they have it down to 2 candidates. In November there are more elections to decide who the president will be. It was really interesting to see how different their elections are from ours.
I just got back from my first Rotary trip on Saturday. We went to Manabi, Portoviejo, and Canoa. The beaches were beautiful and the water was nice. We had soccer and volleyball tournaments and we chose a king and queen of the paseo, which means trip. The queen was the girl from Taiwan and the king was an American boy. We had a parade and everyone walked through the town holding their flags. All the people cheered for us as we walked by and it felt really nice to be welcomed by so many people. I met students from all over the world and I can't wait for the next trip so that I can see them again. This last month has been amazing and it has really flown by! Thank you Rotary for this opportunity. It's an experience that I will never forget!
November 20 Journal
I've been here for 3 months!!! I can't believe it. So much has happened like every month. 3 weeks ago we had a 4 day weekend and my family took me to Salinas again! I love it there. It was kind of cold (by Ecuadorian standards) but I swam anyway. We also visited another beach. It was amazing and the waves were huge. On the way there and on the way back we got flat tires!! Luckily my dad learned how to fix the tire from the first time, so the second time it didn't take long to fix. We stopped at a roadside stand and had cold coconut juice!! It was so good! The coconuts were huge! It was my first time trying coconut juice and I loved it.
My sister's birthday was the 10th of November, and we had a party for her on the 11th. It was fun. We went to the Navy Club and swam and went bowling. I got to meet her friends too. Later on, back at our house, we had a cake and threw it on her!! It's the tradition here. The birthday girl/boy gets their face pushed into the cake!!! It was fun! The next day we put up Christmas decorations. It's so early but everyone starts putting their decorations up after Halloween. My family said it's because they don't celebrate Thanksgiving and so Christmas is the next big holiday! I helped decorate the tree and nativity set. It's huge! My mom loves Christmas and she collects nativity pieces. I feel like it should be getting colder since it's almost Christmas, but it's actually getting hotter!
I had my first soccer game the other day! It was different from the usual soccer games. This kind of soccer is called futbol sala. The field is made out of carpet and it's smaller than the regular fields. So are the goals. Also, instead of throwing the ball in you're supposed to kick it and it can only be on the line for 4 seconds. Only 5 people play at a time and the halves are only 15 minutes each. We lost 9-0, but it was still fun.
I've had a lot of fun this month. The time is flying by, but I've enjoyed every minute of it so far! Thank you Rotary and anyone who made this possible. It's truly an amazing experience.
December 20 Journal
It's been four months and I don't want to leave. I've made so many good friends here, I love my host family and Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen!!! So much has happened that I don't know where to start.
First, all of the exchange students in Guayaquil got together and planned a Thanksgiving dinner for our host families. It was really fun. The day before we went to the store and bought a huge turkey, vegetables and desserts. The cart was piled high and we were all very excited. Even the girls from Canada, Austria and Germany helped. They couldn't wait to learn how to make a Thanksgiving dinner.
The next day, we went to Caroline's house and cooked from 9 in the morning until 7: 30 at night!! It was interesting making Thanksgiving dinner without the same ingredients that we have in America. They don't have pumpkin pie mix here so we had to make little apple pies instead. We had to use empanada crust, but they turned out to be really good. Our host families came and they had a really good time. They loved the food.
They also had elections this year on November 26th. It was really hot and a lot of people had to vote outside. People were really excited; they were honking and waving flags around trying to get last minute voters to vote for their candidates.
Two weeks ago, we went to a retirement home and danced with people. It was fun. All of the exchange students were there and we gave everybody cake and soda. Then we danced with them and they were really happy.
Then, on Thursday we went to a town called Samborondon. It was really poor. We went to a school and brought presents to the kids. The school was one building with only 2 small class rooms. The kids were very excited to get their presents. It was an amazing experience.
The other day at school we took a trip to the jail. It was the carcel de mujeres, the women's jail. When we got there, the kids ran up to us and hugged us. They were so excited to see us! The jail was a huge open building surrounded by four extremely high walls. There were separate buildings where the women slept and there was one whole building for only kids and their moms. There were also some seesaws, a slide and a few swings for the kids to play on. I felt bad for the kids, but it was nice to see their faces light up when they saw the presents that we brought for them.
Time has gone by so fast. I want it to stop, because I don't want to leave. I have enjoyed every minute of my life here!
January 19 Journal
I spent my first Christmas away from home this year. It was a little hard, but I was so busy that I didn't have time to be too sad about not being with my family for Christmas. School got out on December 22 and that night my class had a party. We did a gift exchange and we ate a big dinner. Then, they had a few people get up and talk about everything that had happened during the year and I was one of the people they chose to speak. I was pretty nervous, but I was able to make a speech all in Spanish!! All of my friends were really excited for me!
The night before, I had a party with the other exchange students. It was in a 33 story building called the Bankers Club of Guayaquil. It was amazing. We all had to dress up in fancy dresses or pants and the food was delicious. I took a lot of pictures of the restaurant and we went upstairs to take pictures of the city from up high. We also had a gift exchange and we each talked about everything we have learned and seen so far this year.
On December 23rd, we left for Quito at 5 in the morning! It took us 7 hours to get there, but my sisters and I slept most of the way so the trip wasn't too bad. When we got there our aunts, uncles and cousins were all at our grandparents' house and we had big lunch of turkey, salad, rice, soup and dessert. Then we talked with the family for a while. My sister Lorena and I stayed at our cousin Pablito's house and we stayed up until 3 in the morning playing Monopoly. The next day we visited my dad's side of the family and then went back to our other grandparents house. My family called me to wish me Merry Christmas and then we opened presents. We had another big dinner. The next day we went to church. I also got to go to the middle of the world which was so amazing!! I have a picture of my feet, one on one side of the equator and the other on the other side!! Christmas in Quito was really fun!
New Year's in Ecuador is a huge party!! Earlier in the day, we went out to buy el año viejo which means the old year. They are big dolls made out of paper, wood and firecrackers that you burn at midnight. People here really get into it. They have all different sized dolls and there are so many different colors and characters to choose from. They have interesting traditions here. One is to eat 12 grapes 12 minutes before midnight. You eat one per minute and after every grape you make a wish. We also wore pink pins on our shirts because pink is supposed to bring good luck. At midnight, everyone came out of their houses to burn the dolls. They pour gas on them and then light them. It was really hot and very loud. Everywhere you looked there were huge fires! My sister and I also ran around the block with backpacks. That is supposed to bring you a year full of traveling!
I learned so many new traditions that I want to bring back to the United States. It was my first time away from my family for Christmas and New Year's, but I had such a great time. I've already learned so many new things and met a lot of new people. I feel like I belong here. I can communicate with my friends and family and even though I've only been here for 5 months I feel like I've been here forever. It's going to be hard to go back because while I'll be going back to my original family, I'll be leaving my new family behind. This year has been the most amazing year of my life so far!
March 2 Journal
Another month has flown by, I can't believe it. This month was the first time I celebrated my birthday away from home, but it was awesome! My sister woke me up the morning of my birthday and my family came into my room singing and they each had a present. After I opened the presents I went downstairs to eat breakfast. There were 17 pink balloons and pieces of confetti hanging from the walls and the lamps!! For breakfast we had eggs and bacon which was delicious. Then my sister and I went to get our nails done. When we got back, my mom had a huge feast for us. There was pizza, chocolate fondue and birthday cake! I invited my friend Ann-Christin over to celebrate with us. We had a small food fight and Ann-Christin, Lorena and I all ended up covered in chocolate! Then I got a face full of cake because here, the tradition is to push the birthday boy/girl's face into the cake!!!!!The cake was really good. Once we cleaned up, we all went to the beach. Once we got there, we played a board game and went to the movies. I'll always remember my 17th birthday in Ecuador!!
The Tuesday after my birthday, my counselor called and asked if I could come to the Rotary meeting with him. My club had a cake for me!!! February was pretty much one big party, because we also celebrated Carnaval. That is a holiday where people go wild. You get sprayed with everything you can imagine. I was only sprayed with water and foam, but some people were hit with eggs, flour and even ink. Everybody wears their old clothes during Carnaval because you get hit with all sorts of stuff!
Another great month has gone by with my friends and family and everyday that goes by brings me closer to the day I'll have to leave. It's hard for me to think that I won't be able to stay here forever. I feel so comfortable now. I have my friends and family and I can communicate without a problem. I didn't realize that it was possible to fall in love with a new family and country, the way that I have.
Besos y saludos a todos,
March 21 Journal
The highlight of this month was the Amazon trip!!! The Amazon is the most beautiful place that I've ever seen in the world! When we got off the plane we took a two hour bus ride before stopping to take a canoe. The scenery was incredible. Everywhere we looked we were surrounded by trees and everything was quite and peaceful. When we got to the Yachana lodge our guide, Jose, introduced himself and told us a little bit about the Amazon before we went to dinner. The food was delicious. We had soup, followed by meat and rice with vegetables and dessert. After dinner we chose our cabins and went to bed.
The next morning we had to wake up at 7 for breakfast. Then we got into the boat to go to the local market. It was small, but there were lots of useful things for sale, like batteries, toothpaste, soap, etc. Then we visited the Yachana school. It's a school for poor kids. They go to school in shifts. There are 2 different groups and each group is there for 28 days. The other 28 days that they have off, they go home to help their parents. They learn basic math, science, history, and English, but their main focus is learning how to use the Amazon and its resources to their advantage. The first day we met them, they were building ponds to raise fish. After leaving the school we got our faces painted using a fruit that the natives use in their ceremonies. We also got to hold a monkey!!!!! After lunch we swam in the Napo river and visited the butterfly garden. By the end of the first day, everyone was exhausted!
The next day we returned to the school. We split up into 3 different groups to help the students with their daily work. My group helped build fish ponds. We had to use machetes to clear the field and we had to dig. I couldn't take my eyes off of our beautiful surroundings! The digging and clearing was hard work, but it felt good to help the students, and we got to experience what they do everyday. After lunch we went on a hike. We learned about the trees and plants and how they can be used to cure illnesses. We also got to swing on a vine. I took lots of pictures. That night we went swimming again. The Napo was cold, but it felt good after the hard work that we'd done that day.
We went to the school again the next day, but it was raining. Since we couldn't do any work outside, we helped the students make a window out of bamboo for the school. After lunch we visited a shaman. He lived on a small island across form the lodge. When we got there it was smoky and the guide explained to us what we were going to do. The shaman cleansed us by waving leaves around us and blowing smoke on us. It was an interesting experience. Some people form the Amazon go once a week to cleanse their conscience. After the cleansing we learned how to use a blow gun and a lance.
On the way to the school the next day, we went through the local town. The local school was having a graduation ceremony so we stopped and watched. The three kids who were moving on to the next grade had to bow down in front of the Ecuadorian flag and kiss it. It was a promise they were making to their country. We stopped and had watermelon too, before we finally got to the school. It was our last day to help the students and we planted seeds. After lunch we took the boat down the river. At a certain point we jumped out and floated all the way back to the lodge!! The current was strong and it was fun. That night we had a bonfire and ate marshmallows.
The last day we went on a 4 hour hike. The guide showed us bugs and we learned more about the plants and trees. It was a long hike, but it was fun. We had to ease through water and we got to swing on a vine again. It was sad because it was the last time that we would get to walk through the Amazon and enjoy its beauty. After lunch the guide taught us how to make baskets out of plants. It was really awesome and he told us that the natives actually use those kinds of baskets to carry fish, fruits, and other things they need. After dinner we packed our bags and went on a night hike. It was neat to see the rainforest by night. We saw lots of bugs that we hadn't seen during the day.
The next morning everyone was sad. We all had a great time together and the Amazon was amazing. After breakfast we got into the boat for our last 2 hour canoe ride. No one said much as we went down the river. We were all enjoying our last moment in the Amazon. Then at last came the time when we had to say goodbye to Jose, our guide, and we left.
I had a great time in the Amazon. I didn't know that anything could be so beautiful!!! Ecuador may be a small country, but it has everything from beaches to mountains to rainforest. Thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to come on this exchange. Muchas gracias mom, dad and everyone else who helped me be able to go to the Amazon. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
April 20 Journal
Yet another month has flown by! I can't believe that I only have 2 more months left. There are still so many things that I want to see and do. This month, my mom and brother came to visit. We had a lot of fun together. My whole family went to the airport to welcome them to Ecuador. They didn't come in until around 11 at night, so they were pretty tired. I stayed in the hotel nearby with them. In the morning, we got up early and went to my house for breakfast. My host mom had made eggs and we had bread and coffee. Then my dad, sister and I took them driving around Guayaquil. We showed them where my school was, where my sister worked and the Malecon which is sort of like a park where you can walk and relax. At night we went to Las Peñas. There are over 400 steps and at the top there is a light house and a church. After that we went home and had empanadas and watched the Gator basketball game!!! I've now made my host family Gator fans!!! Then we went back to the hotel.
The next day we went to my favorite place in all of Ecuador, Salinas. We left at 8:30 in the morning and arrived at 10:30. We went to the beach and talked. Then my host family took us to eat at a really great restaurant! My brother and mom had fish which they loved and everyone had a good time sitting around the table and talking. Everyone clicked right away, it was perfect. After that we all took showers before heading back to Guayaquil. Then we went out for yucca bread and yogurt which is one of my favorite foods!
On Monday we left for Quito, just my mom, my brother and I. My aunt, Tia Bachi, was at the airport waiting for us and she took us to the middle of the world. My brother and I took pictures with our feet on both sides of the equator and we took a family picture there too. They really enjoyed it. At my aunt's house, my family met my uncle and cousin. Then we all watched the final Gator basketball game together because my uncle loves basketball! We won, GO GATORS!!!
The next day my aunt took us to Otavalo, which is about 2 hours away from Quito. Otavalo is well known for its markets and my mom was really excited to go. Along the way we stopped and took pictures. The conversation in the car was interesting because my mom would talk to my aunt in English and my aunt would respond in Spanish. I had to do a lot of translating! Otavalo was a really nice town. Since we went on a Tuesday there weren't many tourists which was nice. We bought a lot of gifts for people back in the US. That night back in Quito, we found out that my dad (my real dad not my host dad) won the elections in his university and is now the president of the University of Reims in France!!!! Yay!!
Our last day in Quito was spent walking around looking at churches. We also went on the Teleferiqo, where we saw Quito from above. I'd been wanting to go and was really excited. It was cold, which was a nice change from the weather in Guayaquil. We went home for lunch and at 4 my cousin Pablito and his mom picked us up to take us to the traditonal market. It was nice, although my brother was starting to get tired of all the shopping we were doing. Then we went to a restaurant to eat and see the night view of Quito. My grandparents met us there and we had a good time. My grandpa was so excited to speak English and he told us war stories. Back at my aunt's house, we packed to get ready to go in the morning.
Back in Guayaquil, my mom picked us up from the airport. We had a nice lunch and told my mom and dad what we did in Quito. Then we unpacked and rested before going to the iguana park. My brother really liked the iguanas and took lots of pictures. My dad also took us to some beautiful churches which my mom liked. When we came home, my sister Lorena was back from work and we went out to eat in a seafood restaurant. My mom and Christophe were really excited because they love seafood and Ecuador has some of the best seafood in the world! My brother had crab for the first time and we laughed a lot that night.
Friday was a holiday, so my sister didn't have to work which was nice because she was able to spend the last day with my family. We got up early and had breakfast at my house again. Then we drove around and showed them more of Guayaquil. After that, we went to a nice restaurant for lunch. Back at home, Christophe, Lorena and I downloaded all the pictures they had taken while they were here. For their last Ecuadorian meal they had empanadas and then we went back to the hotel so that they could pack.
They left very early in the morning. We all woke up at 6 and had a quick last breakfast with them before going to the airport. We were all very sad. Before they got on the plane they told us what a great time they had had and my mom said that maybe we could come back next year with my dad. The rest of the day I was a little bit sad, but it was great to have been able to show them Ecuador.
I can't believe that in 2 months I have to leave. If 8 months went as fast as it did, then 2 months is going to go even faster. It's going to be harder for me to leave Ecuador than it was for me to leave the United States. I don't feel ready to go at all. I have a great family and school is going well. I feel like this is where I belong now and I try not to think about the day that I'm going to have to leave. To any future exchange students: enjoy every minute of your exchange year because before you know it, it's almost over. I didn't think that it was possible to fall in love with a country that wasn't mine, but now I know that it is. Thanks again to Rotary for this wonderful experience. I've learned so much and I know that I'm going to learn more in these last 2 months as well. This has truly been the best year of my life!!
May 20 Journal
Friday, May 18 made 9 months that I've been here. A lot has happened this month. The best thing that happened was the trip to the Galapagos Islands!!!! For me it was the best trip we've taken this year. It was the most beautiful place I've ever seen. We left Friday morning from the airport at 7:30 in the morning. It was an hour and a half flight and I got to talk with the other exchange students that I hadn't seen since the Amazon trip in February. The airport is very small and it's on one of the main islands called Baltra. When we got there we had to wait for our bags to come off of the plane. The airport was so small it didn't even have an electric belt to put the luggage on!! The people had to load a few bags at a time onto a small truck and drop them off by hand!! Once everyone got their bags we got on a bus. We drove for about 20 minutes and from there we got on a boat. The water was so blue it was incredible! I'd never seen water like that before in my life!! From there we got on another bus which took us to the Nimfa Hotel. We got our room assignments, ate and then went to the Charles Darwin Research Center. The turtles were huge!!!!!! They can live to be up to 200 years old! We took pictures of them and the guide showed us Solitary George, the famous turtle who is the last of his kind in the world. They're trying to find him a mate, but so far they haven't found any other turtle like him. We also walked on a beach and took pictures of the huge red and black crabs. We had only been there a few hours and we were already in love with it!
The next morning we had to wake up at 6:30 for breakfast. After that we took a 45 minute bus ride and then a 30 minute boat ride to an island called Bachas. We didn't get out of the boat, but we just circled the island taking pictures. The animals were amazing!!! We saw beautiful birds and sea lions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the first time in my life I saw sea lions! We also saw water iguanas. Then we went to another rock and snorkeled with the sea lions!!!!! It was the most amazing thing. I had my underwater camera so I took lots of pictures. I got a picture right next to the rock with all the sea lions. They smelled bad but it didn't matter because we were so excited to be swimming with them. After that we went to a beach with sand that was very white and soft. There were pelicans there too and I got some pictures of them from very close. It was amazing because the animals weren't scared of us at all. We had lunch on the boat and then went back to the hotel. We walked around the little town and then rested before dinner. I couldn't believe that I was finally in the Galapagos. I'd been looking forward to the trip the whole year.
We had to wake up at 5:15 the next morning!! After breakfast we took the bus again and then a boat. We went to an island called Daphne Punta Carrion. The island was full of animals!!! There were more sea lions and iguanas. There were also Blue Footed Boobies! They were beautiful. They're white and they have blue feet. They were everywhere. They were guarding their eggs and some of them already had babies. The guide explained that the male and female take turns with the egg while the other one goes and finds food. They can live to be about 30 years old which is pretty old for birds. Then we ate on the boat again before going to the Playa Alemana which was beautiful. We also went swimming in cascades. Back at the hotel we ate and then walked around the town.
We slept in a little bit. After breakfast we went on an hour walk to Tortuga Bay. It was a beautiful beach with sand that felt like flour on your feet. We took tons of pictures. Then we swam and talked before going back to the hotel for lunch. Later that day we went to some lava caves which was pretty cool. It was hard to see because it was dark, but we walked through them. We stopped at a little store on the way back and there was a huge turtle shell that we got into and took pictures!! It was cool! Now I know why turtles move so slowly. Their shells are so heavy and it's hard to move your legs.
The next morning we had to leave. On the way to the airport we stopped to see some holes formed by craters. We took a group picture and then headed to the airport. We were all sad because the trip that we had been looking forward to all year was over. I have lots of pictures to remind myself of the good time we had there.
This month hasn't been all fun though. One of the girls from Guayaquil went back to Canada and it was really sad. We had a goodbye party for her and we went to the airport. It's sad because our group is gradually getting smaller and pretty soon we'll all be gone. I try not to think of the day I have to leave. I can't imagine my life without all the wonderful people I've met here. I feel so lucky because this year has been perfect. I have an amazing family, a great school, and lots of friends. It's hard for me to believe that I have to leave in a month. I feel like I should just be going back to the United States to visit and then come back to Ecuador. My family and my friends have changed my life forever and I'll never forget everything they've done for me. Muchas gracias a todos por lo que han hecho para mi en este año! Ustedes son los mejores, nunca les olvidare!!!