Nanette Pengelley
2010-11 Outbound to Ecuador

Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
School: Suncoast High School
Sponsor: West Palm Beach Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Quito Valle Interoceanico Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Nanette's Bio

Hi! So, my name is Nanette Pengelley and a few weeks ago, I was told that I will be spending my senior year in Ecuador. Since then, I’ve basically been updating all of my friends and family on the situation. I’ve gotten a variety of reactions that range from pride to confusion, with even some anger mixed in. My parents and relatives are all very proud of my bravery to venture out into new territory (new for me, anyway.) My classmates don’t really understand why I’d want to switch schools, let alone countries, for my last year of high school. And finally, my closest friends are upset with me for leaving them here while I get to have the adventure of a lifetime. The fact is though, that it’s not about what they think, it’s about what I think. And I think that I am absolutely, one hundred percent, from-my-head-to-my-toes READY to go. I’M GOING TO ECUADOR!

Of course I’ve been staying up late just to think about how my life will change in such a tremendous way, just because I can’t seem to fall asleep. I’m so excited to meet new people, and taste new foods, and to go new places! In between all of this day dreaming though, I’ve had plenty of time to worry. How will my grades change in reaction to an entirely different language? What if I can’t communicate well enough? What if I miss home too much? After worrying though, I snap out of it because I figure that I’m probably better equipped to deal with these problems than I realize. My family and friends are very diverse. My mom is form New York and my dad is from Jamaica. My best friends are from Colombia, Mexico, and Spain so I’m used to trying to communicate. I’ve taken four formal years of Spanish classes and two informal so as for the language barrier, I don’t think that classes will be too difficult to get used to. And sure, I’ll miss my friends and family, but I’ll make new friends and my family raised me to be a very independent person. I’ll be just fine. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself, haha.

Okay so I’m kind of not completing the task at hand, mainly because I’m not very good at talking about myself, at least directly. Which, I guess you kind of already figured out. SO about me…I’m 5”10 and that makes me the tallest out of my three sisters: Becky, Tina, and Sara. I’m told that we all look like the same person, but just at different ages. I like to think that I’m my own person and thus, that this assertion is not true, but the resemblance is, unfortunately, undeniable. I’ve also been told that I’m a very creative person because I tend to take things that are easily overlooked, and make them useable (albeit, useless, but useable nonetheless.) For instance, taking thread and making earrings or sewing a dress out of an old sheet. Besides the creativity thing, I’m a vegetarian. Of course, if it’s a problem in Ecuador, I can change that (I won’t be happy about it, although I’d never say so—I wouldn’t want to seem rude.) It’s more than a fair trade. I have a dog and a cat, and I’m currently in the process of acquiring a fish for my little sister, as a Christmas gift. I read a lot; for fun. I like to watch TV but I don’t really have much time for that. Usually, I spend my time in school clubs, at work, or hanging out with friends.

So, that’s me. I like adventures and fun but I know how to get my study on when I have to. I expect this next year of my life to be one filled with lots of hard work, but also the memories of a life time.





Choclo With the Besties me and my two best friends eating corn with animal hats on in a national park on a rotary trip

Choclo With the Besties me and my two best friends eating corn with animal hats on in a national park on a rotary trip



In The Park taking pictures with the grafitti in the biggest park in quito; parque carolina

In The Park taking pictures with the grafitti in the biggest park in quito; parque carolina





Best Friend And I the going away party on our last rotary trip, me and my best friend hugging

Best Friend And I the going away party on our last rotary trip, me and my best friend hugging

Pirates For Life going away party on our last rotary trip, group picture of us on a pirate ship

Pirates For Life going away party on our last rotary trip, group picture of us on a pirate ship





Learning How To Make Empanadas  when we went to a teachers house to learn how to cook typical Ecuadorian food

Learning How To Make Empanadas when we went to a teachers house to learn how to cook typical Ecuadorian food

Nanette's Journals

August 28

Hola, como estas? I really have no idea who is going to be reading this but to everyone who actually is: hey, what's up? Okay, so I know that I probably should've started my first journal from like 11 days ago, when I actually left for Ecuador. However, what they DON'T tell you about being an exchange student when you go to all those Rotary meetings and orientations is that when you actually get to where ever you're going, you will probably have no idea to sit down and write about it: you'll want to be out in your new world, experiencing it fist hand. So on that note, I'm going to make this kind of quick because I have to meet with mi consejera for lunch, then me and my host mom and sister are going shopping for school shoes in downtown Quito.

 Okay so these are some of the most frequently asked questions that I've received since I've been in Ecuador, so I just thought that I'd fill you in:

      Do you like it here in Quito? Uhhhhhhh....YEAH??? Haha what's not to like? Seeing as I'm from Florida and I've never lived in the mountains before, every time that I look out the window, I'm so suprised with such a gorgeous view. It's even better at night, with all the lights sparkling. The people in Ecuador are pretty mixed, but even so, I can still spot an American from a block away, because they're looking at the city the same way that I am: "wowwwww."

     How's the family that you're staying with? Well, the family is pretty great too. My host brother is 21 years old...I think haha. He acts a lot younger sometimes, but I talk to him the most because his English is the best. I mean....uhhhhhh, I'm not speaking Englsih, what? Whos said that? Hahaha--I know they told me not to speak anything but Spanish once I get here, so as to acclimate better to the culture and all that but it's hard to break old habits. If someone speaks to me in Spanish, I respond in Spanish, but for the most part, once people hear that I'm from the US they speak to me in English. I'm thinking of just lying for a while, and saying I'm from Mexico or something...Oh yeah, family: My other host sibling is 18 and is going on exchange with Rotary to France on the 5th of September, :'( I'm going to miss having a sister (in the US I have 3, and no brothers). My host father's currently out of town on business, and my host mother has an English Institute, where she teaches people to speak English, so as you can imagine, her English is also pretty awesome.

     What's the biggest difference between the US and Ecuador? Lunch is pretty different. Plain and simple: lunch is the main meal here, and we eat at like 2 every day. Dinner is pretty much whenever, as long as it's after 6, so anywhere between 6 and 10. Also, traffic is pretty different. For all those American who hate it when people cut them off, well don't drive in Ecuador. Ever. Some drivers are different, but mostly everyone is just in and out of lanes, without paying attention to the speed limit or their signals. Oh! And this is really different: pirating is legal here. Just the other day, we watched Salt on DVD, which is still in movie theaters, and when I asked about it, my host brother just said that it was totally legal to do that here- Limewire is legal too. Isn't that weird? But also kind lol. One really sad difference is that in the busy parts of the city, there's a lot of homeless people, selling things and begging for money. While I know that we have that in the United States, in my experience, the people are mostly adults, whereas here, you see a lotttt of kids, anywhere from 6 years old to 10, and it's really sad because no one here seems to think it's bad or upsetting: that's just the way it is. Also, surprisingly for me, a lot of people here listen to American music, and they don't listen to loud music in the car. Oops--biggest mistake here? Don't ever say "American" unless you want to get corrected really fast lol, because it will happen, trust me. "We're all Americans-- you're just from North America, so say 'from the United States' not American."

     Where have you visited so far? Well, since both my parents are working and my host brother just started classes at his college, I haven't really been to many places. However, we did see downtown Quito, where the president and vice president were, some churches, some museums, and some schools. I've also been for a few cities near to Quito like Cumbaya, Tumbaco, and one that I don't even remember the name of.

Well, my counselor is here to take me to lunch, so I've got to go, but thanks for reading, whoever actually is :)

October 1

Yesterday was Thursday, September 30, 2010. If things were any worse, I would've started having flashbacks from 9/11. Oh wait- too late. A lot of things have happened in the last few days that I’ll have to get to later because yesterday sucked for Ecuador. I knew I should’ve stayed home; in the morning I just had this feeling. I didn’t even want to get out of bed- I was seriously close to asking if I could stay home sick. I should’ve just gone with my gut because I had to leave school early anyways. It’s not like it even mattered though, because I ended up getting home at the same time as always anyways; that’s how bad traffic was. Still is.

Okay so let me just start from the beginning. We were in history class and I was drawing in my friend Diana’s agenda because I was bored. The teacher for that class is really old, and in addition to that, he was lecturing us in Spanish. Heck no. So I wasn’t paying attention when his cell phone started going off. I didn’t look up when he left the room to talk. And when he dismissed class early, I didn’t even notice. My friend Maelle did though; she kept asking what was going on. She was really starting to annoy me too- how was I supposed to know what was going on? We're both exchange students; we're both clueless. I just figured whatever it was, it wasn’t that important, and if it was, well I’d find out. Next I had English class, and since I clearly speak English, during that class I have permission to go volunteer with the little kids to improve my Spanish. So I went to go help the primary school kids. Again, when the teacher left me in charge of a room full of 5 year olds so she could go talk on the phone, I didn’t think anything of it. I did however think something was wrong when she left me in charge of that room full of 5 year olds for the last ten minutes of class. She actually left. I was like okay? I’m only 17, I don’t think this is exactly legal but whatever- there must be an emergency with her family or something. After that, we went had lunch. That was when I got a better idea of what was going on. Maelle and Justina told me that there were some political problems and that we might get to leave school early. That was good news, so everyone was in a celebrating. I mean, I hadnt even wanted to go in the first place. My friends and I went to ask Sonia what was going on, (Sonia is coordinator for the high school students. Yes, here we call teachers by their first names. It’s weird, but in an awesome way.) Sonia told us that there was some demonstrations going on and that there was no immediate danger, but there was a good possibility that we’d have to leave school early. After that though, we found out what was really going on. Apparently, the president of Ecuador was kidnapped, by the police. He tried to pass a law that would reduce the rights of the police force. They got mad and went on strike. When the president went to go negotiate with them, they kidnapped him and held him hostage. The president’s security was able to get him out safely, but they escaped to a local hospital; bad move. The hospital was right behind the police headquarters so they had the entire hospital surrounded now, and the president couldn’t get out. Oh yeah, and because the police were on strike, the city was basically in chaos. People were robbing banks, there were riots and demonstrations, and there was basically no one to contain it all. So I got to leave school early. Yay? When I was actually at school though, everyone was freaking out. Girls were crying all over the campus, everyone was on their phones, no one was in class, and everyone was preparing to leave. Even my teachers left- some before the students did! They evacuated all the schools in Quito, no public transportation was working, and they closed down the airports. Oh yeah, did I mention they closed the border to Peru? So yesterday wasn't so great. They got the president out of the hospital last night, but only after the police and the military opened fire and started fighting. The last thing that I heard was that the police were still on strike today, and that we can't leave the house, but I'm not sure if we're still in a military state or not.

Other than that though, Ecuador is good and I'm having a good time. School is fun - I actually like going. I have friends that aren't all exchange students, so that's an improvement, and classes are getting easier to understand everyday. For the most part, the subjects that I'm taking aren't too difficult because I've already taken the classes. The weather here is still cold in the mornings and it rains a few times every week. I can't really think of anything else to say though, so I'm going to go eat lunch with my host family. Ciao!!

November 17

Okay, so I'm not really all that sure what to write about. As of now, I've basically settled into my new home, family, school and life here in Ecuador. I've been having a pretty good week, and I'm really starting to get good at this speaking Spanish thing. My school gave us our grades this afternoon, and I'm actually doing a lot better than I thought I would be. Initially, I had the intention to try my absolute hardest at school, but now that I'm here, it's a lot harder to concentrate on my grades than I expected. So, naturally, I was surprised to find that I have a B++ average, the best out of all the exchange students at my school. Other than that, school has been pretty uneventful. There's a trip for my grade to a farm to complete the community service hours required for their graduation, and although I would love to go, I am saving my money to go on our trip to the Galapagos with Rotary.

Outside of school, not a whole lot is going on. I like to go out with my friends from Rotary and our host siblings here, and Harry Potter is coming out on Friday, so I think we'll go see that. I don't know. The "new" phase is just kind of over- I feel like I've just stopped being a tourist, and I'm not really Ecuadorian, I'm just here, not depressed or unhappy, just kind of floating around in my life here. They told us before we left that we would be feeling a bit down around the holidays, so I'm not really looking forward to Christmas in the normal way that I usually am. I'm actually kind of dreading it- Christmas reminds me of all the family traditions that we have and now, I won't be there to enjoy them in the normal way. I sincerely hope that I don't start feeling really upset the closer we get to the holidays; I guess the best I can hope for are new traditions, so completely different and new that I'm not busy comparing them to my old traditions, making myself unhappy with the results.

What else? I can't really think of anything else. We haven't gone anywhere new, like anymore tourist attractions or trips to other cities. For the Day of the Dead, we went all around downtown Quito, looking at all the churches and the tombs. We even saw one tomb that was open, so we could see the bones inside and everything. So gross, but also really interesting. Other than that, there's not much else that has happened.

December 27

Omg. I think I just had a mini panic attack. It’s Christmas eve. We’re going to my host dad’s parents house to give gifts with like his whole family, and I guess I got a case of….stage fright when I caught sight of my host brother. This is the nicest I’ve ever seen him. Well, minus the time I saw him in a tux for some wedding. But still, he’s wearing kaki pants. And a blue button down. And enough cologne that I could smell it from the doorway of my room where he was standing. Help me. That means this is important. There will be a lot of people tonight, all talking and eating and celebrating and I’ll be alone. I’m so nervous. I don’t know if I can do this. What was I thinking, leaving home for a year? Maybe a half a year would have been better, so I could be home for Christmas. I couldn’t breathe then I couldn’t STOP breathing…. My breath was coming so rapidly that it freaked me out and it was all I could do not to start balling my eyes out. I had to remind myself that I just did my makeup and my mascara was NOT waterproof because I couldn’t find it and…

So last night wasn’t too terrible. I held in the tears all night, and the stage fright didn’t exactly wear off, I just avoided the adults all night and spent most of the time talking to my younger cousin Camilla. I started to cry in the car though on the way home and I had to look out the window the whole time so no one noticed. When I got home, I completely lost it and started crying for real, but then… I stopped. I put on the long underwear that my mom sent me and some funny knee socks, got ready for bed, climbed under the covers, and went to sleep around 2:15 am. Oh yeah- we stayed late last night. Camilla gave me a scarf and some earrings, and my grandma gave me a scarf too. And that’s it. That was Christmas Eve. I slept till 11 today, and was sleeping so soundly that I almost forgot I had to wake up at all.  Then I remembered that I was going to go to mass at 9 with my host mom but honestly, six hours of sleep was not enough for me. When I went into the kitchen, it smelled like a camp fire. The boys were cooking the turkey in the old wood stove-y thing. And I loved it. The whole house smelled like Christmas, and it felt like it too, for the first time all December. I don’t care that I’m not home anymore. When I Skype my family later, I will be happy and bubbly and cheerful- it’s Christmas after all. There’s no room for depression here. I will allow myself one more cry today, and that’s all. And I hope it will be around my host mom, because I could really use a hug.


So I didn’t cry any more on Christmas. Oh yeah and we got a new puppy! His name’s Rudolfo, because he came on Christmas, and he’s adorable. He’s going to grow up to be really big though, because he’s the same breed as the other five dogs that my host family has. I just can’t remember the name right now. I asked who got to keep him, and Adriano said we would until they found someone who wanted him. Well Adriano, I want him. Monny said I could have him, if my parents said it would be okay to take him back with me. She said if they wouldn’t let me keep him, then I could always just take him back to Florida and sell him when I get there because they’re really expensive dogs, but they’re just not all that popular in Ecuador. When I talked to my whole family, (a big chunk of them anyways) on Christmas night, they just thought I was being ridiculous to even ask for something like that because apparently, my father is completely done with all dogs. That’s it, no more. Sad face. Well, I still want to keep him. He’s adorable! He has huge paws and a long face and he’s actually pretty calm for a puppy. I guess after raising Skeeter, any dog would seem calm. Golden retrievers have so much energy! Rudolfo doesn’t though, that is unless he’s crying outside my window at night of course. I mean, he’s cute and all, but he doesn’t like the cold very much, and I’m not so sure he really gets along with the other dogs. Yesterday Monny let him in the house for a while, and first he went into Adriano’s room, but after a while he started whining and left. Then he found me in the TV room, jumped up on the couch, snuggled into my side, and fell asleep. Hahaha take that Adriano! He likes me better than you! It was exactly like Christmas day, when I went into the kitchen and Rudolfo followed me. When I sat on the floor to pet him, he climbed into my lap and fell asleep. He was so precious that I felt bad for getting up and leaving him there to go eat dessert with the rest of the family.

Oh yeah, the family. I like Monny’s family better. That’s probably just because there’s less people and I feel more comfortable. On Roberto’s side, they’re really nice but then there’s all this extended family and new nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles, and they were all there Christmas Eve. They’re a little more serious than Monny’s family, and sometimes they talk about things that honestly, no one really cares about. When you’re with your family, you’re supposed to tell funny stories and jokes; you’re supposed to eat and laugh and be happy that you’re there, not act all…boring. You’re supposed to be like Monny’s family. Granted, there aren’t a lot of family members on Monny’s side, three to be exact, but they made my Christmas so much better than I ever expected. There was only Angel, Monny’s brother, his wife, and Monny’s mother.

As soon as we walk in with turkey, Rudolfo, and Christmas presents in hand, Angel’s telling me to sit down, sit down, don’t be a stranger, while everyone rushes off to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the Christmas meal. After I sit, Angel and his wife set off asking me questions and making me laugh. The food was great- not ask great as the night before mind you, but still better because of whom I was eating it with- and we didn’t have to stay as long as we did the night before. After all, we were at Roberto’s parent’s house for 7 hours, and I was pretty much exhausted by the time we were allowed to leave.

Anyways, so then I go home and we exchange gifts and then I got on Skype to wish my family Merry Christmas. Aunty Bev and Uncle Patten were there with Rae-Ann and Alicia all the way down from New York, Uncle Robert from next door and Uncle Earle were also there with my sisters and a few of my dad’s other friends. Anyways, they all get in front of the camera at one point or another to wish me merry Christmas and tell me they miss me, but instead of getting caught in the downward spiraling whirlwind of depression that I had previously anticipated (with the night before serving as proof of just how unhappy I was capable of becoming), I was just happy to see everyone. And that’s all.

We played some silly game that they just got for Christmas where you have to name 5 things and then, I said goodbye and went to go watch Madea Goes to Jail, because I knew it would make me laugh. And I desperately needed to laugh, so that I would be able to hang on to the peaceful happiness that I had arrived at without slipping off the deep end. I was going to invite Monny to come watch with me, or Adriano at the very least, but it was already 10 and Monny like to sleep early. And Adriano was busy.

Either way, my first Christmas away from home wasn’t as terrible as I had thought it would be. It wasn’t as great as it could have been, but then again, I never expected it to be. After all, Christmas is the time that you spend with your family. You put up the tree with all your sisters, argue about who gets to put the angel on top, then desert your mom towards the end to go watch It’s a Wonderful Life on ABC family. You help your dad hang the lights and ignore it when he gets frustrated that you accidentally blew out one of the bulbs, so now the whole string won’t work unless you find that one bulb and replace it. You call your friends from church and the neighbors who you haven’t really had a chance to catch up with recently, so that you can all decorate Christmas cookies together, the same cookies that you spent four hours making the night before, getting flour and crumbs all over the kitchen. You go Christmas shopping with your sisters and pretend like you don’t know what you want them to buy you while attempting to give them subtle hints the whole time like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I was needing.” or “Wow, that top is so cute, but I can’t afford it right now.” Then you rush home and you can’t wait to wrap all the presents that you bought because you know that whoever you bought them for will really love them. You go to church Christmas eve and help the little kids put on their annual pageant while trying to give them stage cues from the alter, then you help pass out the presents the Women’s Guild donated. You go home and leave a plate of cookies for Santa, a bunch of carrots for the reindeer, and a note with what you want this year for Christmas and the next morning, you anxiously read the note that Santa left in return. You wake up your family at 7 in the morning and whine impatiently as your father first takes a shower and your mother makes him coffee, and you sigh in relief as you see them both make their way to the living room to see their kids dumping the contents of their stockings on the floor and trading the contents amongst themselves. You lay on the floor and pass out presents to everyone in the room, everyone still in their pajamas, your father with a grumpy but resigned expression on his face, camera in hand, and your mother with a smile plastered across her face, cup of tea resting on her lap. Then everyone opens their presents while laughing and smiling, sometimes arguing and complaining, until everything is out from under the tree except the presents for your relatives who aren’t there and there’s wrapping paper littering the ground. Of course, you cat thinks that this is his Christmas present and attempts to rip every bit of wrapping paper in sight to shreds, making for some very entertaining pictures. Then everyone goes off to shower and get dressed in their new Christmas clothes, everyone except your dad, who stays behind with a trash bag to stuff all the wrapping paper in, and your mom, who heads to the kitchen to get some breakfast going. Then after breakfast, you go to the neighbor’s house, to do the same thing all over, but with three times as many people, four times as much food, and five times as much laughing. And talking. And smiling. Because they’re your family too. Because you love them just as much. And because it’s Christmas, and this is what you do on Christmas. You’re not sad or unsatisfied with the gifts you do or don’t receive. You’re not resentful that you can’t be where you want to be, or with who you want to be with. You’re not depressed at your circumstances or unhappy with your life. No. You’re just accepting and happy that you get to spend Christmas with family, no matter who’s family they may be, or where they might be spending their Christmas day. And that’s what I did this Christmas; no hay mas na.

February 20

I know that it’s been a while, but I’ve been entirely too caught up in living my life here, that I’ve barely had time to put it all in words. Christmas, New Years, my birthday- they all seem like they happened so long ago. At the time, I knew that I wasn’t as happy as I could have been, but I didn’t actually realize just how unhappy I was until recently. Since then, I’ve changed families. And I miss my first family so much. Luckily, my best friend and I switched families, so I get to see my old family a couple times a week.

This new family only has a mom, a sister, and a brother who’s living in Norway this year on exchange. I don’t think that the improvement in my mood has come from my living arrangement though, because my first family was pretty much as good as it got. I swear, they spoiled me - no other host family could ever measure up to them. But the thing is, my first family lived so far away from everyone and everything else. Even though the family was awesome, it always took so much effort to leave the house. Now I don’t spend nearly as much time with this family as I did before because my host mom works most of the time, and my sister is 21 and has her own life, but I can go where ever I want to so much more easily. If I can’t spend a lot of time with my family, at least it’s a lot easier for me to spend time with my friends.

As far as school goes, I’ve officially morphed into the “invisible exchange student,” as far as my teachers are concerned. My grades aren’t as good as they could be, but I can’t make myself worry too much about that. While being here, I’ve had to apply for college, and after being accepted to Massachusetts College of Art and Design, I’ve also had to apply for scholarship after scholarship. But the thing is; I’m already in. I have Senioritis, just like everyone else, and just like everyone else, I’d rather be out in the world than doing school work. The kids at school are okay; I don’t necessarily like all of them, but the friends that I have, I consider to be really close ones. Every day I realize how hard it will be to leave my life here, but at the same time, my anticipation to get back home to my friends and family increases. For them to see all the ways in which I’ve changed makes me itch to leave, but the reasons why I’m changing make me want to stay. It’s a pretty odd feeling, one I’m sure all my exchange student friends across the world are all feeling.

My family comes to visit in March, and I’m also anticipating their arrival anxiously. I can’t wait for them to see what I see every day, to go where I go; to experience what I experience. All three of my sisters are coming with my mom, and normally we tend to argue a lot, but I haven’t seen them in so long, I’ll just be glad to spend time with them.

Well, the thing about Ecuador is that the weather is really unpredictable: whenever I leave the house I have to make sure to bring a jacket, an umbrella, and a pair of sunglasses, or I’ll find myself regretting it later. Now is one of those times - I’m sitting in the park right now with the family’s dog, but even though just ten minutes ago the sun was shining, it now looks like it’s about to rain. So I have to go. Hasta luego!

April 4

Things have been going pretty great lately, which is probably why I’ve forgotten to write for so long.  

First we had Carnival, which is at the same time as Marti Gras, except completely different. Here, everyone goes to the beach to celebrate, so I did too, with my host family. The kids run around throwing water balloons, eggs, and spraying foam on people. It was actually really fun, and everyone gets a two day vacation.

Then the week after that, my family from the states came to visit. We spent a few days in Quito, seeing all the things that I see every day, then we did some traveling to other cities. My mom nagged me about scholarship applications, my older sister told me about the perfect summer job for me, my little sister was crazy and paranoid like always, and my oldest sister made me truly appreciate how close I am to so much art…and cheap jewelry. All in all it was awesome to see them, but I was glad that when they left that I was really homesick or anything. I was just prepared to fully enjoy my last two months here then go home to see my friends and family.

The week after they left, I went to the Galapagos Islands for five days on a Rotary trip with all the exchange students from Quito. It was so beautiful- we went snorkeling and saw sea turtles, penguins, blue boobies, tortoises, sharks, seals, and all kinds of amazing fish. The day that we came back I found out that I was awarded a full scholarship to Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which is where I really wanted to go but wasn’t sure if I could afford it, so now I know where I’ll be attending college next year.

The next day, my best friend’s parents came from the states to visit. We did most of the same things in Quito that I did with my parents, except that yesterday we drove halfway up a dormant, snow covered volcano called Cotapaxi, about 4,500 meters high, and rode down on mountain bikes. It was scary, and fast, and exciting, and a great experience overall…even if my hands are bruised and my back hurts really bad today.

As of now, I only have 64 days left in Ecuador, and there are still so many things that I want to do before I leave. I have to see a Liga game (Quito’s most beloved soccer team), go white water rafting in Baños (a town about 2 hours away that’s filled with rivers and waterfalls), go to Columbia and Peru which are both on the borders of Ecuador, go out on a Friday night with all my exchange student friends dressed in our school uniforms…stuff like that. I still haven’t done my presentations for Rotary or my school about my country, but I know that’s coming up too. I’m not really looking forward to it, but it won’t nearly as bad as I used to think it would be because my Spanish has gotten so much better.

Alright, well, that’s my life as of now.

May 30

It’s May. I leave June 7th. I’ll be home in little over a month. I’ve been here for almost 10 months. How I got here, I kind of don’t remember. Does it really matter though? I’m here, and I won’t be soon. So soon. I can’t wait to go home; to sleep in the same room as my three sisters for 3 months, to drive around in my own truck (well, my father’s), to stay up late watching movies with my neighbor, to go to the beach with my best friend, to actually have responsibilities to worry about! It’s funny how before I left, all I wanted was to have my own room, to not have to pay for gas to put in that stupid truck, to sleep all day and all night, to just get all the sand out of my hair; to not have one single responsibility to take up my time. But the thing is, no one ever misses anything till it’s gone.

A lot has changed this year, and a lot will be different when I get home, but that doesn’t change the fact that all I really want lately is to be back in the familiar, the parts of my life that I know better than anyone else; home. Of course, I’ve had some amazing experiences here. I’ve been all over this country, I’ve gone rafting and bungee jumping and mountain biking and zip-lining, I’ve met people from all over the world. I’ve laughed, I’ve loved, I’ve yelled, and I’ve learned. I think that’s the most important part though- that I’ve learned. I made myself learn in detail all the components of this strange new culture, this culture that was a mystery and a wonder to me before I arrived. What makes these people happy? What do these people value? What do they fear? What do they want to spend money on? How do their families, schools, friendships, and lives operate? It’s easy to see a people for what they want to show you, but it’s a lot harder to discover the parts of themselves that they keep hidden, tucked away so as not to frighten the unknown. This culture shows you how close their families are, how much they value the quality of their homes, how important their religion is to them. What I’ve discovered though, is that they all complain about the government, but do nothing to change it. No matter how close the families are, a lot of children are often spoiled and self-centered. Everyone hires maids to keep their homes clean and presentable to appear more than they are, while in fact, most barely have the money to actually pay them. Good or bad though, these things are true for this culture, not necessarily untrue in regards to my own culture, but nevertheless I had to observe, to live, to actually see the lives of those around to uncover these truths.

Of course, I didn’t just learn about the culture, I’ve had to learn about myself as well. Throw a teenager into a foreign country to fend for themselves for a year, and you may be surprised at how they handle it. Some left, whether because they couldn’t follow the rules and color inside the lines for one year of their lives, or just because they didn’t like the experience. Some stayed but complained the whole time about the parts of the exchange that weren’t quite to their liking. Others stayed, but hid behind the familiar; people who spoke the same language, places that were for tourists and tourists only, things that they would only do in their own country. These exchange students were the worst in my opinion, because they would go home, utterly unchanged, completely defeating the purpose of the exchange program in general. It was frustrating to see how much my friends and I were embracing the exchange, while others were simply content to sit back and watch. I consider myself and the people I surround myself with as part of the last group: those who tried. We spoke to Ecuadorians, we went to school, we went out to parties and social gatherings with our friends from school, we didn’t eat out at Chinese and Italian restaurants every night- we went to eat at the little hole in the wall places to better get to know the true food of the country, and above all, we tried.

I had to learn how to be more independent than ever. In a country where I had no responsibility and all the freedom in the world, I spent most of my time not only getting to know the country, but myself as well. I tried things I never had before, things that I never would have in the past. If I had to choose between who I am now and the person I was before I left, I would choose who I am now, without a doubt in the world. The thing is though, before I left, I never could have imagined how I would change, let alone that I could change for the better. Every young person likes to think they know everything, that they’re the best, that there’s no need to change; they’re great just as they are. While being confident of who you are is important, it’s always hard to admit that you can actually grow as a person. That’s what I’ve learned; not that who I am now is the best I’ll ever be, but that I can always improve. I like that I can talk to people who don’t know me without them wondering if I have a mental disorder that disables me from speaking up. I love that I can get up and make speeches now without my hands shaking so badly afterword that I can’t even take a drink of water without spilling the whole glass down the front of my shirt. I especially adore the fact that I can confidently make the choices in my life that need to be made without a care in the world to what others will think of me. Before I came here, I was shy around strangers, I couldn’t speak in public, and I realize now that I put much too much importance on what others thought of me, instead of what I thought of myself. I can’t imagine a better way to have spent this year, and I’m sorry for all those who didn’t get quite as much out of the experience as I did. This is only the beginning; there’s a whole world out there, and good or bad, I intend to explore it.