Tag Archives: spanish

Initial Thoughts from Distrito Federal

The passage from home to foreign land is more than just a change of geography, it’s a change of mode. It’s a shift from the relaxing yet somewhat dull confines of a lonely summer break to the exciting yet slightly frightening experience of foreign study. Hi, my name is Alex and today marks my sixth day in Ciudad de Mexico. I’m a genderqueer identifying, Interdisciplinary Honors student at the University of Washington and during this trip I will be studying queer communities, public health and migration throughout our southern neighbor.


Me at the National Autonomous University of Mexico standing in front of the Central Library

Coming into my program, I had one expectation, to learn. I wanted a blank slate and knew that too many expectations sets one up for disappointment. Surely enough, by day one, I knew I would not be let down. The culture here is so peculiar to someone who is so accustomed to the Seattle freeze*. The people are immensely more social in ways that can be interpreted as both good and bad. It’s the small things I notice most. People walking tight corridors, pushing past each other rather than waiting, street vendors both in the form of stands and standing salesman walking person to person requesting purchase. In the taxi from the airport, I noticed an interesting phenomenon I dubbed reverse window shopping. At a red light, vendors carrying boxes of goods would walk window to window between cars for potential customers. I should also note that it was barely 7:00 AM! Greetings are much more active with all the face kissing, hugging and ‘buenos dias’es you could hope for. Meal times shift from 8:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm for breakfast through dinner respectively to 8:00 am (no problem) 3:00 pm (okay a little late now) and 10:00 pm (I’m starving).

Yet almost none of this registered as a cultural shock as it was defined in all my orientations and pre departure meetings. Besides the meal times, I enjoy many of these changes. I’m already thinking about how I can bring back the lessons I’ve learned in activism and population health. One of the most impactful projects I learned about were the Las Patronas. This was a group who lived near a train network often used by migrants known as ‘The Beast.’ When these railway adjacent residents found migrants who hadn’t eaten in four days, they jumped at the opportunity to provide them sustenance. Since then, they’ve formed a group that constantly makes food for the passing travellers.

What astounds me with these people’s work is their dedication to charity without return. In the United States, we always have such a focus on some return as if charity is an investment. The return comes in many forms, both physical and psychological. It can be a T-shirt, keychain, virtual adoption of an animal, etc.  It can even be as simple as getting an update letter on how your money was used. Yet these people would give up large portions of their wealth and time to feed these people for the simple reason of it being the right thing to do. They never found out if these migrants made it to their destination or what they thought of the food’s quality. Yet Las Patronas will go as far as to say they’ll be doing this work the rest of their lives.


My class discussing reflection exercises at Casa de Los Amigos, the hostel we are staying in

It’s so inspiring as to make me wonder about the nature of the exchange in our country, the hyper emphasis on “the art of the deal,” so to speak. How selfish must we be to expect a return on charity? It has left me wondering…

How do I integrate these practices in my own life?

How can I bring these lessons back home?

How much more knowledge can I absorb during this month when this is just a small inkling of my many experiences over the past five days?

More to come in further writings.


*Seattle Freeze is a term used to describe the antisocial and often introverted nature of many residents in the city.

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Speaking More Like an Ecuagringa Everyday

The title is a little funnier than you might think. Gringos (the Spanish term for anyone from a non-Spanish speaking country, although more specifically people from the U.S. who don’t speak Spanish very well) put Ecua in front of everything when speaking English to refer to something being more Ecuadorian. For example, to ask if someone has a phone number that works in Ecuador, you might say: “do you have an Ecuaphone?” which makes no sense, and that’s probably why it’s just so much fun! Or if someone is telling a story about their family and you’re not sure if they mean their family back home, or their host family, you might ask: “are you talking about your Ecuafamily?” It’s rather counter-productive, since it’s a pretty obvious marker that you’re not from Ecuador, but hey, what’s the fun in fitting in?

But that’s just gringo slang and here I want to focus on the infinite words and dichos (sayings) that exist in Ecuadorian Spanish. Ecuadorians are incredibly fun, cheerful, and loving, and this is also shown through the equally as colorful words that flow from young Ecuadorians’ mouths when talking with their peers that I have been attempting to mimic like a seven-year-old would her older sister.

5 ways to show enthusiasm in Ecuador (that I know of):

¡De ley! or ¡De una! – absolutely, definitely, of course

Simón – yeah, for sure

Chévere or bacán – cool


An Ecuadorian might say that this view of the Panecillo is muy chévere or muy bacán, and I would definitely agree with them! This is from a trip to a museum in the Historic Center, a breathtaking area in Quito that I had the pleasure of visiting with my wonderful friend, Haley!


Quiteño ways to greet a friend in Ecuador:

¿Qué fue loco/a? – What’s up, friend? (Literally, “what happened, crazy?”)

¿Qué más? – What else is up? Usually used after asking ¿que fue?, but I’ve heard it as an intial greeting frequently as well.

¿Qué haces ñaño/a? – What are you doing, brother/sister? Ñaño is a Kichwa word for sibling but in Ecuadorian Spanish is also used to refer to a close friend. The influence Kichwa (an indigenous language and people that mainly live in the Sierra/Andean region of Ecuador) has on the Spanish here adds to the uniqueness of the Spanish spoken in Ecuador.



A group of some ñañas that I have been so lucky to make during my study abroad here. This picture is from our trip a few weekends ago to the coast of Ecuador, to a town called Atacames. It was my first time in the Pacific Ocean and it was incredible!


Ways to ask someone for a favor:

Acolítame – help me out or come with me

No sea malito – no real translation, just used when a favor is needed. Literally means “don’t be bad” but doesn’t sound that harsh when Ecuadorians use it.


Kichwa terms that are used in everyday Ecuadorian Spanish:

¡Achachay! – a Kichwa expression used by Ecuadorians and Kichwas alike when they are cold (which is pretty much all the time, even when I’m ready to use arrarray)

¡Arrarray! – a Kichwa expression used when it is hot or if something is burning

¡Atatay! ­– a Kichwa expression used when something is gross

Guambra – Kichwa for child

Guatita – The diminutive of guata which means belly, either referring to a typical Ecuadorian food made with cow’s stomach, or the love handles someone might be trying to get rid of at the gym (or not).

Guagua – Kichwa for baby or small child



Guagua de pan y colada morada, a traditional Ecuadorian pastry in the shape of a baby accompanied by a sweet semi-thick beverage (served cold or warm) during el Día de los Difuntos, celebrated on the second of November. It is a day of honoring those who have passed.


A selfie with one of my favorite Ecuadorian guaguas!


Other fun traits of Ecuadorian Spanish:

Adding the suffix -ito/a to pretty much anything: ahorita (ahora; now), cafecito (café; coffee), gringuito/a (gringo/a), dolarito (dólar; dollar)

¡Qué bestia! – This saying has a lot of different uses. It can be a way to show surprise or sadness, meaning something like “how crazy!”

¡Chuta! – Shoot! Or no way! Used to show frustration or surprised. The more you are, the longer uuuu you should give it.

O sea – used as a connector between thoughts or sentences, like “um” in English. It’s usually dragged out like ooo seeeeaaaaaa (pronounced like say-ah, sort of). Probably one of my favorite aspects of Ecuadorian Spanish, probably because I like to use “um” and “like” frequently when I’m speaking in English too. Oops.

Adding “nomás” after any command, which basically makes no sense and is part of all the fun of Ecuadorian Spanish. It literally means “no more”, but when used in Ecuadorian Spanish means “no hay problema” or “no problem,” or “right along.” You might frequently hear “come nomás” (especially when eating at an Ecuadorian’s house) and “sigue nomás”, meaning “keep eating” and “keep going.”

One other fun aspect of Ecuadorian Spanish (and I would keep going if I could!) is that there are also some English loan words that have the same or similar meanings, but are pronounced as they would be in Spanish which makes them chévere in my opinion. A few examples are full which means “a lot” or “total,” depending on the situation. It usually precedes a noun, such as “había full gente”, meaning, “there were a lot of people.” Súper is also popular and is used in place of muy or demasiado, meaning “very” or “too much.”


I know this list is long, but there are just too many Ecuadorian slang words and sayings to choose from! If you ever visit Ecuador (Quito specifically) this list is sure to help you! Either way I hope y’all enjoyed learning about some specific Ecuasayings that I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by and attempting to use for the past two and a half months!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you keep on reading! (Or should I say, ¡lee nomás!)

Besitos ❤



Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

Finding Inner Strength to Combat Culture Shock


Culture shock is the really yucky part of the cultural immersion experience that happens to most people at some point. It’s the point during study abroad where a person may face information overload or begin feeling especially frustrated with adjusting to different aspects of a new culture such as a language barrier. With 29 more days remaining until the completion of my study abroad program, I think the best kind of advice I could ever give to any future students going on a language exchange program in the face of culture shock is to be patient with yourself when coping with stressors, don’t compare your journey to other students’ in your program, be strong, and don’t give up.

Being patient with yourself means understanding you are human and with that comes limitations when facing frustrations. I had this idea in my head that coming here I would soak up the Spanish language like a sponge and that I would leave here completely fluent. It’s my seventh month into my program in Costa Rica and I still have days where I wake up and I feel like I can’t express everything I want to say correctly. This started a cycle of me being hyper-critical of myself and with that, the language barrier seemed to widen between me and the culture here because I would be so focused on wanting to prevent an error or sounding foolish when I speak that I would sometimes lose the ability to communicate clearly altogether! As a learner of Spanish as a second language, I have to accept that my ability to communicate is not comparable to native speakers—but that’s completely okay because I came here to grow with a new language! Learning a new language is a challenge in and of itself, and with that comes inevitable mistakes! I have a professor who speaks English fluently, and he has even admitted that despite having several years of experience in another language, he also makes errors!



On weekends, I have been able to assist a fellow student, Liz, with English. This past month we worked on a project where she needed opinions from native English speakers about learning a second language. She is as enthusiastic about learning and speaking English as she is helping me out with my Spanish..


Not comparing yourself to your peers means accepting that you’re on your own unique journey and that adjusting to a new culture is different for everyone. The classroom setting where you learn a new language is a culture in and of itself, and this is a time where it’s important to focus on personal growth in the language. For the first time in my life, I am taking a full course load in another language which is something I never anticipated I would be doing in my life. That being said, I have had some intense moments of feeling overwhelmed with information, especially in my advanced Spanish grammar course. Sometimes I would also catch myself comparing my struggle to students who seem to so easily grasp a complicated subject when I’m needing to ask the professor to repeat the same thing several times. I think comparing myself exacerbated my sense of feeling overwhelmed because then I would start second guessing my own knowledge which definitely does not help me learn. If you ever feel yourself making a comparison to others during your time abroad, it helps to take a step back to acknowledge that everyone comes from different walks of life and thus handles situations differently. In my case, there are native speakers in some of my courses, and naturally their transition into our courses may have been different than mine as someone who is acquiring Spanish as a second language—therefore there is absolutely no good reason to make such an unjust comparison!

Being strong and not giving up means finding your strength with a support group and realizing that you can accomplish your goals with a positive outlook. Though my culture shock has bestowed moments of frustrations, and intense moments of homesickness, learning to develop an attitude of gratitude has allowed me to finish my year off strongly.  I am really fortunate to have been blessed with a loving support system–my host mom, a really incredible best friend in my program, and my parents in the States whom I can call during times of distress. My host mom has been supportive by checking in on me, and just spending quality time with her has helped me so much. We actually just finished reading Charlotte’s Web together in Spanish. I read it aloud to her each week for the past few months, and I must say, even in Spanish this book makes my eyes water!



My all time favorite book that my host mom and I read together.


This is Sharky, the family pooch taking his weekly bath with my host mom. She is the only one who can bathe him because he only trusts her. He is so cute! My host mom completely lights up when she gets to groom him.


One day I came home from school and my host mom randomly asked if I wanted to go pick mangoes off the neighborhood tree. It was one of the richest moments I got to spend with Maryela. It took us probably a good twenty minutes to come up with a plan to get the mangoes down! She is so crafty because she found a large stick to knock them down with!


These are the mangoes we collected–we also picked some lemons too! When we came home she chopped the mangoes up and put a spicy sauce on them and we ate them together. They were so good!


One of my best friends in the program has also been really emotionally supportive by volunteering with me at the Reforestation Center at our host university. We’ve been helping bundle trees in small bags with soil so that the university can reforest areas around Costa Rica. The professors and students who work at the center have also been so friendly and kind to us with enthusiasm to teach us about the different species they have in the greenhouse and around UNA (Universidad Nactional de Costa Rica).



This is me and my really good friend Nikki. After class her and I volunteered together in the campus reforestation center. This was us putting arbolitos in fresh soil for future reforestation.


The weather was perfect that morning! I had a great time learning about the different species of trees located around the university!


One of my close friends Kristin and I on went on a chocolate tour together! We got to learn so much about how chocolate is processed, made, and distributed for economic growth. Plus we got to drink and eat chocolate!


I took a trip with two of my friends to Arenal and we swam in the caterata which translates as “waterfall.” It was so beautiful, especially when the rain came!


And lastly, my parents at home have also been supportive of me when I’ve felt overwhelmed. While it’s important to be conscious of spending too much time Skyping with family because it may intensify homesickness, I think it’s important to keep in contact with family who can offer insight on your personal strengths, which my parents definitely do. They’ve given me so much encouragement to finish my year abroad strongly—which is exactly what I’m doing!

Also, when facing culture shock another powerful tool is to always take time to acknowledge the little things that are special about the culture you’re living in–like Costa Rican iced coffee!



My favorite treat while studying will always be cold coffee in Costa Rica.


Another “little thing” I love to stop and admire is the sloths that casually hang around in the trees. Apparently they sleep 21 hours a day.


Hasta Mayo,


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Robert Penna’s Introduction to Argentina

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New Host Family, First Chess Tournament, and Possibly Peace Corps Bound!

After my host family change in early September, I’m happy to share I have been living with an incredible host family! I currently live with a host mom and a host sister. Both of them are so warm and welcoming. Both of them have an incredible sense of humor and I feel very cared about here. I instantly made a connection with my host sister, who is 18 and studies Medicine. We like to joke around the same way I joke around with my sisters back at home. My host mom has also helped me navigate through finding the bus station from Heredia to San Jose, and even walked me to school my first day! Since my arrival to this new host home two weeks ago, I have been so grateful for how comforted I have been since living here.


My goofy host sister, Jenny and I!


My sweet host mother, Maria and I!

Gallo Pinto (a very traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua) and plantains (also very commonly eaten in Costa Rica).

Gallo Pinto (a very traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua) and plantains (also very commonly eaten in Costa Rica).

My host mom is so sweet. Recently, I had to go see a doctor for an issue I’ve been having. The doctor prescribed me medication to take once every night, and my host mom always prepares it for me and checks on me. It has made me feel so at home, and since my last entry, I’m pleased to say that my “mal de patria” has immensely diminished.

The weekend of September 10th, I attended a national university competition known as JUNCOS, where universities around Costa Rica compete in various sports, including chess!

How awesome it was to have experienced my first chess tournament in Costa Rica!

I was so proud of all my fellow group members who competed! A fun fact: Costa Rica only has one current grandmaster (the highest title a chess player can attain). A group member from my host university, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA) actually competed against him and they had a draw (for those of you who don’t know, that’s a pretty huge deal!). I can officially say I know someone who has played against a grandmaster and who is also among the top players of an entire country!

JUNCOS Chess Tournament 2015! My first time going to a chess tournament! It was so interesting watching university students from around Costa Rica compete!

JUNCOS Chess Tournament 2015! My first time going to a chess tournament! It was so interesting watching university students from around Costa Rica compete!

Carolina forfeited during her game, but she played with such viciousness! We were all so proud of her!

Carolina forfeited during her game, but she played with such viciousness! We were all so proud of her!

On my way to the Chess tournament, I stopped Parque Espana (San Jose). It's my favorite park in San Jose because of how peaceful it is.

On my way to the Chess tournament, I stopped Parque Espana (San Jose). It’s my favorite park in San Jose because of how peaceful it is.

A member from the club, Roberto, also invited me to his home for a small gathering and chess. It was the first time in Heredia I felt like I had a group of tico friends. While I played a game with a girl from our group, the guys were singing Spanish songs. It was truly a beautiful night spent with good people, and the best game in the world. And as of two weeks ago, I finally won my first game of chess playing against my group members.

One of the best evenings I've had in Heredia--passing the time with music and chess!

One of the best evenings I’ve had in Heredia–passing the time with music and chess!

I have also become closer with a fellow group member named Ariel. Ariel studies Business Administration at two universities, including UNA and another one. Ariel is also studying English, which is remotely comparable to my level of Spanish. He has been so helpful and patient with helping me review grammar in Spanish, especially concepts I have been having trouble with. This past day, he helped me review ser and estar (very basic verbs, I know, but I still have some confusion about when to use es or esta for usted/el/ella)! My other amigo tico, Alejandro, joked with me saying he has never met a gringo who can speak real Spanish. When Ariel was reviewing es and esta with me, he jokingly referenced Alejandro’s judgment as I incorrectly blurted out:

“El es feliz.” (A poorly conjugated way of saying “He is happy.”)

“No!,” Ariel exclaimed. “Gringos say ‘el es feliz’–but you know better!” We both laughed.

And as for mi amigo, Alejandro, he will see how beautifully I speak Spanish come May! I am determined to prove him wrong!

Mi amigo tico, Ariel! I treated him to ice cream after he helped me with my Spanish grammar!

Mi amigo tico, Ariel! I treated him to ice cream after he helped me with my Spanish grammar!

My Spanish professor's family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My Spanish professor’s family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My Spanish professor's family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My entire Spanish class! (We love you Professor Atturo!!)

Something I have also grown to love about Latin culture is the passion for dancing! I decided to take a dance course as part of my study abroad program. I enrolled not having much faith my two left feet would get me very far, but our dance instructor took us to a dancing venue outside our classroom as part of her evaluation of what we have learned. I was so impressed with myself and had such a blast dancing salsa, merengue, and bachata! My moves are basic, but it really is all in the hips! I also love that all my tico friends either love dancing too or at least know the basic moves because when we play chess, we will usually put music on and I love dancing bachata in-between games!

As of October 2nd, I officially applied to the Peace Corps to volunteer in Peru and Guatemala. I would just like to say that as a requirement to apply to these programs, previous college-level Spanish instruction is a requirement. So I owe a sincere thanks to Gilman for opening this window of opportunity for me, because without studying abroad in Costa Rica, this would not have been a futuristic opportunity. As of last week of August, I have been using my time for all my postgraduate applications. Being a senior in university is stressful, but finishing applications does offer some peace of mind. To any other seniors studying abroad right now, here’s to the possibilities which await us upon our return to the U.S.!

On a closing note, Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween! So as of late, I have been contemplating how I am going to spend my favorite day of the year! I was originally planning to spend it with American Horror Story and chocolate in bed, but as of late, I have been on the lookout for children’s books in Spanish with a spooky theme. I have not had any luck but maybe I will find a translated version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark online!

Wishing everyone a beautiful October, wherever in the world you are!



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