Category Archives: south america

Overcoming Loneliness in Chile

The past three weeks of my study abroad program have been spent traveling. We spent a week in Putre and then had one day back in Arica to unpack and re-pack all of our things before we headed to the south of Chile. Our first stop was Temuco area. Here we spent most of the out time in Maquewe, which is a town 20 minutes away from Temuco. Despite it’s proximity to a city, Maquewe has no cellphone service, most houses don’t have internet, and there is no store or plaza around. It’s a very rural, spread out town that consists essentially of houses, farms, a hospital, and a school. Each day, for me to get to the hospital for class it was a 25-30 minute walk on the “highway.” There are buses that go from Maquewe to Temuco but other than that there was no public transportation system. Here is where my feeling of loneliness started. The house I was staying at was one of the farthest houses from the hospital. While I was staying with one other girl from the program, I felt very separated from my friends and I missed the ability to leave my house to just walk around small shops near the plaza.

Things didn’t really get any better when we left Maquewe to do our small group study of one of the other small towns around Temuco. I was in a group of three other girls going to Chol-Chol. Within the group, I definitely felt like I was an outsider. Most of the conversation came back to sororities or other topics of conversation that I could not really join in on. It didn’t help that in the afternoons we got trapped in our hostel because of the pouring rain. Again we had no internet but there was no cellphone service. For the entire time that I was in Chol-Chol I still had a feeling of isolation. I was really looking forward to our time in Pucón and hoping that it would be better and in reality Pucón did end up being a better situation. Maybe it was because we traveled as a group to some waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. I was also just really excited to have a two days of free afternoons to explore and take a break from the constant class and lectures that we had the week before.

 

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Hot springs in Pucón!

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Some of the waterfalls we went to see in Pucón.

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Nicole and I on the other side of the falls.

 

After our two day mini break in Pucón, we headed to Santiago. This is where my feeling of isolation hit me the hardest. During check in, I somehow ended up without a roommate. The second night in Santiago I had spent an hour in an Entel store trying to get my phone to work since I can’t receive phone calls. I was with a group of people from the program who were also trying to fix their phones. When we got back to the hotel, the other girls I was with rushed out to go to dinner with a friend who was studying in Santiago. It was getting kind of late at that point and I was trying to find someone who was still around the hotel and hadn’t eaten yet. I didn’t have much luck and the messages that I sent out to people weren’t getting responses. After about another hour I heard back from one group of people who were in the city eating. I headed out to try to join them. I got on the metro and then was using my phone to get me to the restaurant address when my phone suddenly lost all data. I couldn’t find my way to the restaurant so I had to call my friends to find me at a street corner and I sat there for about 20 minutes.

This was really the pinnacle of my loneliness. I was sitting in front of a bank on a dimly lit street corner in Santiago at 9:00 at night alone, just waiting for people to find me. During this time I really felt alone and forgotten. However, this feeling was about to finally lift starting the next day. The next night I asked one girl to let me know what her plans for the night were, instead of trying to make last minute plans and sulking in my room. She texted me around 8:30 and we went out to dinner with three other girls and then we walked around Santiago looking at different restaurants and cafes until midnight when we returned back to the hotel. The following day, a girl came to my room and told me that she had somewhere that she needed to show me. So we put on our running shoes and she took me to a park. I was a little confused why we were there until I saw the climbing holds on a building. She had run past this the other day and thought of me. I was so happy, not just to have found a climbing wall but also I was happy to know that she had thought of me. We hung around to watch people climb and then jogged back to the hotel.

 

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Some of the climbers in the park in Santiago.

 

That night was the birthday of a girl in the program and so we went out to dinner with her at a Mexican restaurant nearby the hotel before buying ice cream at a grocery store and working on homework in the hotel conference room. However, it wasn’t really until Saturday that the feeling of isolation completely lifted. Saturday was our one free day in Santiago so eight of us decided to take a bus to Valparaíso for the day. We took the bus in the morning and made the 10:00 am walking tour of the city where we got to see the former prison, many murals, a cemetery, and hear a lot of the history of Valparaíso. The tour ended around 1:00 and we found a lunch place right by the street fair. Our lunch was very disappointing – our soup was just fish broth, and my friend’s seafood bowl tasted like nothing. But the food we found at the street fair made up for that. After touring the fair and getting little gifts for friends back home, we headed out to explore more of the city’s famous murals and see the open air museum which is a collection of murals created in the 1990s.

 

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A mural we found in Valparaíso

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Song lyrics painted on stairs in Valparíso.

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“We are not hippies. We are happies.”

 

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and ready to get back on the bus to Santiago. As I sat on the bus, I realized that I hadn’t smiled or laughed that much since we left Putre. I had probably laughed more that day than for the entire two weeks of traveling we had done before. It wasn’t that people hadn’t wanted me around or had forgotten about me, it was that I had let it get to my head. I let all the little moments, the little accidents, build up in my mind and turned them into a much more extreme situation that it was in reality. Before, I felt like I was being pushy asking if I could come along to dinner or on little adventures, but that day in Valparaíso made me realize that I needed to make the effort to be part of the group. I needed to ask if I could come because otherwise I wouldn’t do anything and that, above all, made me feel isolated and like an outsider. There was, in reality, no one stopping me from participating except myself.

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Goodbyes are the Hardest Part

Have you ever met someone and within a very short amount of time felt an immediate close connection with them? I have thought I felt something like this before but I never could have imagined just how close you could get to someone in five days.

Five days ago my program traveled to Putre. Putre is a small rural mountain town on the border of Bolivia. For our five days there we were staying with a homestay family in groups. There were three other girls and myself staying with a family in Putre. Throughout the entire time we were there, our host family was so welcoming and caring.

Our mom gave us small flutes that had llama/alpaca designs and said Putre on them at lunch the first day together. The first night at dinner we had an amazing conversation about religion. Our mom asked us if we were religious. This can sometimes be a very touchy subject but she was very open to hearing everyone’s opinions and beliefs. We talked about being spiritual without adhering to a specific religion and about Buddhist beliefs as well as Christianity. At the end of the conversation she even said to us that our differing beliefs about religion would not separate us. After dinner we even went to the Evangelical church that she is the pastor of and participated in the service. It was very different from religious services I have attended previously. The majority of the time we were in the church we were singing. For every song there was a video that accompanied it. Some of the songs we sang in Spanish and for these the lyrics were part of the video projected up on the wall of the church. Many of the other songs we sang came from a hymn book. In the book each song was written in both Spanish and Aymara, the native language of a large majority of the people who live in Putre. Because we were there, they decided to sing in Aymara for us. These songs all had videos to accompany them with images of people in traditional clothing in fields with different animals or in water playing instruments and singing. We followed along in our hymnals trying our best to sing in Aymara. For the first two songs it was really challenging but it got much easier as we started understanding the pronunciation. After singing two songs in Spanish and four or five songs in Aymara, our host-mom read a gospel passage and started her homily. Then came the Sign of Peace. After that we all headed over to another small building next to the church that had a kitchen and an dining room with several long tables. On one table there were three plates of sopapilla that had been made before church and cups of tea. We sat there for about 20 or 30 minutes just talking to the other members of the parish. They were all so welcoming of us.

 

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The view from just outside my homestay in Putre.

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A mural depicting llamas and alpacas.

 

Throughout the rest of our time in Putre I consistently felt so welcomed by our host family and also by everyone we met. Part of the program was talking to the Aymara traditional medicine providers in Putre. Señor Teófilo is the yatiri. His role in traditional medicine within Aymara culture is to communicate with different spiritual entities. He does this to read hojas de coca (coca leaves) for people. Within these readings he can tell you about your health, your job, and your love life. He can use this to help figure out if someone has an imbalance within their body that is causing them to be sick. Additionally, Señora Fausta is the qulliri/usuyiri of the town. A qulliri is the person who uses herbs to help cure illnesses and prevent illnesses as well. A usuyiri is a traditional midwife. Both of them were very welcoming and taught us so much. I even went to Señor Teófilo one morning to get my coca leaves read and Señora Fausta made me a jarabe (a solution of eucalyptus, honey, and a root of an herb called yareta) for my cough and bronchitis as well as a cream for muscle aches. I feel like I learned the most from them. Through them I saw the potential for intercultural medicine to succeed. They worked with the local health center to treat patients and they were so open to learning about and incorporating occidental medicine in their traditional practices. They used occidental diagnoses to help cater traditional remedies and medicines for their patients and they also understood which types of illnesses they were able to effectively treat and which ones they were better treated by occidental doctors. However, this system does not yet go both ways. The medics at the clinic in Putre change a lot. At least every four years there is a completely new medical team in Putre. This means that some of the doctors that come are more open and accepting of traditional medicine and its benefits than others and it presents even more of a challenge in creating a sustainable system of reciprocity between the two types of medicine to best benefit the patients in Putre and surrounding towns.

 

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Welcome pawa with the yatiri and qulliri/usuyiri of Putre.

 

The last night that we were in Putre the group of girls that I was staying with went stargazing and on the way back we saw that our host parents were in church so we stopped in. It was just about the end of the service so we stayed. At the end our host mom said that she was so happy we had come to Putre and that she hoped we learned a lot while we were here and that she had learned a lot from us. After that she asked us is if we wanted to say a few words about our time in Putre. We all said that we felt we had created a very strong connection with the people and the place in the short time we had been there and that we learned a lot about the Aymara culture. Then another woman from the parish started to close the service with a prayer. Her prayer lasted for five minutes or so. I have never heard so many well wishes for strangers in my life. A large part of her prayer was directed at us and wishing us well in life and in our studies. It was amazing to see someone who thought the best of everyone, even people she had only met twice for very brief instances. By the end of her prayer I was almost in tears and one of the other girls I was staying with was crying. The rest of that night was spent saying very heartfelt goodbyes to our host father since we wouldn’t see him the next morning. Our sister-in-law gave us hair ties that she had made for us. They were flowers made out of fabric with traditional patterns.

The next morning we left at around 9:30 but as we walked to the bus we saw our sister-in-law again. She was in a store and beckoned us in. Once we were in the store she asked us if we wanted any snacks for the ride home. As we started to get out our wallets she quickly told us no, she would be paying for whatever we wanted. It was very sweet. We each ended up getting a lollipop for the drive up Lauca National Park, where we were visiting before returning to Arica that day. It was very hard to get on that bus and leave behind Putre and our family. I don’t think I have ever connected to someone so quickly and with such strength before in my life. I couldn’t have imagined an better first trip out of Arica.

 

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Volcano of Parinacota in Lauca National Park.

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More mountains in Lauca National Park.

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Selfie with some vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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More vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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A viscacha in Lauca National Park.

 

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Beauty and the Beast

Arica is a beautiful city. The coast and the ocean are amazing. There are beaches with dark golden sand and the waves are perfect. El Morro, a large, rocky hill that overlooks the city and coast, has breath taking views of the city and from anywhere in the city you can see the massive Chilean flag that flies on the top. You can’t see it from the city but there is also a huge statue of Jesus Christ on top that looks out at the ocean. It is a symbol of peace between Peru and Chile after territorial disputes were finally settled.

 

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The view of the beach from the top of El Morro.

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The group taking pictures of the massive Chilean flag at El Morro

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Closer view of the El Morro Chilean flag.

 

Outside of the city is pure desert. Sand dunes and almost nothing else. Years ago, an artist was commissioned to create several sculptures in the desert to the south of Arica. The statues that the artist created are massive, sand colored creations that are the only things that stand out for miles. His inspiration was the idea of people living in space. There is even a “landing pad” for extraterrestrial aircrafts that is a design made of rocks.

 

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Statues representing male and female figures in the desert south of Arica.

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Another statue found in the Arican desert.

 

There are also murals all over Arica. I’ve seen many around the University of Tarapacá and also around the old University Républica where we have our Spanish classes. Most of them seem to be memorials to people who lost their lives during the violent 1973 Chilean coup. All of the murals are very detailed and many are very colorful. Some are more abstract and include depictions of owls and colorful designs.

Besides all of this, there are just wonderful people. Everyone I have met so far has been very welcoming and kind. Everyone has been patient with me and my Spanish speaking abilities which I have been really grateful for. Most Chileans speak really fast and with so much slang that it’s hard to understand what they are saying even if you understand all of the words they are saying. My host family has been exceptionally welcoming. They have helped me a lot with my Spanish and they are very generous. I am really enjoying my time with them and getting to know them more. My host dad just came back from vacation the other day so I just met him but so far he seems very friendly. He’s been super funny so far. I also got to meet my cousins the other day. They are from Santiago but are currently in Arica. Two nights ago we went over to my abuela’s house for “once” (dinner). The next night we had a barbecue at our house. My host dad prepared fresh fish that he bought at the port that morning. It was delicious. The fish was reineta, a fish common in the ocean off of Chile. I am looking forward to trying more of the local fish while I’m here.

 

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Reineta being sold fresh at the market at the Port of Arica.

 

The other night I went to El Centro, the main shopping street in the center of the city, to get ice cream with a few other students from my study abroad program. When we got out of our colectivo (a carpool style taxi with a set route), there were several events going on in the plaza. One of the events was a traditional African-Chilean dance to celebrate the African heritage of Chileans in Arica. The dancers were amazing and there was a band of men and women playing drums and singing. I felt so lucky to have arrived just in time to watch the last few dances and experience this tradition.

 

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Dancers celebrating African-Chilean traditions.

 

While everything has been amazing and interesting so far, I have noticed that in the midst of all the beautiful places, there is a lot of trash. Arica’s tap water is safe to drink but most people who can afford to buy bottled water do because the tap water doesn’t have an appealing taste. I was told it’s because of the amount of minerals in it but I’m not really sure why it tastes bad. Most people buy bottled water and many families have the stereotypical office water cooler-type dispenser in their homes. Arica doesn’t have a very good recycling program and many of the people who live here are not very environmentally conscious. This means that there is a lot of plastic waste and garbage everywhere. I have found myself needing to buy bottled water occasionally and I feel really wasteful. Over the past week I have been better about filling up the water bottles that I brought with me and using those as much as possible but it is challenging because I drink a lot of water during the day. I do want to work on improving my environmental footprint while I am here though.

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Arrival and Orientation

Yesterday I arrived in Arica, Chile after spending the night in a hotel at the Santiago airport. Traveling was long and stressful. I left on Sunday from Jackson, Wyoming and arrived in Santiago early Monday morning. Customs and Passport Control was a bit shocking. I figured that everything was going to be in English but I wasn’t ready for how fast everything was going to be. At customs I got in trouble for not declaring the two packages of beef jerky that I was bringing for my host family, but was fortunately allowed to keep them. Then when I checked in to the hotel, I was informed that Passport Control was supposed to give me a piece of paper but I never got one. This made me really anxious. At that point, I was very overwhelmed and starting to doubt whether or not I was prepared for this semester abroad. I decided to take a nap and relax at the hotel pool to try to de-stress. Then I went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. One of the waiters started speaking to me in Spanish and we had a conversation about how I was a student from the United States who was studying abroad in Chile for the semester. He told me that my Spanish was good and that was what I needed to hear. Then I went to bed since my flight was early the next morning, but I wasn’t able to sleep.

At 12:40 am I decided that it was useless to try to sleep anymore and I got up. I packed up my stuff and checked out of my room and headed to the airport. I was there a bit too early so the line to check bags at Latam wasn’t open yet. I waited about 10 or 15 minutes before they opened the line up to people on the 4:25 am flight to Arica. Then I went through security. I was anticipating security to be similar to the United States but when I got there it was very different. It looked similar but I wasn’t asked to show any ID, only my boarding pass. Then I watched as the people in front of me simply placed their bags down to walk through the body scanners with their jacket, shoes, belt, and jewelry still on. I was given strange looks for putting my phone in my backpack before going through. At the gate I was even more surprised to see a Dunkin’ Donuts.

As we started the boarding process, every announcement was in Spanish. I didn’t really understand that much but I was able to figure out what was going on based on what everyone else was doing. Once we where on the plane they started saying the announcements in English as well which was nice. The flight was about three hours long and I was excited that they not only had drinks but gave us a choice of four pastries for breakfast. And we were allowed to pick two! I was starving at that point so that made me really happy.

We landed at 7:00 am and the earliest pick-up time that my study abroad program, SIT, had given us was 9:00, so I was shocked to see a taxi driver holding up a sign with my name on it. I was honestly a little unsure of what to do but I figured that he had to have been sent by SIT. As we were leaving the airport, the sun was starting to rise. All around me were sand dunes. Only sand dunes. It looked like Mars or a scene from Star Wars. I knew that Arica was in the desert but I wasn’t expecting it to look quite like that. As we approached the city, a colorful arrangement of crowded houses appeared. The taxi took me to a small hostel where three other girls who had arrived early were spending the night. I was brought up to their room where we did brief introductions before I fell asleep for an hour in one of the beds. Around 9:00 am, one of the other girls woke me up to get breakfast. Despite having had food on the flight I was hungry again. The owner of the hostel had set up a table for us with several types of rolls and coffee and tea. He then asked us if we would like eggs and made us scrambled eggs. The other girls filled me in that SIT was picking us up at 11:30 am to go back to the airport to pick up the rest of the group.

The rest of the day was spent meeting everyone and getting settled. The Program Director and Director of Student Affairs picked us up and brought us to a gorgeous hotel in Arica. We were paired up for rooms. My roommate for orientation is a girl named Allison who spent the week prior to the program backpacking in Patagonia with 4 other students. The room was small but nice. However, the patio and the view are the best part. The hotel is right on the ocean. There is a patio with a pool that overlooks a rocky stretch of coast and right next to the hotel is one of the best beaches in Arica. After getting set up, we headed to lunch on the patio. We were sitting with the Program Director, Brian, so all the conversation was in Spanish. I felt like I understood most things but I wasn’t feeling confident enough to join in very much. I was also starting to feel the affects of only getting two hours of sleep. However, after lunch we had two hours of free time before orientation really started and I joined a group of students who were headed to the beach. Being from Wyoming, beaches aren’t something I see on a regular basis and I was excited to be there. The water was cool but felt really nice. There were tons of people there. Most of them seemed to be Chilean. There were also people selling drinks and fruit salad out of rolling coolers that they were walking across the beach with as they yelled out what they were selling.

At 5:00 pm we started orientation. We went over the schedule and structure of the program, then we moved on to icebreakers and get-to-know-you questions. At this point in the day I was feeling a lot more confident in my ability to hold a conversation in Spanish and I felt like I was understanding most of what was being said. Afterwards, we launched into a few mini-lessons about Chilean history and several famous Chilean artists like Pablo Neruda and Violetta Parra, among others. This all lasted about three hours.

After orientation ended for the day, we headed to dinner. I was starving at this point despite the massive lunch we had earlier. However, for most Chileans and other Latin Americans, lunch is the largest meal of the day, so dinner was not as filling despite being three courses. Again, conversation was all in Spanish and this time I was a much larger part of the dialogue. By the end of dinner I was exhausted from the past few days and headed straight to bed.

The next morning my roommate and I got up around 7:30 for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style and the tables were filled with fruit, rolls, slices of bread, and various spreads for the bread. There were also crepe-like pancakes, scrambled eggs, and chorizo. One of the spreads for the bread was dulce de leche which was delicious and very thick.

After breakfast we headed into Arica for a guided tour of some historical sites around Arica. We visited a church designed by Gustave Eiffel that is made completely out of metal. We went to several markets. We visited the location where some of the oldest mummies in the world were found. We also went to the Port of Arica and saw some sea lions. The tour was really informative and it was awesome to see so many places in Arica but I also felt very touristy. We were given bucket hats and nametags. We already stand out as a large group of Americans based on clothing and appearances, but this really made us stick out. Local people would often pass us and speak in English welcoming us to the city. It was very exciting to see that so many people were happy to have us there and willing to speak to us.

 

Fishing and tourist boats at the Port of Arica.

After the tour was over, the group was split in half. Half went to the police station to begin the process to receive our temporary Chilean identification cards and the rest of us went back to the hotel. The rest of the day, and tomorrow is going to be spent in sessions covering program policies and classes, including information about SIT’s Independent Study Project and the Healthcare Practicum. The rest of the group is going to go to the police to get their Chilean IDs and then we are going to visit El Morro, where Chileans won a battle against Peruvian forces in 1880, as well as Playa Chinchorro, another popular beach in Arica, and the ex-island Alcarán. Alcarán used to be an island but has been converted to an artificial peninsula. I’m excited to see more of the city and I can’t wait to be able to explore it more myself.

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An Introspective Perspective

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

It took about two days for my ears to finally adjust to the change in altitude and pressure after being home. For those two days, my entire body felt as if I was underwater, perhaps imaging floating around in the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world, enjoying the amazing beauty of Ecuador’s coast and the Galapagos Islands. Muffled inquiries accompanied by shouts for responses filled my days as I just seemed to take up space in my home, my mind lost in the middle of the world.

 

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This is me at the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) monument made by the French. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador although it is actually not on the correct coordinates since it was calculated so long ago. It is pretty close though. Only in Ecuador, as my friends and I would say.

 

This past week, I have felt a whirlwind of emotions. As I enjoyed the last week or so of my study abroad in denial, I finally had to learn to say goodbye, a cruelly ironic term that seems to have a powerful spell over human beings, forever leaving us perplexed, angry, upset, hopeful, excited – too many contradicting emotions at once for one person to handle. Yet somehow we learn how to say goodbye, by either packing up those emotions, or learning to leave what we can behind as to not carry too much weight in the future. Although my family and friends here fill the void of the goodbyes and see you laters I handed out with trembling hands and watered down vision, there is a cultural void that exists after spending such a long period of time in another country.

 

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A shoutout to Ecuador for reconnecting me with the fun of watching soccer and attending live matches and also offering it as a culture experience.

 

The reverse culture shock is equally as cruel, eventually turning into something positive and life-altering (I am ready whenever you are), but right now it is just reminding me that I am a stranger in my own country, what was familiar is now strange and a foreign country still has my heart and understands me better than I seem to understand myself. I have been floating around a (my?) town that is too small and too big at the same time within a state in a similar situation, sitting on the coast of a country that could be the host of possibly 50 Ecuadors. The accessibility of taking a bus for a maximum of 10 hours to get somewhere you want to visit with a cost of at most $12 no longer as I sit in a town where a car is required if you want to get anywhere and where the cost of public transportation is equivalent to about 10 rides on the green bus in Quito or the Ecovia (the metro). One trip on the metro will get you to the Historic Center and satisfy your senses with an overwhelming quantity of churches built to show devotion and faith in a being that connects mainstream beliefs in the U.S. with those in Ecuador, disconnected primarily by a language barrier that seems to build walls between countries that are geographically connected to us. This language is one that now slips off of my tongue without thinking, hiding words and sayings in between my teeth so that even when I am speaking English, they can insert themselves in my sentences and remind me of the beautiful language that filled my eardrums for four months, my brain now bitter that after finally adjusting I now expect it to switch to English without a fight.

 

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Another shoutout to Ecuador for making me less afraid of llamas. They are pretty adorable.

 

The experience is hard to put into words, putting into consideration my language conflict or not, and it seems to make people think I did not enjoy myself. When someone asks me a question about my study abroad experience, my mind is forced to flip through what seems to be hundreds of different experiences and memories, all unique and important in their own way, a film reel of colors and locations and people and sounds and smells and feelings that each have their own significance. As I attempt to explain what it feels like to stand at the peak of a mountain or the bottom of a waterfall, my senses overload and my throat blocks words, building an awkward silence that cannot be fixed as I lose my train of thought and my mind wanders to some part of Ecuador that I did not spend enough time with.

 

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Not sure if I have mentioned these views yet? This is a beautiful view of Cotopaxi from Mindo, a rainforest in Ecuador that is filled with endless waterfalls to discover, amazing wildlife, and delicious coffee and chocolate!

 

However, as always, time continues to move forward and thus so do I, frequently finding myself missing the smells and sounds of the marketplaces in Quito or the morning serenades on the bus rides to campus. However, these smells have been filled with the smells of winter in Massachusetts accompanied by the holiday season. I quickly began to crave eggnog and all things festive and have luckily come back during a family oriented time of the year. Still, each aspect of what I miss from Ecuador finds something to cling onto here in the United States that either resembles it completely or somehow could possibly pass for it. Time progresses and I remind myself of the importance and relevance of progress right now.

 

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It will be hard to miss too much of Ecuador and not get reacquainted with the U.S. considering how adorable my nephew is and how much bigger he got in the past four months! Yes, I found a way to talk about my nephew in this blog. Proud auntie!!

 

As the United States finds itself on the brink of change, I know that I must stay motivated to be an active citizen and take part in the democracy that exists within my country. To be fair, the qualms and concerns of Ecuadorians are on a completely different level than ours here in the United States. We are not comparable, we have completely different histories and thus different perspectives on the world. Nevertheless, I will ensure that my voice is heard and I will work towards the future that I want for myself and my peers, always keeping in mind the beautiful country that opened my eyes to the importance and natural beauty of the world and living in harmony with nature and with people different from you.

As I move on in my life, I hope to keep Ecuador a part of my story, making my way back there one day, perhaps after graduating this May. I am not entirely sure what my plans are but I am sure that my experience in Ecuador will help me in my endeavors, whether it be by changing me into a more observant person, helping me with my Spanish, or offering me a place to live and spend some more time in after graduating. No matter what the case, my experience in Ecuador is one that I will never forget and one that can never be taken away from me. Thank you so much for reading my posts and for sharing this experience with me. I hope that you enjoyed reading and that one day, if you have not already, you are able to discover the beauty of Ecuador’s nature and culture firsthand, an experience that cannot be fully appreciated through the stories and words of others, no matter how intricately crafted they may seem.

 

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My first time in the Pacific Ocean! Thanks for everything, Ecuador. It might just be a tourism slogan, but it really sticks with me: “All you need is Ecuador.”

 

Take care,

Alicia ❤

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Just like Bowie, I Turned Myself to Face Me

As I begin to write this blog post, I can already feel a numbing sensation trickle down my arms as my eyes that have seen so much these past four months fill with tears. I will proofread for any typos but can’t make any promises with my watered-down eyesight.

I am a little afraid that I have almost changed too much since studying abroad, and that the culture shock when I return home will be a really difficult experience for me, but there is no need to worry about that yet I suppose. It is difficult to put into words for me how much my time here has meant to me. I hope that this post does this beautiful country justice.

If you had asked me one month into my study abroad experience how I honestly felt, I would have told you that I did not think I would make it through these four months. I had never been away from my family, my boyfriend, or the U.S. for so long. And now, here I am, three months later, not wanting to leave this beautiful country and the diversity that fills it, and living tranquilly next to an active stratovolcano. 

 

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Doing touristy things in Quito before leaving at Parque Carolina, an incredibly huuuge park in the middle of Quito that has soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a track, vendors of any food you might be craving or didn’t know you were craving….essentially Ecuadorian culture in a park.

 

Honestly, I am not sure when things changed exactly. I don’t think it was a specific moment in my study abroad experience, but rather an accumulation of several things. I began to become more independent and I was getting through days with a smile on my face or laughter throughout the entire day more easily and easily. I became stronger as things seemed to fall into place. I was going on more and more adventures with new friends and disconnecting myself a little more from social media and the things that connected me with the U.S. (Actually I left my phone in a taxi and my laptop charger broke so I didn’t really have much of a choice…but as they say here in Ecuador, así es la vida, or “such is life,” so I had to move on.) I also was enjoying time on my own more, which is something I never really enjoyed prior to this experience. When I decide to explore Quito on my own, I almost always encounter someone who is surprised at my Spanish level and thus wants to talk to me more- a conversation that usually comes from them first trying to sell me some jewelry or $1 seco de pollo from a cooler.

My alone time throughout the city has also helped me realize how much I have changed in terms of being a more observant and in-the-moment person. Being more observant has definitely come from necessity, considering pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and buses will start driving/shut the door before you’re comfortably on the vehicle. And living in a city for the first time has also made me more aware of my things when I am walking or on public transportation.

It is pretty much impossible to make a plan and follow through with it completely here, but that is part of the fun. Buses don’t really have schedules (and even if they do they aren’t always followed), some places are closed because they don’t feel like opening, detours appear and change daily, the list goes on and on. Although this would have frustrated me in the U.S., here it seems like an opportunity to enjoy and explore wherever your trip ended up taking you. I have definitely become more open to change during my time here and have become less nervous asking for help from strangers, especially since Ecuadorians always want to help, even if they have no idea where you are heading, and thus just make up directions…but you can’t even get mad because they are so sweet. Despite these challenges, I have successfully made it to several different cities and towns in Ecuador, one of them being Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, where I went to a Barcelona (a huuuge fútbol team from Guayaquil) soccer game that was an experience I will never forget! 

 

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Just a taste of the support the fans gave to their team in Guayaquil. It was even crazier than the two Ecuadorian national games I have been to in Quito. Soccer games are a great way to experience the culture, get some delicious and cheap food, as well as learn some interesting sayings…

 

If I had to elaborate on one aspect of my life here in Ecuador that I am going to miss incredibly when I return to Massachusetts it would be the diversity here in Ecuador. Prior to studying abroad, I always thought of the word “diversity” as something that referred to cultures and people. Although this is still the case, I also have been introduced to the environmental diversity of a country so small yet so incredibly diverse in terms of its people as well as its flora y fauna. Even in the capital, with its stressful traffic and diesel-filled air, there are still magnificent views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi from afar or the just as incredible but closer to home Pichincha Volcano that is engulfed by Quito. There is also a National Park nearby called Cayambe Coca that is a popular home for bears and consists of a beautiful mountain range and lake. Before coming to Ecuador I had only seen views like this in National Geographic or on postcards.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciated nature. 

Now, I can tell you that I don’t think I can fully live without visiting mountains or waterfalls or something that is a part of nature at least several times a month.

 

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An incredible view of the Cayambe Coca National Park. I am definitely going to miss seeing nature like this everyday.

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The breathtaking sunrise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. My friend Caitlyn and I got up a few times to go for morning runs and our last day in the Galapagos we got up eeextra early to see the sunrise.

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The unbelievable Quilotoa Crater Lake in Quilotoa, a few hours south of Quito.

 

Beyond the environmental diversity here in Ecuador, there is a pluriculturalism that exists within the identities that fill this beautiful country, shown through the clothing that people wear, the customs and music they have, the holidays they celebrate, and the languages they speak. On just a 20 minute bus ride to campus I can hear people speaking Spanish, English, and Kichwa, as well as see people wearing very modern clothing (probably from Colombia or the U.S. since clothing here is very expensive), more conservative or practical clothing, as well as indigenous clothing, which can vary depending on the indigenous community they come from in Ecuador. During the morning bus ride I can hear someone singing modern American music to a group of indigenous folks playing their traditional instruments, and also singing rather sad songs that portray the indigenous history of this country that they promise to never forget. I have even seen people walking on the highway for several hours to see the Quinche Virgin and profess their faith and dedication to her during El día del Quinche.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciate diversity, that I am an open-minded person who appreciates differences across cultures as long as everyone is respected.

Now, I can tell you that I have an entirely new perspective of diversity, one that includes our beautiful earth that we have to appreciate and protect, as well as diversity through positive relationships I have witnessed between lots of different groups of people in one city, something that I hope our country will be able to reach in the near future.

 

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My beautiful friend Brittany and I with a past President of Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez!

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Just a bunch of gringos and Ecuadorians in the back of a pick-up truck. Nothing unusual for the countrysides of Ecuador!

 

Not only will I miss the diversity, I will also miss speaking Spanish daily and learning new sayings and Quiteño slang, as well as the connections with Ecuadorians, international students, my host family, and with myself that I have made thanks to my time here in Ecuador. But this is not goodbye. I know I will be back in Ecuador sometime soon, and I will see the new friends I have made who live in the States, and I will never forget the changes I have undergone as an individual throughout this experience.

Mil gracias mi lindo Ecuador

 

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A view of the Historic Center in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for obvious reasons I would say.

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Ready for my next adventure, wherever it might be! (Taken in Cuenca, Ecuador.)

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! As always, thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto Ecuador,

Alicia

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Trading Buses for Boats and Pavement for Sand

Isabela Island

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Just a nice reminder, respira olores y colores meaning “breathe in scents and colors,” and there is no better place to do that than the Galapagos, that I promise you!

 

Droplets of the sparkling, turquoise water slowly began to cover my face, creating a blur of mystery during the two-hour boat ride to Isabela. As we grazed through the waves of the ocean, each bump was (not so gently) reminding me of my surroundings. The hairs on my arms shot up as the gusts of fresh, salty air danced around my face and neck, sending chills of excitement and incredulity down my spine when we approached the beautiful island of Isabela.

 

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It doesn’t get any more picturesque than this, folks. Shout out to my friend Tyler for his perfect pose for a reflective photo. There is something so personal for me when I am out on the water, usually leading to some self-reflection. Perhaps it resides within the fact that the ocean is immensely profound, leaving me to feel minuscule but also at peace.

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Here we are doing some kayaking on our first day on Isabela! Featuring the incredibly blue/turquoise/indescribable water of the Galapagos…you have to see it to believe it!

 

When we disembarked from the boat, we were greeted at the dock by some very danceable Latino music alongside lots of smiling faces – not only those of other tourists but also those living and working on the island, who were incredibly inviting. Aside from people, we were also greeted by some marine iguanas, lots of different birds, and some rather relaxed sea lions. As we all tried to hide our excitement as to not scare the animals away, the wooden dock slowly converted into a mixture of pavement and sand. This seemingly miniscule detail was something that stuck with me throughout my time there and still now after my return, as I am continuously discovering sand in my shoes from the trip. It also instigated a sort of reflection about the differences in a life with sand or pavement under the soles of your shoes, such as a life on Isabela or a life in Quito, two different cultures and communities I have been able to experience first-hand during this study abroad experience.

 

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Here are two beautiful sea lions advertising how Isabela “crece por ti,” or how Isabela grows for you.

 

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before leaving for this trip that the Galapagos was going to be an overly tourist-focused place, since I have heard that lots of island destinations usually are. Although Santa Cruz, the island with the highest populated town in the Galapagos Islands, seemed to be more focused on ensuring a pleasant experience for the tourists, Isabela, an island with only about 2,000 inhabitants, was significantly more focused on the natural way of things and less concerned with ensuring the picturesque experience for its tourists. However, it was also very easy to have an incredible time on Isabela due to the culture and the people of Puerto Villamil, the town we stayed at, who all knew each other and were very friendly, helpful, and informative.

 

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These pictures are from when we went snorkeling and my lovely friend Haley used her GoPro to take some incredible photos of the animals we saw, and told me I could put some of the photos up on my blog!

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This photo was taken by the USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) alum who planned the trip, Juan Francisco. We swam with this shark! I was only *slightly* terrified – but I survived because sharks are as friendly as Finding Nemo shows them to be!

 

Isabela Island was an incredible escape from my past few months in the city of Quito, which is just as equally as beautiful- a mountainous and breathtaking city full of its own wonders, just as the Galapagos is filled with wonders of nature, warm weather (even at night), and incredibly safe and trusting communities. I will never forget the experiences I had during my time in the Galapagos, and if you ever can go please do not hesitate! I can very confidently say that you will have the time of your life there, discovering the turtles, starfish, manta rays, penguins, flamingos, tortoises, marine and land iguanas, sea lions, sharks, sea horses and much more when snorkeling or even when just walking around the islands, as well as see incredible views of our amazing world, meet friendly and loving humans, learn about the history of the islands, Charles Darwin, and the volcanoes (some still active) on the islands, and most importantly, reflect on yourself and the impact that you have on this beautiful world.

 

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Not only was I able to discover these incredible islands during this time, I also got to know some amazing women from across the U.S. who are on exchange at USFQ as well! (We outnumbered the men, so we got our own very artsy photo.)

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A photo of the group from afar during our last hike on Isabela.

 

If you are interested in looking at more photos/videos of what I did during the Galapagos, my inspiring friend Caitlyn made a snapshot video of our time during the Galapagos and told me I could share it on my blog post so here it is! I highly recommend you check it out to get a little more of a feel for our experiences on the islands.

Thanks for reading!

¡Gracias por leer!

Hasta el próximo post,

Alicia ❤

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