August 14 Pre-departure Journal
I really need to stop telling people that I am going to Ecuador next year, because I’m not; I’m going in 7 days! 7 days! Wow.
Rewind 10 months, and I am sitting in a room with both my parents watching a power point put on by the-one-and-only Daphne Cameron telling me everything I need to know to become an exchange student. Soon after that I started my Rotary Youth Exchange Application. And after all the nervousness, all the signatures needed, and all of the calls to Louise Anderson asking any minute detailed question you could possibly think of about my paperwork, I turned it in. This is when the waiting started. Soon after that I heard of my interview time and place. I went to my interview and continued doing what I became accustomed to, waiting. Waiting… Waiting. Then one day it happened. The last bell of school rang, I looked at my phone and saw a text from my dad saying “a Rotary envelope is at the house addressed to you”. I have to admit, I yelled something to my friend, who just looked at me bewildered, jumped in my car and went a little over the speed limit to my house to rip open an envelope and to have my eyes fall onto one word, “CONGRATULATIONS” and I haven’t looked back since.
One week after my letter, I learned I was going to Ecuador. A week after that I began checking the RYE Florida Website every hour to see if any more outbounds bios had been put on. A month after that it was time. Ryan Cullum, Louise Anderson, and I packed in her car for two hours to go on the way to Eustis, Florida for my first Rotary Orientation to meet all of the people I had read about (and wondered whether to add on Facebook or not.) The weekend was amazing. It might have been the first time I realized I was about to go somewhere completely foreign to me and do something not all could do. But the weekend came to a close and after the goodbyes, and realizations we wouldn’t see some people for five months we did what we begrudgingly did everyday. Wait. But time is what really helped D 6970 become so close.
The kids from my district are just awesome. There is no other way to say it. I have made some amazing friends through Rotary. I am very glad to have spent the past 8 months with these people. It has actually been really tough saying goodbye. Right now, it is an overwhelming experience I am going through. Conor, Maddie, and Zach have all left me. But I can take comfort in the fact Sarah, Simone, and Marea are all after me. Not to mention Nikki, “oh, I remember when I was at 22 days.” But Rotary has introduced me to all of these wonderful people that I know will have a wonderful year.
Not only are the people in RYE Florida great. But the preparation program for all of us students is amazing. Since I first got accepted I began learning more and more about the beautiful, amazing country Ecuador is (and if you too would like to know, I have written a wonderful 12 page paper which I will be glad to share with you). I’ve been through Cultural Boot Camp where I not only was able to learn so much about culture throughout the world, but also learned why to always respond to deadlines the first time they are given (case in point, one 5 minute speech about Rotary’s Polio Plus Campaign.) These might be a couple jokes but in all seriousness, Rotary has prepared us as much as they possibly can. Al Kalter, Daphne, and Jody are all amazing people, along with every other Rotarian involved in Rotary Youth Exchange. The work all Rotarians do for us is amazing.
But thanks to Rotary, my family, and friends, I have almost done it. My pre-departure checklist is almost complete.
Visa : Check
Passport : Check
Blazer : Check
Camera to document life : Check Possibly the most valuable of my tools…
A Rotary Smile : Check
And 2 suitcases filled with my life : well, I still have 7 days ...
August 25 Journal
OK, just so everyone knows, I wrote a long journal filled with details explaining every little thing about my trip so far, and then my 1 year old cousin came up the stairs while I was talking with my aunt and deleted the whole thing. I was very sad but it was alright in the end. So here I go for a second time and hope I don't leave anything out.
On Friday the 21st I woke up and headed to the airport with my parents, my sister and my two best friends. Once we arrived I began to check in. Afterwards my family and I went to sit in some chairs because I had some time to kill. I was filled with so many emotions it is impossible to describe my last minutes with my family. But soon I started to make my way through security with all of them watching me take off my shoes and get my bag searched. But then I was off. I went to my gate and about 15 minutes later Josh joined me and we waited to board our first flight to Miami. We made it there safe and sound, except for the fact we were sitting in the aisle with the propeller and I was not looking out the window most of the time in fear of it flying into the aircraft.
But once we landed and made our way around the Miami airport we ran into the first of about 15 exchange students we would meet. We all sat and talked for the whole layover. It was awesome getting to meet some friends right before we made our trip. We sat at Josh’s gate for the majority of the time and then once their flight was told they would be delayed, all of us students traveling for Quito made our way to our gate. We sat at the gate for 10 minutes, and then it was time. We started to make our way onto the plane. We then negotiated with a couple Germans and a flight attendant and managed to have some of us sit next to each other. The flight was uneventful (so was the food) but after four hours in the air we made it. Quito is gorgeous at night. Flying into the city was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. Soon after, my new friends and I made our way off the plane together and stood in the customs line. It went very fast, including the wait, maybe 10 minutes. Right after we got our bags as a group and as soon as we had everything we made it around the corner to the machine we placed our bags in. A couple of us had to go to a far one and as we walked over there were two doors that opened and a giant mob of people holding signs looking in the doors. I have to admit, and that point I looked at the two other exchange students with me, and we all freaked out a little. But it was alright, as soon as I made it out the doors I couldn't find my family at first but then I saw their sign with my name spelled wrong and I knew I was at home. I gave my host mom a big hug and then my adventure started.
The first two nights I stayed with my counselor and his family (Esteban and Lily). They are so nice and they spoke good English which helped me learn my way around. During my time with them they showed me all around their city of Cumbaya and even took me to Quito to do some sight-seeing. They are two of the nicest people in the world and I am really glad to have them as my counselors. Well, it was soon time to move in with Teresea. I have to admit I was scared at first. She speaks no English, and my Spanish is far from fluent, but once I made it in the house and put my bags in my room, I felt at home. Teresa and I went on the roof of the house and I did a little looking. Our house is surrounded by mountains. It is amazing. After a few minutes of butchered communications, I showed her some pictures of my house, family, and friends (even some halfway across the world). As she was showing me some pictures of her family, I encountered exchange student hell. My host nephew (who calls me Tio now), came running in the room showing me cards and telling me the words in Spanish wanting me to repeat, a strange man entered the room for a minute and left, Teresa walked out and told me to follow, as we stood in the hallway I was looking at 3 women I had never seen before, a man climbing up the stairs, and 2 nuns staring at me blankly. I had no clue what to say or do except use the one phrase I told myself never to forget: Nice to meet you. As we made our way downstairs there were at least 8 others all talking to each other. Yet again I used my phrase of the day and it went very well. As I walked in the kitchen there were 3 women all bustling about preparing dinner for the small army in the house. About 20 minutes later we all sat down (in three different rooms), and began to eat. It was wonderful eating surrounded by family and that is one thing I like about many of the meals here. After dinner we all moved to the living room and talked for about 30 minutes ... well, I listened.
The next day Teresa and I went to Quito (about 15 minutes away by car) and got my pictures for school. I ran into one of my comrades from the airport there and as our host moms talked the next thing we knew they were exchanging numbers and we both just stood there and smiled because we had no clue what was going on. Soon, we left the city and went to one of my aunts' houses for lunch. We had another awesome meal and afterwards I spent time with two of my cousins and they taught me some Spanish out of a workbook and we went for a walk. The air here is so fresh (despite the overwhelming smell of exhaust). Afterwards we went back to my aunt's house and we enjoyed conversations which I was able to participate in. My family now realizes that I can speak Spanish decently, just when whoever I am talking to is talking slowly. Even though we can understand each other in Spanish sometimes, we had an epic laugh over a miscommunication about alligators and how my aunt thought I could speak Italian. And most recently, I have gone to school to get my uniform. I actually really like it, because as I stand one foot above most people with my blonde hair, it is one thing to not make me stick out.
Information I have learned since arriving in Ecuador:
1 – Ecuador is the best, has always been the best, and will always be the best at everything.
2 – Crossing the street is fun.
3 - Driving in Ecuador is more intense than NASCAR. No one stays in their lanes and honking your horn at anything and everything is almost encouraged.
4 – Animals are not royalty, they are treated like animals.
5 – Dogs live in the street.
6 – Women do most of the housework. I ask to help and I am told to sit down.
Well, my nephew is trying to talk to me right now so I have to go figure out what he is saying.
September 12 Journal
Well, I have been living this wonderful new life for 3 weeks now. It is everything I had imagined, and not foreseen. It is exactly what I wanted and dreaded at the same time. It is my own personal oasis at times, only to be followed by that one nightmare where I am giving a speech in my underwear. But one thing is certain, I love this city, this world, this new life that I am living in.
There are too many stories, too many memories, too many experiences to put into words. I feel like I have been here for so much longer than 3 weeks, and at the same time I feel like I just walked out of my front door in St. Augustine into this strange land. My city is beautiful. 10 minutes away from my house is this little thing called the Equator (you might have heard of it), I have traveled there with my cousins and of course taken a picture of being in the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time. I have also traveled to see some of the lakes and mountains in Ecuador. By the way, there is snow on top of some of the mountains here! WHAT! Snow, I know, right. But, I have gotten used to seeing it now (almost).
I have also gone to the language camp put on by the Rotary clubs of Ecuador. During the 5 days at this camp my Spanish improved even more, I made 26 amazing friends that are living in the Quito area, and I learned that no matter how much my friends and I practiced saying ingredients in Spanish, Pizza Hut will put whatever they want on your pizza. Also, I have gone and visited for the first time the Rotary Club Quito Sur (my host club). It is quite different from my Rotary Club back home (shout out to the Rotary Club of St. Augustine). For starters, at the meeting there were only 7 Rotarians. The Rotarians also smoked inside. I can't even remember the last time I was indoors and people smoked, that was very very strange for me. But one thing that I could relate about both clubs was that the food was sooooo good. I don't know what I ate, but I would be fine with eating it again. But that goes for all of the food that I have had in Ecuador so far. I hope everyone has a host aunt that can cook like my Tía Oneyda. All of the food I have eaten so far has been amazing (except for one incident with an empanada from a street vendor that my stomach didn't necessarily agree with, and let me tell you, boy did it not agree). I really have to say that the food here is wonderful. The bread store at the end of my street makes some of the best bread in Quito, I swear.
However, despite all of the good news I now must tell you that my honeymoon is over. How do I know, you ask? Well it happens every year around this time in the United States as well… the beginning of a new school year. I walked into school the first day completely lost in my track suit uniform. My host mom was with me though so it was all okay. We sat on a bench for a little while and then one of the two people I knew showed up. The first was Juan Fernando who is in the same grade as me but in a different course. And then my friend Hilary from Rotary Language Camp showed up. The three of us made our way down to the little basketball/fútbol court and we all got into our course lines and listened to the Inspector (Principal) talk for a little while. Then we sang the National Anthem of Ecuador (Hilary and I mouthed the words) and then it was time to begin school. Luckily one of my professors is one of my host mom's best friends, so that works out very nicely for me (especially since she was my first professor). And due to Juan Fernando I have plenty of friends in the school.
I am in the Sixth Course Social Science, and my classes are rather interesting (when I understand what the professor is actually saying). My classes consist of History, English, Philosophy, Geography, Literature, the equivalent of P.E. (but we call it CuFi), Economics, Computers class, French, Math, one class about social something, one class about Ecuador, and then one class about the world and nature. The way I classified school to one of my friends is the uniform of Gossip Girl (people give it whatever accessories they want, or don't follow it at all), the attitude of The O.C. (parents pay a lot of money on school, and some of the kids don't even bother to try), and the schedule of the Harry Potter books (the Professors teach every grade multiple times throughout the week including some double blocks, it takes some serious planning to make that schedule just right).
Everyone at my school is really nice. School was one of the first times I was able to see how Ecuadorian teenagers act not around their parents. People do not hesitate at all with their public displays of affection. I won't go into extreme detail, but that is one difference that'll some getting used to. Also, I feel that the girls are harassed a lot more here than in the United States, not a Chris Brown-Rihanna way; just accompanying the PDAs people are more physical here than in Florida. But as for actual school being concerned, I do like it. The campus is outside. So when I have to walk to my classes it is nice to get some fresh air. I have had two tests so far, one on the National Anthem of Ecuador, and one on the provinces and capitals of Ecuador. I did well on both of them, and scored higher than most of the other students on the provinces and capitals test. The only bad thing that has happened so far was that one kid tried to send me in the girls bathroom, luckily my friends stopped me in time and I haven't had much more interaction with the other kid.
Peace and love to everyone back home, and all my friends around the world,
Dominic (or Dominique as they say here)
October 23 Journal
I am so sorry I have been a slacker on this. I think my contest with Jamie Lynn Patterson on who will have the most journals is done, especially since Max and Brandon are killing us both. But I have been here for two months now! How exciting. School has finally become a regular routine, I can get from Point A to Point B on a bus (well, there are only like 3 places I know how to get to, and I know how to get home from one of them, so I’m still working on that), and of course my Spanish is improving everyday.
Well my daily routine starts at 5:45 every morning. I shower, eat breakfast, and am waiting outside for the bus at 6:45. I get in the bus, climb to the third row and say hello to the four girls sitting behind me who greet me with a chorus of "Hola Domi." I go to school, come home, eat lunch, start my homework (well, not always), partake in siesta (nap time), and then eat dinner only to sleep some more.
Also this past month I have experience Visa catastrophe 2009. Now I am now talking about my debit card, I am referring to the paper that allows me to stay in Ecuador for more than 90 days. During my flight I was sitting next to the window and I assume while I was filling out my immigration forms on the plane I set the folder containing all my Rotary paperwork, Visa paperwork, and anything else I received in order for exchange in between my seat and the window. Well luckily, my dad in the US tracked down all of these documents and I was able to turn them in the last day possible without having to pay $200. Basically, if you become an exchange student, don't lost your Visa, and if you manage to do something like that tell your host family, counselor and everyone so you can find it before the day it is due.
Oh, and at school a couple weeks ago, I was asked to bring in 50 cents for the Principal's birthday. I thought it was a little weird and all but I come to find out that it is a tradition. Well, one Wednesday we are sitting in French class when all of a sudden the school bell rings twice. People suddenly burst into action. Some people run out of the room with bags, others start fixing their hair, and one student (me) is sitting in his seat wondering what is going on. After I finally put it all together I went with what remained of my class to the gym/stadium. Since I am in sexto course (equivalent to a senior) I got to go down on the stadium floor to be with the principal. Well, a mariachi band randomly appeared and started playing a few songs. Everyone in my course starting dancing so I joined in. After the band left and everyone else had to go to their classes, the sexto course went to a private room that was all decorated and set up for the occasion. There was also a champagne toast between the principal and the students. I thought celebrating the principal's birthday was weird, but I have gotten used to that now, even though the day after we celebrated a teacher's birthday.
But more recently this past week I went to the coast of Ecuador in the city of Manabí with all of the exchange students in the country. The 50 something exchange students from the Quito area gathered around 0700 to begin our adventure. We soon left for the beach and after our 9 hour bus ride managed to get to our hotel around 1700. After we checked in the hotel (being the last group of exchange students to arrive) we jumped in the pool, greeted everyone, and started making friendships that now seem so much older than 5 days. It was basically a weekend of getting to know everyone, sightseeing a couple of the coast towns, participating in a parade (I held the American flag for most of the parade route), and of course frolicking on the beach. This was my second time at the beach here and I took full advantage of it; being able to run with the sand beneath my feet, diving into the waves, and playing in a little tournament of beach futbol made me feel at home. Also Ecuador Rotary put together a little banquet for us at the end of the trip where each country had a boy and girl representative. I was the guy from the USA, and next thing I knew I was participating in a dance contest (if you know me this is my type of thing). Well, I made it to the final round only to be beat by my friend Uli from Germany. We soon ate dinner (at 2330, blaaaahhhh), and afterwards had two full hours of dancing. I was rather satisfied when I learned that the DJ had Cotton Eye Joe because no matter how much I might have complained about that song in the states I was thrilled and proud to be able to dance to it (despite the fact I was a fountain of sweat at the end of it). The next day was the bus ride home where my conversations ranged with many people about their views of Americans, world politics, and what we plan to do with our lives.
But now it is back to everyday life. No more running around at the beach, instead when I walk up the stairs I am out of breath. I have been home about three days and haven’t been to school because I am sick and sound like a 90 year old smoker. I haven’t been able to talk since last Friday so none of the other exchange students know what my real voice sounds like which is kinda strange. Not to mention my skin is peeling like crazy because naturally I didn't put sun screen on for 3 hours in direct sunlight on the equator, I’m stupid. But now I am going to go make myself another glass of tea and get better.
February 12 Journal
Por fin! So I am still down here in Ecuador even if I have been away from the Journal scene a little bit. But what can I say? I have been a little busy. I have changed host families. I have changed schools. I have been to bull fights. I have even been in the arena with a bull (scariest moment of my life). I have celebrated a tiny Thanksgiving in different customs. I have gone through the holiday season, and handled it pretty well all things considered. I have even turned a year older. There are so many stories that are mine, and mine alone. And no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to do them justice (also, I don’t want you to be reading for 4 hours, neither do you, I think). But this country, the cities I have been too, the people I have met, are overwhelming.
So where to try to begin… I spent the holidays with my first host family. We went to my Aunt's house and had a huge dinner there and later we stayed up until midnight to open presents. The next day (25th of December) was just a day to relax, which was also the day that I tried mountain biking. If you were wondering, it was also the last day I tried mountain biking. The 26th we made our way to the beach, which we stayed there till the 3rd of January. Now I must say that that emotion curve knows what it is talking about. January 1st 0030 (AM), by far the worst part of my exchange. We spent the next couple days at the beach and returned home.
In between January 5th and 16th I did not go to school because I was about to change host families and since I was moving an hour and some odd minutes away, I was able to change schools as well. So far it has been great. I have already made a lot more friends and have even been a little busier after school. Oh yeah, my new school has 8 people in the entire graduating class. Umm, what else can I put in here???
Spanish is still coming along. I think my language skills are the same as a lot of other peoples, not where we want it. But there is nothing we can do about that, except study more, which brings me to the point that EVERY Rotary Youth Exchange Future Outbound has heard, will hear, and will repeat one day… Study your target language now. Not a week before you leave. Not with flashcards on the airplane (guilty of that). And most importantly, not HOPING that one day you will wake up 5 months into your exchange year and understand everything. Because you won’t. Oh, congratulations ’10-’11 Outbounds, to you all as well. I forgot that part earlier on.
I hope you are following around, because I am just skipping all over the place.
Carnaval is starting this weekend. Well, it is safe to say that everyone is already in the mood of spraying people with silly string, and throwing water balloons at each other. The water balloons is only a Quito thing, I think. In the south they throw eggs, water, flour, dirt, and anything else that flies onto people and gets them messy. But like I said, everyone is already ready. Just in fact yesterday as I was walking down the street with a couple friends, a school bus drove by and we were attacked by green silly string and water. It was funny for the most part, except the bus stopped and I had lost my full water bottle, which if I had would have been all over them in retaliation. But alas, you can’t win every battle. Oh, to celebrate the festivities of Carnaval my host family and I are going to the beach with one of my exchange friends Nikita.
Alright, well that is all I can think of without making this too long. Except a huge thank you to Rotary. We all say it. And we all mean it. Thank you thank you thank you. There is no other way to say it. Thank you, especially to the program back in Florida; Ms. Daphne, Al, Jody, and everyone else behind the scenes. Also to you, Louise, of course!
Next journal will be better with more details and pictures. And sooner.
Paz y amor!