September 5, 2013
So I have been here in Quevedo for about a week and a half and it has been by far the most interesting couple of days of my life. I arrived on a Saturday night in the Guayaquil airport. I made it through customs and then experienced my first culture shock: Baggage claim. I like to call it baggage claim hunger games style. The room was very large and there were piles of bags everywhere and people everywhere and I had to fight for a spot next to the luggage belt. As I watched it seemed like people were just aggressively grabbing bags off the belt every few seconds. It was wild. I also notice that every person had about 2 or 3 bags each. No one packed light! A family of 5 had 3 luggage carts that were all loaded full with bags.
I finally made it through baggage claim and walked out to meet my family. I saw a sign with my name in the hands of a woman I did not recognize. I went and kissed her on the cheek and then walked around the isle to meet her. She was a Rotarian from my host club as well as my neighbor who lives across the street. I then met my host mom, Jorge Herrera the Rotary exchange program chairman of Ecuador and some other very nice Rotarians. I quickly called my parents and then we got in the car and headed to KFC for dinner. I laugh when I think about how I had my first American KFC in Ecuador. It took me about an hour to really pick up an ear for understanding all of the Spanish.
The car ride home was my second culture shock. The driving laws here are more like guidelines and are not very important. I figured this out when we passes a speed limit sign that said 21 Km/(I forget the measurement) and I look at the speedometer and we were going about 100, and at the same time we passed a police car who was clearly speeding as well. I have learned that people here are all about efficiently traveling. The taxi drivers have a mission to get people places quickly, so they do, but they are still good drivers, just like everything they are dif ferent kinds of drivers. When we got home I met my host father Gerardo and my host sisters: Irina (26), Nataly (22), and Ivann (21). They are all very sweet and helpful to me. They showed me the apartment where I live and I have my own room and bathroom!
The apartment is very pretty and all of the furniture is very nice. That night I gave them all gifts and thanked them for allowing me to live here with them. The routine since then has been that we wake up at 9 every morning (until this coming Monday when I start school and will have to wake up at 6 every morning) and eat the breakfast the maid Luisa has prepared: (always) coffee, freshly made juice, a type of bread with jelly or ham and sometimes eggs. I really like breakfast here in Ecuador. Then my host parents go to work.
My host parents are both doctors. Us girls either just hangout or go out to the tennis club or mall or something. In the mornings when we are home I try to do more Spanish learning with my books or computer. Around about two o’clock my host mom and sometimes host dad come home for lunch, which is the most important meal of the day in South America. We normally have a soup (my favorite is cauliflower soup), salad (lots of unions and corn and rarely lettuce) and a plate of rice and meat or fish. After lunch my host parents go back to work and again the host sisters and I either go out or hangout here. Sometimes I go out with my new friends then.
I have gone to the mall with my friends, theater, to their church to play basketball and to their house where I helped them with English projects. The people here in Ecuador are so sweet, and everyone in my school wants to meet me. The other night at the theater with my friends there was a teenage boy who was one of the main acts in the show that new friends and goes to the school that I am going to go to. In Ecuador if you know anybody you kiss on the cheek and everyone they are with, so he came over and said hello to my friend first that he knew and then came to me and said “hola Carley” and gave me a kiss. I was stunned, how did he know my name? After he left I asked my friend and she said that everyone in the school knows my name and that I am pretty much famous.
To finish the schedule: at night we hang out together and watch tv shows or movies, the other night I watched Hangover part 3 with my host sisters. There are a couple of shows that I am addicted to now that the family watches together. All of the people on TV here are always gorgeous and very dramatic. The only thing that is unfortunate is that the majority of the movies on TV are American and for most people here these actors in the movies and some shows are their impression of Americans. Hangover is a good example of why this is unfortunate. We also eat a light dinner around 8 or 9.
Another shock to me was when I went to the Rotary meeting the day after I got here. I asked if I should wear a dress and my family quickly said no, so I wore jeans and a blouse. We took a taxi there and took the dogs (I have two host dogs: Luna and Michita). One of the pictures that I attacked is of the Rotary building. When I got there I noticed that there is no air conditioning, which is like most places here in Quevedo. When I walked in my host mom introduced me to about 40 people and then I was served lunch. The meeting lasted for about four hours and it was much less formal that my Rotary back in St. Augustine. Throughout the meeting there was a stray dog running through the building. The Rotary here only meets once a month in that building. They had a cake and they sang happy birthday to all of the people who had birthdays in August and after they sang the people had their faces shoved in the cake which is a cultural tradition here. It was like a small food fight for a few minutes. Then after speeches were given I went up and exchanged banners with the Rotary president and I gave a small thanks and sat back down. It was a very fun day.
The other night my host mom came home from work early and asked if I wanted to see the delivery of a baby (she is a pediatrician) and since I would love to be a doctor, I gladly went. We went to the Rotary hospital where my host mom works occasionally. We put on medical outfits and put our hair in nets and mouth coverers. We then went into the surgery room where the C-section was being performed. I stood to the side and watched. It was fascinating. Once the other doctors pulled the baby out they gave it to Gina (my host mom) and I went with her to take care of the baby. She measured, weighed, cleaned, and examined it and explained every step to me. The baby was a boy and he was adorable. It was a very interesting night and since then I told my host mom that I want to help out at the hospital if I can. I can’t wait, who knows what I will see next!
Overall this has been an incredible experience so far and it’s only been a couple of days. I have learned so much Spanish and culture and I have really learned that the people are the same here, but their lifestyles are just different, not worse like so many Americans may think, just different. Like Ms. Daphne Cameron always says, everyone laughs and cries in the same language. I have become a more accepting person and since I never know what the schedule is I have become very flexible to do whatever the plan might be. I have enjoyed my adventure so far and owe all of my thanks to my host family, host Rotary, family and friends back in the USA and Rotary in Florida. Thank you.
Tonight I am off to Guayaquil for a couple of days! So many adventures await me!
September 28, 2013
I have now been living in this incredible country for an entire month. It has been by far the most interesting month of my life. I have tried things I never could have done in the United States and seen things that literally don’t exist back in the states. I am now an addict of fresh juice every day twice a day and I have witnessed Gui, which is a very large Guiney pig that is strewed on a metal bar and roasted. I am yet to try it but it is on my list.
First of all I would like to apologize for my poor English that I use throughout this document, I am honestly doing my best but the more Spanish I learn the worse my English gets. Anyway, a lot has happened between my last blog and now. I will just tell you the 4 most exciting and important events that took place:
1. On the weekend of my second week my host mom, 2 sisters (Nataly and Ivanna) and I went to Machala, Ecuador, which is about 15 miles from Peru. We stayed in Hilary Nature Resort. The resort was in such a beautiful location. You had to go up the hill to get to it and then you looked out in every direction at the rolling hills of Ecuador. There were 4 pools and slides and free food everywhere and we stayed in a beautiful room with a very nice shower. While there, my host mom attended a medical conference since she is a pediatrician. My sisters and I went to all of the pools, took loads of pictures, ate at buffets every meal, went to the zoo, rode a zip line, went to a show every night (with my host mom) and afterwards took a bus down the hill to the disco tec where we danced. The entire weekend was very fun. On Sunday we rode back 7 hours to Quevedo.
2. The next day I woke up bright and early, 6:00AM for my first day of school in el Colegio de Genisis. I put on my uniform which is a collared shirt and jeans and my host dad drove me for my first day. When I got to school I waited a little while before being walked to my class. When I did get to my class (which is on the 2nd floor and has only 3 walls and the 4th one is open to the outdoors) the woman I was with introduced me to the class and told them all about me, then she asked me if I wanted to say something and since I was so nervous all I could get out was “Hola” which made the class laugh. Once I was given a seat in the very back of the class, the class president stood up and gave a very nice welcoming speech that I didn’t really understand but knew that it was a friendly salutation. My classes: biology, chemistry, physics, functions (math), English, Spanish, literature, a current events class, PE, and others that I don’t even remember. I only have about 5 or 6 of them a day and the others rotate throughout the week. The kids here have a lot of presentations so I did a lot of sitting and listening to other students talk for the first week. Anyway, on the first day kids were generally very fast to introduce themselves and all of them are very kind. If I would ever try to have a conversation with any one of the kids, about 5 or 6 other kids would quickly crowd around me to hear the American speak. The young kids here were even more excited to see me and I felt like Taylor Swift on the first day as they all crowded around me to hear what my name was and if I like Justin Bieber or One direction.
Cultural differences that I noticed in school were things like the way that they are always touching each other when they talk, girls and girls, guys and guys and guys and girls. At first I thought that every girl I saw talking to a guy was dating them because they were really touchy but then I noticed everyone did it and when they touch each other, like a hand on the others shoulder or stomach or face, they are very rough especially when they are joking around. I have found this to be true with adults as well. Please don’t think that I am complaining, just describing what I have seen. All of the kids here (off all ages) have so much energy. I am a person who requires quite a bit of sleep and when I would get to school at 7 in the morning and see all of these fully energized kids, I was confused as to how they were so awake. The kids here also have very different relationships with their teachers. For one, they call some of them by their first names and also they talk b ack to their teachers like friends do when arguing and are also playful with their teachers. This was very different for me since the majority of teachers in my school in Florida are fairly professional and highly respected.
After school for the first 3 days I was very tired and overwhelmed from all of the energy of the school and the day of thinking in Spanish and I had to take a nap every day. I have only gone to one week of school since I have been here and have the next 2 weeks off due to the school schedule.
3. That Sunday after my week of school my parents drove me 2 hours to go to Santo Domingo where I was picked up by a bus with other exchange students and taken to Mompiche, Ecuador. We were in a resort there for language camp for 5 days. Ecuador takes in a large amount of exchange students considering the size of the country. This is because the youth exchange program was started many years earlier than the majority of other countries. In my language camp there were around 75 students and that was just half of the students in the country. I roomed with Kiia from Finland. I learned a lot about Finland throughout the week from her. Our room was beautiful and it overlooked the Pacific Ocean which made me beyond happy! I also made friends with people from: Belgium, France, Switzerland, Brazil, USA, Japan, Denmark and Canada. Our daily schedule was: wake up at 7 for breakfast (buffet style), go to language classes at 8, classes are from 8-10:30 and from 11-2, then go to lunch (buffet) and to the pools or beach and then classes again from 5-7 and the rest of the knight was fun. At the beginning of language camp they gave us a test to see how well we knew Spanish and divided us up into 4 groups. Much to my surprise I was in the 4 group which was the highest level. I had a great time all week at the beautiful beaches, one day I got an impressive jellyfish sting that wrapped all the way around my arm. The jellyfish here are very cool, the one that stung me had a body about the size of a very small lime and one stinger that was about 2 and a half feet long. Also while at camp we went to many shows at night which were very impressive and entertaining. Overall I had a very fun, relaxing week in paradise.
4. The final event I will tell you about took place the day after I got back. My host mom woke me up and told me that the Governor of Rotary in all of Ecuador was in Quevedo and she wanted me to come meet him. I was incredibly tired after my busy week on the beach but I quickly got ready and put on my newly decorated Rotary blazer. We first rode to the Rotary Park in central Quevedo that was built back in 1980 and has a large monument right in the middle of it. I met the governor and his wife along with a large group of other Rotarians there in the park. The governor’s job is to go to every club in all of Ecuador and check up on their progress from year to year. After many pictures were taken we then went to the Maternal Rotary Hospital in Quevedo and were given a tour of the hospital (the same hospital where I saw the C-section). We then went to the Rotary building for a long meeting led by the governor about the Rotary of Quevedo. After that, we headed to a local Chin ese restaurant and had lunch together. Muyrico! I was then dropped off at home were I slept all afternoon till my host dad woke me up for a Rotary meeting/party. I again dressed and went to the Rotary building with my family. One thing that surprised me is that I got to see really how unpunctual Ecuadorians are. The meeting was said to start at 8, so it started at 9:30. I was considered an important person at the meeting so I got to sit up front at the special table with the governor and his wife, the president of my club and his wife, the future president, the president of Roteract and a couple other important people. I also had to give pins to all of these important people and come up with something to say on the spot because I never really understand what is going on before it happens so I didn’t prepare something to say. After many speeches were given and the meeting part of the evening concluded we ate dinner and a member of Rotary started singing. Within an hour of eating everyone was dancing and they were all drinking. We partied and danced for quite a few hours and the party did not conclude until 2 in the morning. It was a very fun evening and overall a real pleasure to meet the governor and his wife.
Those are all of the main events that have taken place and characterized my last 3 weeks. Every day is an adventure and I am always enjoying the feeling of not knowing what my plans are or where I am going, it’s great, I never have to worry!
I would like to give a shout out to Mr. Rob Overly, I can’t think of an important quote of his but I would just like to thank him for all that he has done to get me here and thank him for pushing me and never allowing anything to be too easy, causing me to work even harder and helping me in the long run.
And a special note to any students thinking about doing this program: I’d say that if you can look at yourself and believe that this is your kind of adventure, go for it! Don’t think for a second that any of the process is easy, but since last October I feel that I am a very different, more mature, and abled person and I get to see the results of all of my hard work this last year here and now in my new home. I am so glad that I get the honor of doing this, and I’m sure you will love it too.
Well I have to go make more memories, bye for now!
November 19, 2013
Hello! So I have now been here for almost 3 months and it’s still an adventure, but it is more like my new home now. A lot has happened since my last blog and it is so hard to decide what to write about. I will always try and write about my trips that I go on, so I can share my experiences with you all. With that said, I finally got to go to Quito! It was the week after I got back from Mompiche because I had a 2 week break from school. It was a 5 hour drive up, and I say up because I live at about 10 feet above sea level and Quito is about 10,000 feet above sea level. Once in Quito we stayed in our apartment that my parents own since they are originally from Quito and all of their family is there. My host sisters all live and go to school in Quito, it was nice to visit with them. My host parents, sisters and I went the day after I arrived to introduce me to all of my extended family. I first went to my host dad’s side of the family and met my host: grandfather, gr and mother and uncle. They cooked us lunch and gave me gifts and were incredibly loving towards me as if I had been part of the family forever. After we headed to meet my host mom’s side of the family who all live in one large building with different apartment complexes. I was also welcomed there with open arms and served famous Quito bread and coffee as a late night snack.
I enjoyed getting to meet my host: grandfather, grandmother, 2 uncles, aunt, 2 cousins and family dog. What is really cool is that both sides of my family are related! My host mom (I will now just refer to her as Gina and same with host dad who is Gerardo) married Gerardo and her sister married the cousin of Gerardo. So it’s really just one really big family! While in Quito I got to go shopping in some malls, but unfortunately all of the clothing was very expensive as it is in all of Ecuador. I also got to go shopping in a local (very large) market. I spent $100 and didn’t feel any guilt! I had to resist from buying everything. I purchased: alpaca blanket as well as sweater, head band, scarf, pants (they are super colorful and definitely a fashion statement), bracelets, and 2 purses. I have never had so much fun shopping. I also was able to learn how to bargain. At first I was willing to pay any price, but luckily I had my host sister (Ivanna) with me and she lowered all of the prices till I learned how to do it myself. I got to see many old churches, including a tour of the church where Gina and Gerardo were married. I have never seen a more beautiful building in my life. Gold everywhere and paintings dating back to the 1600s. Incredible! I touched and took pictures with the president’s house. I ate a lot all of the time.
I walked down a historical street that was super cute and fun, for those of you from St. Augustine- it reminded me a lot of St. George Street. I also ate an empanada that was larger than my head, stuffed with cheese and covered in sugar! And one of my favorite things I got to do was go to Panecillo (small mound of bread). This place was at the top of this very round, tall hill that a large statue was built at the top of. It is comparable to the statue in Rio but of smaller size. Since like 95% of the population is Catholic there are many saints and virgins. The saints are all different men with different purposes, but the virgins are all Mary mother of Jesus with a slightly different look and meaning. For instance, you could have Laura the virgin of travel. The statue at the top of the hill was of a virgin who represents good with a halo on her head and bad with a snake wrapped around her feet. It is a beautiful statue and we went to see it at night which made it even more beautiful. Since it was night, we also got to look in both directions to see lights covering the valley and hillsides/mountainsides of all of Quito. It was so beautiful.
I had a great trip to Quito and was able to return the next week end with my host parents. The following Wednesday I packed and headed to Manabi, Ecuador for a 5 day trip with 140 other exchange students. Manabi is on the coast, so we spent a lot of time every day at the beach. We stayed in the city of Crusita, but we also visited Portoviejo, Manta, and Montecristi. We were in a parade and we marched through the streets each singing our national anthem with the other kids from our countries. We went shopping in a local market and visited a multitude of beaches were we played games and sports and got sunburned because we forgot our sunblock! I really enjoyed getting to know students from all over the world and here about their similar situation and the incredible experiences they have had. It can be really relieving to here from another person in the same shoes that they are having the same struggles and that you are not alone. I may feel like the only student in my situation since I am the only student in my town, but in reality there are 2 thousands other students around the world facing the same difficulties and joys.
After the exchange student trip I have been here in Quevedo in school. I have been in school for over 4 weeks in a row and everything has been very relaxed and routine like. I am doing my best to stay in shape after school, using YouTube workout videos and our elliptical machine. My ultimate goal is to somehow get a bike and ride it after school on the sidewalk that follows the Quevedo River.
I am willing to argue that I have one of the most unique exchange experiences of any exchange student this year. For one, I am the only exchange student in my entire city, which is rare, but of course this is not the only reason. I am the first exchange student EVER in my city, and one of the few if not only American who lives here. I am the first American that most of these people have ever seen in their city. I have dreams of being a doctor someday, and I was coincidently placed in a home with 2 doctors as host parents as well as in a city with a Rotary hospital, which are not very common. I am given the opportunity to go to the hospital and witness surgeries from only feet away, and I have learned so much from my experience in the hospital already. The anesthesiologist has explained to me where he places the 6 inch long needle and how he knows where to put it, what he injects, how he injects the anesthesia and of course I get to watch the entire event and question him the whole way through. The most incredible C-section experience I have had yet is when one of the doctors let me help with the surgery. He first started with what you would think was simple: washing your hands. There are 4 sides of your hands and arms and you have to scrub them a specific way with a specific brush and you should always keep your hands up higher, so nothing drips down on your hands. That alone took enough talent to humble me. He then helped me put on the special apron like robe over my scrubs, gloves and then he had me stand across from him between the tray of tools and the other doctor. He told me all of the names of the tools and then began the surgery. He explained as he went and it was all incredibly interesting. Eventually he asked for a tool and for the most part I remembered the names and was able to hand them to him. They removed the baby and handed him over to my host mom (the pediatrician) and then began the repairing. They had about 4 layers to sew tog ether, and they allowed me to be the one to cut the string after sewing, in other words I got blood on my hands! I was ecstatic, also incredibly nervous, but super excited! So that is what I would say is my fist surgery.
I am incredibly thankful to my host family and club for what they help me to experience here in Ecuador and I am always thankful to Rotary back home for granting me this opportunity! Well I just found out today that I am going to the Amazon on the 22 of November which makes me so excited! Time to buy some serious bug spray! I will be sure to write and give you all of the details when I get back!
January 11 2014
Ali punch! (Good morning in the native Amazonian language, cichua)
So what have I been up to for the last month and a half? Let me tell you:
Like I left off in the last blog, I went to the Amazon. My host family and I drove to Quito and dropped me off at the airport on Friday morning with the other exchange students. From there the group of about 25 students and I took a flight to Coca in the Amazon. From there we took a 2 hour boat ride on the Napa River to a beach, from there we walked 30 minutes through the woods and from there we took a 15 minute canoe ride to the Sacha Lodge, where we stayed. It goes without saying that we were in a very remote location very far from the nearest city. I roomed with 2 other girls: Freir from Denmark and Olive from Switzerland. We were also divided into 5 groups, my group: Olive, Freir, Cristina from Czech and Caroline from Germany. All of us from different countries. We were also assigned to a native man named Luis who was our guide for the trip. He taught us some cichua and also showed us all of the different plants that could be used as medicines. I have grown up going on va cations out west where I go hiking in mountains, forests and beaches, therefore I am fairly comfortable with nature, but the Amazon is a whole other world and I felt like I had never stepped foot outdoors in comparison to the local guides who had grown up in the Amazon.
Our late night activity on the first day was to go canoeing on the lake and in the side streams. It was a bit of an adrenalin rush since we really couldn't see much, but could hear the animals all around you. We encountered a Chameleon lizard that was about 2 feet long and had blended into the branch right above our heads, a fish jumped in our boat and one of the girls screamed, and when we were on the main lake I flashed my light across to the other side and saw to yellow eyes reflecting back at me. It turned out to be a crocodile sitting in the water. I really enjoyed that night.
The next day we arose at 5, ate breakfast, and were hiking by 6 in the morning. They had us up really early because the Amazon gets incredibly hot by midday. We hiked to a tower which we went up, and at the top we were above the tree line. There were 3 towers, each connected by a long bridge. From the towers we saw all sorts of exotic birds that were beautiful. We took photos, talked, laughed and most of all we enjoyed the sunrise in the Amazon. We continued hiking after the towers for an hour or so and saw many different bugs, plants, owls and my personal favorite, trees. Like I said, I have been in many different forest and have seen the thickest trees in the world as well as the tallest, but I have never seen a tree that compared to the trees in the Amazon. I don’t even know how to describe them, so I am just going to post a photo of one of them. Point being that Amazon trees are incredible! After the hike we went in the butterfly house and saw and ore of beautiful b utterflies. After lunch we did another very cool hike through the woods were Luis taught us how to make bracelets out of a special leaf, I am still wearing mine today over a month later. We returned to the lodge in a canoe. During our free time my roommates and I had a dance party before heading to dinner. After dinner we went for a night walk and saw some birds, and millions of bugs. The coolest thing we saw was a black tarantula from about 3 feet away.
The following day we arose early and went to a local indigenous town. The women there explained to us their way of life and showed us many techniques they use for cooking. 2 bowls were passed around and everyone took sips out of them. They were both types of teas, the first was fine, and the second almost made the kid sitting next to me vomit. The women also played some music and performed dances. Before we left we bought handmade items in the gift shop. Later that afternoon we took a canoe down a thin stream to a dock, and from there we took a hike to a zip line. We each took turns doing the zip line and when we had all finished we hiked to an incredibly tall tree. There were stairs wrapped around the tree, and at the top there was a deck. We watched the sunset from the top. It was incredible.
The final day we got up early, ate and backtracked all the way back to Quito like we came. It was really hard for me to say goodbye to the other students and go back to my city where I am the only one, especially when they all at least have one other student in their cities.
After the trip I continued on with school as normal. I had a small revolution in school that I didn't think would happen. Ever since I started school I have always liked it okay, but never been excited to go or really enjoyed my time that much. I simply went and was there and then left. Up until November it was like this. Then all of the sudden, the way the kids started treating me changed as I became more like one of them, and I began changing myself. Little jokes or conversations would connect me with another student in a way that I would have never realized. A distinct day I remember was when I finally was “let in on” the class prank. It is a habit of the kids in my class to slap the backs of other kids’ necks when they walk by their desk or are near each other. And finally another student slapped my neck. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but the littlest things can make the biggest difference. From then on I could slap the necks of the other kids and it would be acceptable. There were other jokes too that made a difference. I say that I didn’t think that my loving of school would ever happen because I couldn’t figure out what would have to change to make me like it. Turns out, I was the part that had to change. So future exchange students, don’t assume that just because you don’t like something in the beginning (3 months) it doesn’t mean it won’t change. Hang in there!
On my final day before Christmas break we had a celebration at my school. We first played the championship soccer game, which my class won. Both the girls teams and guys teams for my class we the champions of all of the sports at my school, I have a pretty awesome class! I then quickly changed into my Mrs. Clause outfit and was then in a Mrs. Clause and Santa Clause competition with another boy from my class in front of the entire school. We got second place! We then ate lunch and danced to a live band that they brought in. They later had a viuda competition. Viudas are a large part of the tradition of New Year’s here in Ecuador. Viuda translates to widow in English and the tradition started as a metaphor of the old year (2013 for instance) dying like a man and the widow has to move on with her life. Well the only thing strange about this tradition is that the people who dress up as viudas are always men. The men play the role of the women widows and walk around the str eets wearing dresses, wigs, high heels and makeup on New Year’s Eve. It is a very interesting thing to see. Anyway, in my school they chose 2 boys from each class to dress up as women and strut around in the middle of all of us students like women. It was hilarious! And again the boys from my class got second place. It was a really fun day at school and afterwards we went to the house of one of the students and hung out. It was a great way to start of Christmas break.
Jumping back a little, starting about 12 days or so before Christmas my family and I began going to the Novena. About 85% of the population of Ecuador are Catholic, I personally am not Catholic, and therefore I got to enjoy many different traditions this year. The Novena is a Catholic 9 night celebration of the story of Christmas. Here in Quevedo I do not have any extended family so now my family celebrates the Novena with a close group of about 15 friends. Every night we went to a different house and also hosted the Novena here in our apartment 2 times. It starts with everyone arriving about an hour late, but that is expected, and then they read out of a special book written for the Novena. The book analyzed a different part of the story of Jesus every day. After reading the adults went around in a circle discussing their opinion of the lesion to be learned from this nights reading. After we handed out gifts using the secret Santa system. We then proceeded by eating dinner t ogether and then heading home at about 12:00PM. We did this for 7 nights, the 8th night we went to a Mass and the 9th night had a party instead. At the party we talked, ate, ate, took pictures, ate, and exchanged the final gifts revealing who had who in the gift exchange. We didn’t return home until 3:00AM that night.
During Christmas break my sisters returned home from Quito and stayed here in the house with us. (Little review: I have 3 sisters, Irina (27), Nataly (23) and Ivanna (22)) We hung out around the house and rested during the week and would take occasional family trips to the mall at night. My sisters are always very fun to be around and I always enjoy their company.
On Christmas Eve the real festivities began. Here in Ecuador Christmas Eve is more important than the actual Christmas day. On Christmas day we were in the house spending time together listening the Christmas music and cooking. I took pictures of all of the steps to remember how to cook the foods for when I return home. They cooked and cooked and cooked. We all changed our outfits and were ready to eat at about 11 at night. First we took lots of photos and then we sat down to eat. My host parents each gave a small speech as a thanks to God and to the families. We then began the feast: Turkey, Christmas rice, a special potato salad, appetizers and we washed it all down with a glass of wine. Note to future exchange students: You are not allowed to drink alcohol, unless your host parents or host Rotary allow you. I drank the glass of wine because it was a part of the tradition and it would have been rude to refuse it.
After dinner they said a special Christmas Catholic prayer and then we opened presents. They do not make a big deal about gifts like we do in the states, but I gave them each a gift and they all gave me one large gift together. I received: flats shoes, a dress, earrings and perfume, all made by indigenous people from the city of Otavalo. We finished off the night with some ice cream. It was a very interesting Christmas I will never forget. On Christmas day I Skyped my parents in the morning and then watched Christmas movies all day with my host family.
We left the following Monday for a few day trip to Quito. My host parents wanted me to see more of the country while I had vacation time, as did I. We left in the early afternoon and headed for the Andes. We first stopped around 4 o’clock at Quilotoa Lake. I was unaware as to where we were heading and was just following my family as we were walking up to a viewing point, and was completely surprised to see the most beautiful lake I had ever seen in my life right in front of me. The lake is in the center of a very old volcano and is the most beautiful color blue. It took me a minute to realize I was looking at the lake that I have seen in a handful of guidebooks and magazines. My host family kept asking me if I liked it, all I could think was “What a ridiculous question. Who wouldn’t like this lake?” We all took bunches of pictures at the lake. We were walking around the viewing center, when we happened to run in to Gerardo’s cousin. It’s a small world. We then went and ate choclo (Ecuadorian corn) with cheese and some other beans form the locals. We stopped for dinner in Latacunga. We then continued on driving and drove to Ambato. We stayed the night in Ambato and then continued on the next morning. We were stopped on the roads about every 10 meters by the viudas since it was New Year’s Eve. The viudas were all dressed in women’s clothing, with wigs and big personalities. They would stop the cars with rope or logs and beg for money for their baby (baby doll). Some would touch my host dad’s face, others blew kisses, made inappropriate comments to my host dad (hilarious) and one even told my host dad that he loved him. We finally made it to Banos were we bought Pepito, our Viejo doll. Viejo dolls are also a part of New Year’s tradition here in Ecuador. The word Viejo means old and originally they were all men dolls, this tradition goes along with the viudas. The viejos represent the old y ear all well and at 12:00 AM the people throw all of the viejos that they bought into piles and burn them. Also representing the end of the other year. We named our doll Pepito. We tied him to the front of our car for the day and later burned him in the night.
We walked the streets of Banos during the early afternoon and then drove to “casa del arbol” = tree house. It was a small building in a tree right next to a volcano with an incredible view over Banos and all of the other mountains. I also really enjoyed the swing there. The swing was connected to the same tree and when you swung forward you swung over the edge of a cliff. It was super cool.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve in Banos that night. We walked the streets and ate and had a really good time watching the fireworks, viudas and burning of the viejos.
I am now back in school and everything is going good. My Spanish has gotten very good and my friend in school called me fluent. I was more than flattered.
The mental journey of this exchange has not gotten any easier, I go through days not having a clue who I really am and others where I feel I have never known myself better.
Thats all for now, until next month.
January 25, 2014
Today is my 5th month anniversary of living in Ecuador. I’m pretty positive that I just hit the “bottom” and now things are headed upward until I have to leave. Not to scare you, the bottom is just the hardest part of the exchange. I had what I think was a normal exchange student Christmas season, with a little bit of homesickness, and at the same time I was super excited to celebrate the holidays in a different culture. Now I am just living, learning and laughing more than ever before in my life. I saw a quote the other day that I think is adorable and incredibly true.
“Laughing is when you’re so full of happiness that it bursts”
I have learned to laugh with and at the same things as the people here that I may have never thought was funny before. Now, I can hardly control my laughter, and I laugh every day. The other day we were playing Ninja (google it) in class and I accidently slapped a girl right across the face. She was fine, but we all must have laughed for a good 5 minutes. You may not think that it sounds like a funny story, but like I said you learn their sense of humor.
I think I have decided that my favorite difference between Ecuador and the United States, is the kids’ attitude about school. From what I have experienced from my previous 2 years of high school in Florida is that it is a depressing place (jail) that kids are forced to go to. Very few people really enjoy it. Students (including myself) complain about every homework, teacher and anything slightly unpleasant and we counted down the days until summer. Here though, it’s different. For the first time in my life, I was sad yesterday was Friday and that I had a weekend break. Kids go to school, yes because they have to, but they also want to go. They don’t like homework or teachers any more than we Americans do, but they just have fun at school. Not 5 minutes goes by without someone making a joke. We all laugh and have fun all day, and I am disappointed that we have to go home at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we still have boring or down days, but w e almost always have fun at school. Just wanted to share this because it’s awesome!
This is part of one of my personal journal entries from my 11 weeks here in Ecuador:
“New things: food (MEAT), culture (everything), family (I meet a new cousin every time I go to Quito), language (hard), sense of style (jeans without back pockets), housing decorations/furniture (sharp corners and white), ethnicity (brown or black hair, skin stains, flatter faces and the most charming smiles in the world), children (by far the cutest I have ever seen), Futbol/soccer (not a sport, a way of life), music (every song has the word Corazon/heart in it), city (Quevedo- my little NYC), and the same thing that keeps the world going round LOVE (done differently with the same meaning).”
I also want to share an incredible poem my best friend wrote for me when I left for my exchange:
She walked into the plane with sorrow on her lips but hopefulness in her heart.
An unseen tear in her eye; her courage a work of art.
She would be leaving so much behind but gaining even more.
Her eyes no longer blind, her life an open door.
The adventures she’d have would compare to none.
The memories and friends are sure to last long after she’s done.
I can’t imagine all the places she’ll go or the things she’ll see…
But I do know that that girl has inspired me.
The kindness she possesses is unlike any other.
She is amazingly herself, there will never be another.
She makes me want to be the absolute best that I can
Her example is what I follow, what I take is her hand.
It is hard to watch her go, but I know it’s for the best.
I’ll be missing her dearly; these times put my heart to the test.
But the love she earned at home will always be waiting.
She has nothing to fear, the last bits of doubt began fading.
And so, with everything to gain, we watched as she turned and walked onto the plane.
*Shout out to my awesome friend Summer back home along with all of my other wonderful friends!
So since today is a special day I just decided to do a special blog. In general everything is going really good, I’m just going to school and living a normal life. I have vacation break starting February 21 through mid to late April.
That’s all for now!
March 7, 2014
Hola Amigos de Los Estados Unidos!
Hope all is well back with you all in the states. I am doing really well, I still face “hard times”, but generally I feel that I have been able to enjoy the second half of my exchange more. They told us it would be like this, the first half is about adjusting, learning the language, meeting everyone and some occasional sadness, while the second half is about really living like a local. I live a normal life here in Ecuador, I go to school, take classes, laugh with my friends, ride the bus home, eat lunch, take a lot of naps, go play soccer, or do a school project at a friend’s house, hangout with my host parents, sometimes I eat dinner, and I go to sleep. I have a simple life here, don’t mistake simple for easy, my life is not easy as I am living in a foreign country with a foreign language and culture that still give me plenty of challenges. I have faced the most challenges internally, figuring out who I am now as I am changing. I’m not positive as of why, but my emotions are like a rollercoaster. My mood can change so quickly and sometimes for no reason. I like to compare the exchange experience to what they say pregnancy is like: Its roughly 9/10 months, your emotions are all over the place and you get fat. Don’t let that scare you though, the exchange experience is incredible! I feel sick to my stomach when I think about it ending in 4 months, saying goodbye to the amazing people I have met, so I don’t think about it and I live it up while I still can!
So I wanted to share about my birthday celebration. My birthday was on the 5th of February. The kids in my class threw a surprise party for another classmate (his birthday was on the first of February) and I. It was so much fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the kids that I care so much about, the kids that have made this exchange for me. The kids that make me laugh when I’m homesick, the kids that have pretty much taught me all of the Spanish I have learned, and the kids that have changed the way that I see this world. I truly care about each and every one of the 32 kids in my class and I am so overjoyed that our paths crossed this year. Anyway, they had 2 cakes for us, one that they shoved our faces in and the other for eating. It is a tradition here in Ecuador to shove the face of the birthday girl or boy in the cake, it is probably one of my favorite cultural traditions here in Ecuador that I intend to bring back to the United States (watch out friends and family). They bought hamburgers and pizza for everyone and we hung out laughing, dancing, taking pictures and finished the night by watching a scary movie together. I loved my party. Later on my actual birthday Rotary threw me a party with dancing, cake and games. I also enjoyed that party a lot. I am overall very happy with how my birthday turned out.
This last weekend I traveled with my host dad to Quito (the capital) where my family is from. We went and visited my grandparents from both sides and had a good time with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I meet a new family member every time I go to Quito. I enjoyed hanging out with 2 of my host sisters (my other sister and host mother are in Miami). I got back on Tuesday night. Wednesday and Thursday I went to school and finished the year off. I am now on a 2 month vacation break, which makes me more sad than happy because I already miss my classmates. Yesterday after school got out, we all went to the next city over, Valencia, where a few of the kids in my class live and we had a Carnaval party. Carnaval is a holiday here that is celebrated like a food/water fight. People throw water balloons at each other, powders of all different colors, foams and eggs. I got an egg cracked on my head by a friend, it smelled! After we were completely messy we showered off and jumped i n the pool and played some games. We finished the night off by eating a pile of chicken fingers and French fries. It was a blast.
This vacation break I will be traveling all over the country: Salinas (beach), Quito (mountains) and the Galapagos (islands). I am super excited and I plan on writing about it for you all.
That’s it for now.
May 5, 2014
“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” – Thomas Szasz
Hello again USA,
I posted the quote above because I believe that it has such an incredible truth to it. Discovering Carley has been a humbling journey as it feels like I had to lose myself completely in my first 5 months and then find/create myself in the second half. It is nothing you can prepare for; Rotary warned me but I did not understand the concept till I was in the situation. I hit a point in January where I felt completely empty on the inside. I had no opinion, no personality, no idea what I wanted and nothing to say to anyone. It was hard and frustrating, but it didn’t last forever. I began to find myself again and I was surprised to see the girl I was creating. I do and say things sometimes that make me wonder where the old Carley went. Sometimes I see myself creating a quality that I don’t like so I have to do my best to change that and replace it with a better quality. I still have days where I don’t know who I am, and those days aren’t fun, but then I&rsq uo;ll have a day where I’ve never been more confident in who I am as a person, and it makes every hard moment worth it.
I have had the last 2 months off of school for vacation break (just like summer break). The school year on the coast is from May to the end of February, while in the Sierra (mountains) the school year is the same as in Florida. I have probably been to Quito (the capital of the country) about 6 or 7 times. In total that’s about 60 hours of driving. I got to go to the Mitad Del Mondo or Middle of the World where I got to stand with one foot in the western hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere. I also got to go to a museum, see a show and eat a very typical dish all while in the middle of the world. I spent Semana Santa or Easter week in Quito with my family. We ate fanesca, a typical soup eaten only during semana santa. Fanesca is made up of over 10 different kinds of grains and is a dense, flavorful dish. On Easter Sunday my host family took me to a mass in one of the most famous churches in all of Ecuador. The Basilica is a huge church that is absolutely in credible! The ceilings are super high, all of the windows are with colored glass, they have the bodies of some of the most important political and religious people stored there, and everything is made of stone so it was very cold inside. We listened to mass (it was so cold during the entire service!). Afterwards we enjoyed a pizza as a family.
In March I took a family trip to the beach with a group of family friends. There were about 40 of us who went to a resort in Salinas, Ecuador. We stayed there for 4 days. I went with my two host parents and my two sisters: Nataly and Ivanna. I had loved soaking up the Ecuadorian sun, but warning to all: THE SUN IS VERY DANGEROUS ON THE EQUATOR! I will admit I got a little bit burnt that week. Every meal was buffet style and there was an all the time snack bar with hamburgers and hotdogs. We all put on a few pounds. I personally enjoyed not having to eat meat, so I ate pasta at almost every meal. During the day we went to the beach or pool and at night after dinner we went to a show and then went dancing in the disco teck until late at night. My sisters have taught me the basics to dancing throughout the year. Overall, it was an awesome family week at the beach!
I also had the pleasure of going to the Galapagos Islands for 5 days. Last summer I got a job; I saved up all of my work money to be able to pay for the extra trips on my exchange. I was happy that I was able to pay for my own adventure 800 miles off the coast of Ecuador! I went with a group of about 40 other exchange students from the coast. I did not know the kids very well, but I made some really good friends throughout the week. We flew from Guayaquil to the island of Santa Cruz where they drove us to our hotel. We stayed in a very cute city with a port and little shops. Our hotel was very nice too, with a pool, plenty of food and organized tour guides. I roomed with a friend from Belgium named Ines. The guides then split us into 2 groups. My group was of 19 girls. The first day we all went to Tortuga Bay where we went swimming in the crystal clear water. It was the first time I had been in the ocean since my family trip to the beach in March. I almost cried tears of joy as I entered the water. The ocean will always be my home. That evening they took us out to walk around the city. We were surprised to find a sea lion sleeping on one of the benches in the middle of the pier. The sea lions from the Galapagos are different from any other kind of sea lion and can only be found in the Galapagos. The next day we woke up at 5:30, ate breakfast, and we were off at 6. My group got on a boat and rode for 2 hours to a place called the sleeping loin. The sleeping lion is an island that rises straight out of the middle of the ocean and looks remotely similar to a sleeping lion. There are canals carved through the sides of the island. We went snorkeling in these canals. The water was very cold! It was incredible to look down and not be able to see the bottom. The sides of the rocks were covered in sea plants and fish swam alongside them. All of the fish were incredibly unique with bright colors and different sizes. A sea lion swam under my legs less than a meter away from me; it was awesome! I also got to swim directly over top of a sea turtle. Sea turtles are now one of my favorite animals. After snorkeling we ate lunch on our boat and then went to a private cove beach. We swam with stingrays there and explored hidden beaches. By the end of the day I was quite tired, but that didn’t stop me. The Rotarians said we could go out in the city on our own, so we went out shopping. I spent way too much money! I bought all sorts of souvenirs.
The next day was my favorite. We woke up and got in a bus that took us to the other side of the island. From there we got on a big yacht where they served us breakfast as they took us to another island. When we arrived at island Bartolome, I went on the beach and took pictures of the unique lava formations. I then went snorkeling. The fish were gorgeous; so many colors. I was hanging out in the reef when out of nowhere a sea penguin swims right by me. I tried to follow him, but he was much faster than me. I then wandered around the corner to another cove where I found a huge school of small bait fish hanging out and 6 penguins feeding on them. I was blown away! The coolest part is that penguins are not at all scared of people, so they would swim by me and bump me. I laughed to myself as I had 6 penguins to myself while the other 18 girls were all chasing 1 penguin around in the other cove. A few minutes later I was just swimming along when I looked to my left and saw an iguan a swimming about 5 feet away from me. It was such a cool moment! Later I went to the other side of the bay and saw a huge puffer fish as well as a 5 foot white tipped shark that was about 20 feet away from me! Pretty incredible! After snorkeling we went on a hike up the side of a very small volcano and at the top we got to see Pinnacle Point. One of the most famous views from all of the Galapagos. It was incredible as it looked down on volcanoes surrounded by a bay of super blue water. When we got back on the boat they fed us lunch. As we were riding along to another beach we encountered a school of dolphins that began to swim along with the boat. I sat on the very tip of the boat with my feet dangling over the water and dolphins jumping about a meter away from my feet! It was unreal! We snorkeled at the next beach and saw some huge star fish. My friend and I were just wandering around when a sea lion jumped in the water about 15 feet from us. He appeared to be very angry an d made direct eye contact with us for a good 10 seconds before swimming off. We went back to the beach as quickly as we could. We napped on the front of the boat on the ride home. It was an even more tiring day than the previous one! We went out on the town that night too, but returned back early to get some good rest.
The next morning we took a boat ride to Isla Isabella- Isabell Island. It was about a 2 hour ride. When we got there the guide took us on a little hike through a lava field. It was crazy to see all the different forms of lava. We then arrived at a lava canal with water in the middle. On the sides we saw families of iguanas and in the water there were bunches of sharks. After that they took us snorkeling again. It was cool, we got to touch a sea turtle. I approached an iguana on the rocks and found out that they spit when they feel threatened! Once back on the main land they drove us to take pictures at a lake with flamingos. They then took us to visit the famous Galapagos turtles! They are huge and wrinkly, but they crawl much faster than you would think, not fast, but not too slow. After lunch we went back to the dock and went swimming by the rocks, where we found a few more iguanas. On the beach by the dock there were about 15 sea lions piled up in the shade, growling rando mly. I took a few pictures of them. On the way back to Santa Cruz our yacht ran out of gasoline so we hung out on the front of the boat for 20 minutes and enjoyed the open ocean. It was so incredibly peaceful. That night, our final night, we went out and enjoyed ourselves to the full. We walked all over the city and laughed a ridiculous amount.
The next day we visited a small turtle zoo and then back to the airport. Once back in mainland Ecuador I said a few very sad goodbyes before I hopped a bus to my city. I had an incredible trip to the Galapagos and it couldn’t have gone any better! I fully recommend that everyone should go there in their lives!
I just started classes again today. I was very excited to getting back to class where I could be with my classmates every day.
I have less than 50 days till I return to Florida and one more Rotary trip left.
See you soon Florida,