Katie Williams
2011-12 Outbound to Ecuador

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Leon High School
Sponsor: Tallahassee Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6940, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Riobamba, District 4400, Ecuador

Katie's Bio

Hola! Me llamo Katie Williams. I better get used to introducing myself that way, because I will be spending next year in Ecuador! Before a year ago, I couldn't even imagine that such an amazing opportunity like spending a year abroad would come across my path. But when it did, I knew that it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. When I was 12, I took a trip down to Matamoros, Mexico with my church youth group. Ever since then, I have dreamed of going back and actually staying long enough to experience their culture. That is why I am so excited about Rotary! I will not just visit a foreign country, but I will live there, breathe there, and learn there about a way of living other than American. I will become an Ecuadorian! And I think that's pretty darn cool. :)

That paragraph about why I'm so excited turned out to be a little lengthier than expected...so why don't I start telling you about myself before this turns into a novel.

I am currently a junior at Leon High School (the oldest accredited, and most awesome, high school in Florida...holler!) in Tallahassee, Florida. I live with my parents, my sister Sarah, my two dogs, and my cat. God has blessed me with the best friends and family in the world; their support and love is indescribable.

I love singing. I pretty much ALWAYS have a song in my head, and most of the time, coming out of my mouth. I play about... this much *make small space between forefinger and thumb* guitar, but I'm getting better. I like the guitar because you can take it anywhere, and I don't plan on being a very stationary person. :) I'm open to trying new things and I love peanut butter. I also love people and smiling. Smiling's my favorite.

Anyway, that is me in a nutshell. I know that when I get back from my exchange, I won't be the same. This experience will challenge me and shape me. Thank you, Rotary, for this life changing opportunity!

Katie's Journals

August 20

I arrived in Riobamba yesterday, after spending my first night in Quito. My host sister, Belen, is a student at the University of San Francisco there, so we stayed in her apartment. The drive from Quito was about 3 hours, and I slept for most of it. Upon arriving in Riobamba, we saw Chimborazo and it was huge! So pretty. I can't wait to get up there! Riobamba is quaint--much smaller than Quito, but I'm kind of glad it is because then I can get to it very well.

My family is just as I imagined they would be, which is not a bad thing in the least bit! They are wonderful and very helpful. They make sure that I understood what they have told me, which sometimes takes a few tries. I can understand my host mother the best, but that may be because I have spent the most time with her. I am understanding about...80 percent of what is being said to me, but I am having trouble coming up with the words to answer. It'll come with time though. When I get discouraged, I just remind myself that I've only been here two days.

My family is Catholic and my first mass is tomorrow evening! That will be interesting and a learning experience.

I can't wait to meet all the Rotary kids! My first Rotary meeting is Monday evening. I feel lucky that my host father is a Rotarian because my family really understands the process, and I feel like I can come to them with a question and they'll know how to answer it.

Ok, the food. It is delicious. I am eating a lot of fruit, especially for breakfast. All the lunches I've had have been soup, some kind of meat, rice, and a pastry of some kind. I will definitely not go hungry here! I had an empenada and muchines for dinner last night. The empenada made my life! It was so good. Muchines is lightly fried bread stuffed with yuca and melted cheese. If that's not delicious, I don't know what is!

Another thing I'm loving is my afternoon descansa...I hope that's a daily thing, because I love my naps. It is just so peaceful.

Speaking of sleep, I'm going to bed now.

Hasta pronto!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

02:06 PM

It is now October, which means I’ve almost been here in Ecuador for two months. It does not seem like it has been that long when I think about all that I’ve done here and all that I still want to do. But it also seems like an eternity when I think about the last time I saw my friends and family back home. Contradictions and conflicting emotions… foreign exchange will do that to ya. You miss home and sometimes wish you were there, but you also cannot imagine leaving this new life behind. However, no matter how much I miss home, I would not give up one single second in Ecuador until I absolutely have to when July rolls around. There are six exchange students in my city of Riobamba: An-Katrien from Belgium (the Dutch part), Gerrit from Germany, Geraldine from France, Diane from Belgium (the French part), Rafael from Brazil and myself. We all get along really well, and I can tell that we are going to be like family by the end of this year. I love them so much!

Since I wrote last, much has happened. It seems like life here actually began! The daily routine and my life here actually started to feel normal. I think that this is due mainly to school starting. I go to Colegio Jefferson, a private, non-Catholic (which is rare) high school. There are three Rotary exchange students in my school: Gerrit from Germany, Rafael from Brazil and myself. I am very grateful to have them there when the lessons get a little boring or my head starts to hurt from trying to understand the teacher. In times like these, Gerrit and I whip out a game of battleship on graph paper or a few games of tic tac toe, which Gerrit almost always wins. He assures me it is because he’s German, and Germans are the best. Then we get into light-hearted debate over which of our countries is better. It never fails to make me laugh! The kids at our school are very nice and welcoming. They are used to having exchange students, so we are not such foreign phenomena on campus, which is nice, I think. All the exchange students are in “sociales”, so we have classes like philosophy, sociology, psychology, and a few history classes. Each day, we have eight classes with two breaks. The schedule of classes changes each day, so that keeps it interesting. We stay in the same classroom most of the day, only switching rooms for computer class and English class.

Daily life here includes school, helping at the university, and spending time with the other exchange students. The school part, I have already covered. After school, I come home and eat lunch. It is usually around 2:15 when I get home. Lunch is the most important meal of the day, so I usually (and by usually, I mean always) eat some kind of soup to start the meal; then rice, meat and vegetables; and then desert (usually something fruity). We also always have freshly squeezed fruit juice to drink with lunch. After lunch, I rest. I always intend to take a nap, and sometimes I do, but most of the time I just get on Facebook or listen to music. At 5:00, Mondays through Thursdays, I help teach English at the Universidad San Francisco. The class that I help with is very advanced; they have already passed the eight levels of English offered at the university, so now they are in the “methodology” class, which teaches them how to teach English. I’m glad that I was put in this class because some of the things that they learn will be helpful to me as well if I ever hold a position teaching English. Classes at San Francisco end at seven, so I usually go home afterwards. Sometimes the exchange students go out to eat or something though. On Fridays, there are no classes at the university, so I usually hang out with the exchange students. We try to meet for lunch every Friday, so that’s always a highlight at the end of my week. On the weekends, if I’m not on a Rotary trip, I usually go out with friends or watch a movie in someone’s house. On Sundays, I always go to church in the morning with my Rotary counselor and her family. Then for the rest of the day, my family rests and goes out to lunch (You don’t cook on Sundays, they told me.) until it is time to go to mass at 7:00, which we do pretty much every week.

In the past month or two, I’ve been on three Rotary trips. The first was Spanish camp in Mompiche. Mompiche is in Esmeraldas, Ecuador on the coast. We were at a 5-star resort, and it was BEAUTIFUL! The beach was gorgeous, there were 3 or 4 pools, and there was as much food as you could possibly want! But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part had nothing to do with the hotel. The most amazing part of this trip was definitely all the exchange students that were there. It was the first time that I had been with other exchange students outside of my city, and it was so fun! Everyone got along so well, and it was just so amazing to meet people from other countries. We got to share our culture, our language and our friendship with each other. The Germans gave everyone an appreciation of the song “Disco Pogo.” The Americans taught everyone how to play ninja. And, of course, the Ecuadorians at the hotel instructed everyone in the art of dancing! I’ve never been much of a dancer, but I am definitely learning to let loose and just have fun! The key, I think, is to not feel embarrassed and just go for it! It’s definitely more fun when you are enjoying yourself and not worrying that you might look stupid (because most of us foreigners look rather stupid and uncoordinated when we dance!). Anyway, Spanish camp was simply amazing.

The second trip that I took was to a RYLA convention in Cuenca. Gerrit and I were the only exchange students from Riobamba to go, but when we arrived, there were about 15 other exchange students from Machala and Guayaquil too. The convention itself was a little boring, but meeting more exchange students made the whole trip worth it! It’s amazing how quickly exchange students become friends with each other. After just two days together, I considered the Machala/Guayaquil kids dear friends! That’s the beautiful thing about exchange students: we have all become a family very quickly.

Finally, I just got back from Manabí, the first trip that all the exchange students in Ecuador went on together, so I got to meet the kids living on the coast and the kids in the sierra who were not at my Spanish camp. It was so fun! We danced every night, went to the beach, laughed, cried, paraded the streets of Portoviejo and just had an all-around good time. On this trip, we did a lot more with our own countries. That was really cool. More than once we walked through the streets with our flags and sang our national anthems, and it was just such an awesome feeling. Not only did we cheer for our own countries, but we also cheered for each other. I personally got great joy out of chanting “Deutschland!” or “Brasil!” along with the Germans and Brazilians. We especially rooted for those exchange students who were the only ones from their country, like Yuki from Japan, or Ancsi from Hungary. On the last night, we had a formal dinner in which we marched in with our countries sat with our flags. I’ve never been as patriotic as I am now. Foreign exchange not only makes you proud of your host country, but it also gives you a renewed sense of pride for your home country. Some other fun stuff we did on this trip was a talent show, banana boating in the ocean, and a night parade in Portoviejo. For the parade, we were riding on top of these double decker buses that had a band on top, and we just rode around wearing our blazers and waving our flags. It was awesome.

Well, I think I’m out of things to say now. Ecuador life is pretty sweet; I’m lovin’ it!

Chao!

February 26, 2012

Well, we are almost in March, and I have six months of my exchange behind me and four in front of me. Time has flown unbelievably fast. Since October, life has become increasingly more normal and routine. I go to school. I go out with my friends. I go on trips with my host family. I just live life.

In November, I had the opportunity to go to the Amazon rain forest with two of the exchange students from my city, An-Katrien and Diane, and some visiting Rotarians from Luxemburg. We were a small group, but we had a lot of fun. We went to Yasuní, and it was beautiful! We stayed in a lodge where there was no electricity, except for the cooks, in order to give us a more authentic experience in the jungle. And we WERE in the jungle! Deep in the jungle. Our plane from Quito landed in Coca, which is a city on the edge of the rain forest. From there we took a two hour bus ride and then another 4 hour river boat ride. We were pretty far from modern civilization, to say the least. It was so awesome hearing the multitude of birds singing all day and smelling the fresh jungle air. If you ever have the chance to go to the Amazon rain forest, definitely take it.

In December, the holiday activities started. The city that I live in, Riobamba, has the most parades that I ever thought was possible! Riobambeños are quite the party people, as my first host mother said. I had the opportunity to be in some of these parades with my school. We three exchange students in Colegio Jefferson got to carry the school banner in front of the dancers. Soon, the holiday events started taking place. My Christmas was good. Small, simple, but good. We just had the traditional turkey dinner that is served on Christmas and opened presents on Christmas Eve. Homesickness, as we were warned, hit like never before on Christmas, but my host family helped me remember that I’m only here in Ecuador for one Christmas and I must enjoy it while I can. Here, I’ve been told, New Years is actually a bigger deal and more of a family holiday than Christmas is. (That blew my mind, it being a Catholic culture and all.) But my New Years was one like I’ ve never had in my life. There are a few traditions here in Ecuador for New Years that is specific to Ecuador. In Ecuador, it is custom to make “años viejos” which are dolls or figures made of paper machee or wood that represent the year that has just past. People make años viejos in the form of cartoons a lot. You can also make them in the form of yourself or a political figure. At midnight, everyone goes out in front of their houses to burn the figures. When you burn it, it says that 1. the old year is gone, and 2. that you hope that the person your figure represented changes for the better in the coming year. (Hence the political figures. Ecuadorians hate their president, so there were a lot of Rafael Corea dolls this year.) Another tradition is on New Year’s Eve, the guys will dress up as “locas vuidas” and dance in the streets, not letting cars pass until they’ve finished dancing and asked for money. They dress up like crazy widows because they are “mourning the year that has died,” my host mother said. I really didn’t see very many of them that were obviously mourning widows. Most of them these days, just dress up in short skirts, tight shirts, high heels, and a wig. It’s pretty hilarious. Another weird tradition for the more superstitious folk is the giving of yellow or red under garments. It is said that if you give yellow underwear to someone, it wishes them abundance in the New Year. Red, on the other hand, promotes a healthy love life. Needless to say, it was one crazy New Year. After the New Year, I was in another parade for El Día Niño Rey de Reyes, which is celebrated on January 6th. It is a day dedicated only to the Baby Jesus. In this parade, Gerrit, Rafael and I got to dress up in typical Ecuadorian clothes. We got a lot of cheers from the people, being foreigners dressed up in indigenous clothing. They got a real kick out of it. And so did we!

In January I also changed host families. I am now living with a family whose daughter is in Brazil. They are so very nice and I feel very blessed to be living with them. In my house, I am not the only exchange student. Due to some extenuating circumstances, I am also living with my friend from France, Geraldine. It has been great living with her, and we get along really well. At first I was a little hesitant to live with another exchange student. Honestly, I just didn’t want to share my host family. But it has been a really great experience so far, and now I have another sister. My new host family is much bigger than my first. In my first family, it was just my host dad, host mom, and me in the house. In my new host family, we are 7 in the house and 8 if you include the maid who is here almost every day.

February has flown by, but that doesn’t mean that it was uneventful – quite the opposite. This month, we celebrated carnival. Carnival in Ecuador is like nothing I’ve ever done in my life! They warned us about the insanity that would ensue in the city around the carnival season, but I wasn’t fully prepared for just how crazy it would be! Carnival lasts four days. In these four days, the whole world goes to the main streets of Riobamba and throws water, flour, eggs, paint, dirt, foam and other things on each other. Random strangers came up to me and smeared paint on my face or sprayed me mercilessly with “carioca”, which is just foam. Three times, I was picked up by some boys and thrown into the lake or into a tub of water. It is absolutely hilarious and so much fun. But you have to be careful if you go out without the intention of playing carnival, because you might just find yourself wet and cold!

Carnival was last week, so that brings us up to present day. Right now, I am getting ready for my mom, my sister and my best friend to visit from the States! They will be here for a week, and right after that I will be going to the Galapagos with the other exchange students! I am so excited to see the other exchange students again. We are in a group of about 40 or 50, and I just know that will have an awesome time because whenever there are exchange tudents together, you can be sure that you’ll have a good time.

Well, I think that’s all for now. Chau!