I’m not sure where to begin, but as I know I used these journals as guidance and advice before I lege on my exchange, I’ll try to do that now.
First off, when Rotary tells you it’s going to be hard, going to test your resilience, your strength, and sanity, you would be wise to listen. I’ve been here for two and a half weeks now and I can never remember being more uncomfortable or confused in my life. The city, the language, the people, and the customs continually seem to be one giant, overwhelming wave of information. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes I wish for nothing more than to pack my bags and take the first plane out of here. But this is what this exchange is all about. It’s a test. It’s a test where if you pass, the rewards are unforgettable. Every time I feel the urge to run screaming back home, I tell myself to wait; because tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is always better.
I know that sounds like one big depressing mess, so I’d also like to tell you that it’s not all bad. Ecuador continually manages to simultaneously bewilder and amaze me. I’m not incredibly fond of the city, (EVERYTHING makes a noise) but looking in every direction and being surrounded by green mountains is breathtaking. This is a place where you can see and accomplish things you could never anywhere else. The other day, I balanced a raw egg on a nail, stood in the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time, and rode a horse down a mountain into a valley of indigenous farmers. Things I would never have been able to do if I had stayed in my small Florida town.
As I’d like to leave a little advice for future exchange students, lists are wonderful things for explaining Ecuadorian eccentricities.
1. Driving: I feel like this is always the most talked about thing amongst exchange students in Ecuador. Ecuadorian driving is insane. Drive in the middle of two lanes? Why not? Drive up on the sidewalk? Sure. Take that speed bump at 70km per hour? No problem. Red lights? The driving rules are more like guidelines anyways.
2. Street Performers: If you see a man balancing an orange on his head while juggling bowling pins in front of your car at a traffic light, don’t worry. People do all kinds of crazy tricks for a few coins. The old lady banging on your window with the bag of mandarins is after the same thing.
3. Food: If you come to Ecuador, rice, potatoes, and chicken had better be your favorite things in the world. Because no matter what, you will have any number of these three things every day. By the third day, I probably had more rice, potatoes, and chicken than I had ever had before in my life.
4. Local=Cheap: One of the wonderful things about Ecuador is that you have the ability to buy a loaf of bread for 60 cents, or a haircut for 6 dollars. Almost anything involving local labor at some point in the manufacturing guarantees it will be a lot cheaper than a similar thing in the States. However, imported goods are ridiculous. I’m talking $17.00 for a tube of mascara, or $150.00 for a pair of Levi’s.
5. And finally, School: School in Ecuador is a lot different than American schools. First are the uniforms. Blazers, ties, blouses, tights, and skirts are the norm for girls. Slacks, dress shoes, ties, and sweaters for the guys. Students stay in one classroom during the school day. The professors switch from class to class, and students stand when they enter the room. Students also seem to have much more comfortable relationships with their professors than in the U.S. Sometimes it seems more like family friends than a normal student/teacher relationship. Also, you don’t eat lunch at school, but have one or two breaks throughout the day.
Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. But out of all of that, my best advice is still just hang in there. If the emotions chart Rotary gave us has any truth, and it’s proved right so far, there is always a high after a low. For me, the inbound orientation and language camp is in a week or so. I’m hoping that will be the turning point. Other exchange students seem to be a tonic for the crazy world surrounding you.
Hopefully, in a couple months when I write again, I can tell you a little bit more about the many wonders of the country. Happy traveling!
January 9, 2012
“He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naïve incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.” –Douglas Adams
This quote, though not having much to do with my actual journal, can teach you a lot about living as an exchange student. Sometimes while living in a foreign country you are going to do stupid things. The beauty of this is that you won’t know you’re doing anything wrong until everyone around you is laughing. So is this considered ‘extraordinary genius’ or ‘naïve incompetence’? Many would say ‘naïve incompetence’, but I disagree. As a foreigner, unaccustomed to the environment around you, any way you deal with new situations, any way you try to adapt, any way you agree to learn, is a sign of ‘extraordinary genius’.
I haven’t written a journal in a while so sorry to all the people following me and to the new class of outbounds. Recently, life here in Ecuador has become just that; life. I’ve officially made the transition from a bumbling tourist to an almost native. And it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.
Here’s a rough example of what a school day in my Ecuadorian life is like;
6:00 a.m. - Wake up, take a shower
6:30 a.m. – Get dressed, eat breakfast
6:55 a.m. – Leave house
7:00 a.m. – Bus arrives
8:00 a.m. – School starts
Types of Classes (Social Sciences Track):
• Spanish Language/ Literature
2:10 p.m. – School ends, take bus home
3:10 p.m. – Arrive home, eat lunch prepared by our empleada
3:40 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – Run errands, do homework, meet up with friends
10:00 p.m. – Go to bed
*On Wednesdays school ends at 4:00 p.m.
So that’s my life in a nutshell. Pretty exciting right? It’s not all dull though. Just recently I went to Otavalo, the largest artisanal market in all of Ecuador. It was incredible! There was more stalls than I could count selling the likes of scarves, rugs, paintings, jewelry, bags, belts, jackets, shrunken heads, hookah pipes, souvenirs, sculptures, furniture, and practically anything you could think of. Plus you can get some really fantastic dessert at “The Pie Shop” while you’re there. Next weekend, I’m going on the Rotary trip to the Amazon rainforest (El Oriente). The itinerary so far has us doing a lot of canoeing, hiking, and visiting the natives. And I’m beyond excited to sample the delicious traditional Amazonian dish of roasted grubs.
With everything going on, I can’t believe it’s already January. It seems like only yesterday that I left for Quito, yet in the same way it seems like I’ve been here for years. As an exchange student, I’ve already passed the hardest times in my exchange, especially the holidays. My advice for when those come around is just keep yourself busy. I didn’t have time to be homesick during Thanksgiving since I was spending the entire day cooking an Ecuadorian Thanksgiving for two host families and another exchange student. Here, time has a way of being able to constantly change. Some things seem to last forever while others pass before you have time to blink. I think it depends on the difficulty of the situation. If it’s easy, it’ll pass quickly, if it’s difficult it will linger for what seems an eternity. But with any amount of time, you learn. Returning home now sounds so simple. College is going to be a breeze after spending a year in the chaos of Ecuador without the comfort and support of home.
Well, that’s all I have to say for now. Until next time!