Tag Archives: Quito

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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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

Building and Breaking Routines

One aspect of studying abroad that is definitely similar to my time at UMass, and really probably life in general, is how natural and easy it is to fall into a routine. I was very focused at the beginning of my semester at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) to engage in any adventure presented to me and throw myself out there in order to make the most of my once in a lifetime experience here in Quito. However, the reality is that no matter how determined you believe you are, it’s nearly impossible to go on a trip every weekend, or do things during the week all the time, not only due to classes, but also considering your budget when abroad. So I find myself going to classes, getting lunch with friends, going to salsa club, and usually returning to my host family’s apartment or getting some work done in a café with friends, similar to what I might do during a semester at UMass. Personally, I don’t think there is any shame in routines, I think they help keep me sane and calm during stressful course loads, and especially now, since I’m surrounded by a completely new environment. While at the surface, things seem to be similar to my semesters in the U.S., there’s also this imbalance of nothing really being mine here, but having to make it mine so that I can enjoy my time here without missing home too much. Although having a planned out week and keeping things in a routine so that I know what to expect is how I normally like to live my life, I knew that this experience abroad would not have been what it has for me so far if I did what I normally would at UMass.

As a challenge for myself during my time abroad, I have been focusing on experiencing every day a little further out of my comfort zone. Not only by going on trips around Ecuador that may or may not be totally planned, but also by exploring Quito during the day on my own, reflecting and focusing on what I am experiencing in the moment instead of worrying about an assignment or whether or not I remembered to close my door so that the dog wouldn’t get in. Although spending time on my own and experiencing the area may not seem like something that exciting or challenging, as someone who is always looking for friends to spend time with and never wanting to do things on my own, I think this is a big step, and I have been enjoying my small doses of solitude and have been able to learn things about myself in a new country, which I think was a very important goal for me when I was thinking about studying abroad.

Unlike most weekends, where I spend time with groups of friends going out or going on weekend trips or going camping, a few weekends ago, I spent the Saturday in Quito on my own – and discovered the most amazing market, el Mercado Iñaquito, where I walked around and spoke with Ecuadorians who had stands there, bought and tried produce I had never heard of before, practiced my bartering skills, and had a delicious lunch. It was an amazing Saturday, and it was all on my own. Afterwards, I went to see a movie by an Ecuadorian director called Sin muertos no hay carnaval, which was an incredible story about life in Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, and was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Ecuadorian culture and life in Ecuador, as well as practice my Spanish (I’m pretty confident that I understood the majority of the film).

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El Mercado Iñaquito is an open-air market with stands that sell fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, toys, backpacks, clothes, flowers, kitchen supplies, and more! Here is a beautiful picture of the fresh produce area.

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For $3.50 I had this huge and delicious serving of hornado¸ a traditional Ecuadorian meal that consists of part of a whole roasted pig with mote (corn grains), fresh salad, avocado, and llapingacho (fried potato cakes), accompanied with a huge glass of fresh passion fruit juice. You can never go without fresh juice during a meal in Ecuador!

 

Although there is a lot of pressure to continuously go on adventures with other classmates or friends during your time abroad, I just want to stress the importance of taking time for yourself, while also exploring what is around you, especially if you find yourself spending a lot of time with others and not taking the time to think about the city you are living in and how it has been impacting you and you, it. On the other hand, finding balance is always essential, and I’ve also found that it helps to talk to others studying abroad about their experiences and also search for advice from those who are from the country you are studying in. Some of my Ecuadorian friends have given me advice on incredible places to visit and know in Quito and beyond, and this country never ceases to amaze me, whether I am by myself, reflecting on the space and what I hope to gain from my experience here, or with a group of friends, taking pictures and enjoying the natural beauty that is Ecuador. I will be doing just that this weekend in Quilotoa, a breathtaking crater lake in Ecuador that has trails to hike and unbelievable views.

Stay tuned for updates on the astounding beauty that is Ecuador, from this weekend’s trip to Quilotoa, next weekend’s trip to the coast, and a mid-semester break in the Galapagos! I feel an upcoming blog post about Ecuador’s flora y fauna coming your way.

As always, thanks for reading!

Besos,

Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

New Surroundings, New Perspective

¡Hola a todos!

Today marks two weeks since the night that I landed in Quito, Ecuador. It is hard to remember the last few days that I spent in the United States. They seem like a blur, a rapid time lapse of the friends and family who wanted to spend time with me and I them before I was on my way to another continent! Mixed with a dose of last minute packing and stressing about documents I needed when abroad made time go even faster, and in a blink of an eye I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend and was ready to board my flight, which happened to be delayed by just a few hours. Little did I know this delay was quite the foreshadowing for the culture that I would be surrounded by later that very night.

A few phone conversations, a layover, and one burger later, I was en route to Quito from Fort Lauderdale! Sitting next to me on the plane were two Ecuadorian siblings who were on their way home from visiting Washington D.C. with their parents. This was my first experience of many to come where I truly had to use my mind as the Google Translator I know it can be. My time here will perhaps even require me to translate my thoughts into English upon my return!

I didn’t expect it, but after my flight landed and the doors slid open to reveal people with balloons, flowers, signs, smiles, tears, and more, I found myself getting a little emotional. I was in a completely foreign place and it was just starting to set in. Beyond the different language, the people around me had a way about them unlike any I had seen before. Their mannerisms, gestures, the colorful tones I heard when they spoke, combined with seeing families and couples reunited after what must have felt like ages, my eyes started to water. I could feel the welcoming environment around me, and even more so when I met my host mom and her friend, who hugged me while asking me endless questions and helping me with my luggage.

 

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The view from my host family’s kitchen!

 

The sky was pitch black during the drive home, but the city of Quito was still awake, with lights from houses, streets, and stores, shining so bright that they created shadows of the seemingly endless and immense mountains that engulfed the city. The next morning, I saw those breathtaking mountains everywhere I went, and I am sure that if there is one aspect of my life here that I will never get used to, it will be this beautiful landscape.

 

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The beautiful landscape I see on my way to La Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the university I am attending this semester.

 

The feelings that my experience two weeks ago at the airport gave me have yet to leave and perhaps they never will. I meet Ecuadorians on the bus, walking on the street, in stores, getting lunch, in classes, anywhere you can imagine, and they are all filled with love that they want to share with you. Although these past two weeks have been filled with ups and downs, of feeling homesick and lost throughout conversations or in classes filled with Ecuadorian students, I am starting to feel more and more at home and have been stepping out of my comfort zone daily, making every day I spend here an adventure that I look forward to.

¡Besos!

-Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

The Beginning

Quito: the capital city of the country of Ecuador, where I will be spending the next four months of my semester abroad.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life than I was on the day I arrived in Ecuador. Studying abroad is such a huge step in every way possible because it completely alters every aspect of your life. I was anxious at the beginning about many things – not knowing how to get around, whether I would be safe or not, what my host family would be like, and the list goes on. The first week was a lot to take in. My immediate thoughts once here were that the city is so huge, and that I knew absolutely no one at all. Those two mixed together is quite the overwhelming combination. In the next two weeks that have followed, my life has settled down and I’m able to start adjusting to what my life is like here. It’s a lot of daily work to make that happen, but it’s worth it.

One thing I miss from the United States is not having to take public transportation everywhere I go. Being in such a big city here makes traveling a time-consuming thing, which in my small home town, I am not accustomed to. There is so much traffic here! It’s hard to believe there can be so many cars and buses in one place at the same time!

One thing that I have found that I absolutely love here in Ecuador – which isn’t really prevalent in the United States – is the dancing culture. Everyone dances here! Young or old, male or female. It’s in their blood here, and I love it. People have so much fun dancing, and enjoy life through it. I have loved learning about all the different types of dance here, such as the salsa, which is my favorite!

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Filed under Kassie in Ecuador, south america

I promise it’s worth it.

In previous blogs I have talked about my experience arriving in Quito, and how it was not exactly how I pictured it, but then again I didn’t really have a good idea as to what I was getting in to. My first couple weeks here were thrilling, full of traveling and new friends and an exciting new language that kept me from thinking about the cultural differences. I think it was about my 5th week here when I had my 21st birthday and then the following weeks when I realized how different things are. Ecuador is a country that has many “American Style” things like restaurants, and stores, but each has an Ecuadorian base. For example, one afternoon as I was walking home from school (as it was a sunny day and I was trying to avoid the ever crowed public buses  I stopped at the iconic American restaurant and was beyond surprised at the menu. Things like McPollo (McChicken), Big Mac appeared, but also empanadas, a very typical Ecuadorian food. I was also surprised at how, even though its practically the same food it tastes different than at home, but I kind of like the different taste.  It makes it Ecuadorian.

Other than a few other situations to the McDonald’s one, I haven’t really experienced an extreme culture shock. The language is sometimes very frustrating and it’s very hard to find Ecuadorians who can speak English, so I must perfect my Spanish. In four months I’m very surprised at how far I’ve come ( and still have a long way to go) but it is super rewarding to actually be able to talk to people in line or on the bus. At first I found it very frustrating that I couldn’t understand and couldn’t communicate with the people around me…. And somewhere along the way it became possible, not overnight and not without struggle, but eventually.

I have struggled a lot with homesickness, which frustrates me more than anything. I am in Ecuador, learning a new language and I want to go home? No, I cannot accept this. So every time I start to feel this way, I go up to the top of our building and look at this beautiful city I am living in. The view is incredible and reminds me why I am here, to learn Spanish. Classes have been incredible difficult at times and that is frustrating too, but the I remember it’s only four short months, just four months then I go home.

I guess that’s it, eventually. In the beginning I kept telling myself, I will be able to communicate, I will be able to travel then eventually I will be able to go home. So far I’m pretty confident in my time here, I have taken opportunities to travel, to see the country, to talk with ecuadorians and also to find out more about myself and my limits (which are sometimes tested while traveling, or even in classes), but overall if you try hard enough, eventually you will reach your goals and then be able to share with others your experiences, and hopefully those you share them with will make bigger goals to reach.

In my time here I have taken Mark Twains words to heart….

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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Filed under Jerrin in Ecuador, south america