I´ve been home for almost a week and it´s really strange. I have this weird urge to speak spanish to whomever I meet and I am repeatedly in utter shock at the prices of food and daily necesities. I paid TWO DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS for coffee. Can you believe that?!
I feel like I when I left for Ecuador in January, someone put me on a shelf and read me a book of experiences and stories from Ecuador. And in May, they took me down from the shelf and expected me to continue with my normal life. Somehow I temporarily forgot that the world still keeps spinning, even from Ecuador.
While the transition period from Quito to Phoenix wasn´t that bad, I feel like going back to Pitzer might be difficult, but that´s material for a whole other blog post. haha.
I never really talk in class. Even when I know the right answer, there is always a small part of me that would really rather spare any humiliation that would come from being wrong. Learning a new language taught me to take risks. Or, more accurately, being forced to take risks made me comfortable with it.
Before La Catolica, I had never been in a room with a more diverse group of people. My spanish class had people from England, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Finland, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany. We all spoke very different languages, but we could communicate with each other through spanish. The only way to describe it is beautiful.
Having to write a 30 page DISP (Directed Independent Study Project) was like staring up at a 20 foot brick wall. I didn´t know how it would be possible to research, interview, and write in Spanish. Having to find people and interview them about sensitive topics like their economic and social classes and their income was terrifying, but liberating. Being able to profoundly converse about something so intimate in another language is something I´m lucky to be able to do.
Everyone was required to do 3 hours of community service a week. Some of us liked our orgnizations, and for others it wasn´t such a good match. For me, I feel guilty. I worked with Macrena (like the song), a privately funded school for children whose parents are in jail, on probation, or economically unstable. Macarena provides dental, psychological, and basic medical services to its students and the surrounding community-and it´s being shut down for lack of funding. It only costs $1.500/month to feed the entire school. The teachers still don´t know the school is closing and I only found out about a week before I left. I feel guilty because I couldn´t help them.
The Ecuadorian people, with the exception of those guys who mugged me, are kind, welcoming, and generous. Not all of them are in fantastic financial situtions, but I didn´t meet one person who wasn´t making the best out of what they had. Ecuador´s economic situation leaves much to be desired, and most of the muggers are just trying to survive. One of them took my friends money while frantically apologizing and thanking him all at once. The little boy who stole $20 from my pocket probably fed his entire family that night. The little boys aged 3-12 with whom we played frisbee sell mints on the street all day and were overjoyed to have a break from reality.
Don´t get me wrong, there are bad people out there, of course; I felt endangered every time I stepped out the door or turned a corner. But finally getting out of the North American bubble of consumerism finally opened my eyes to the little things like how much I spend on a cup of coffee, or how little I pay attention to sad stories in the newspaper anymore.
The Ecuadorians aren´t the only amazing people I met in Ecuador. The entire network of exchange students from all over the United States was more than impressive. I´ve heard amazing stories and gotten to know some truly fantastic individuals who have helped me grow and change as a person.
I remember watching TV with my host mom one day when the news channel went through a sweep of small news stories in other countries. There were stories about financial crises and theft and murder, but when the newscaster got to the United States he talked about some Hollywood celebrity´s new movie premire. Then it hit me just how big of an influence Hollywood has on the rest of the world. Most teenagers aren´t blasting Ecuadorian music, but Rihanna and north american dubstep. At 21, I realize that my childhood dream of Hollywood stardom is unattainable and I´m FROM the U.S. It´s weird to think how unattainable Hollywood fame seems to someone in an entirely different country. My realization is a very basic one, but it opened my eyes to the world.
That song “International Love” hits close to home now that I´ve been in an “international” relationship. Even if it ends up to be just another experience, the language barrier itself has taught me to be patient, understanding, and wayyyyy less uptight. I´m also ADD and I take Adderall, which I´ve come to depend on when studying or doing anything that requires accute concentration. Since Ecuador is a very relaxed country (every heard of “Ecuador Time”?), I learned that when I take things slowly, I can live my life without Adderall a lot of the time.
Also, now that I´ve fought a mugger and been bruised and bloodied, I´m not so much of a wuss anymore. And, as always, my camera was with me every step of the way, forcing me to stop and appreciate the scenery around me.
And I learned to live without my iPhone, something I am very proud of, being a product of the 90´s and everything. And to take everything with a grain of salt….and now I´m going to stop because I feel like one of those cheesy cliche hallmark books that you get at graduation, giving you advice for the real world. Bottom line: I learned a lot, grew as a person thanks to new experiences and new friends, and it´s all really amusing because I was NOT excited to go to Ecuador back in January. AT ALL.
”You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
Someone from another Ecuador program posted this on her tumblr. I love it because it´s so true. The more experiences I have in my life, the less comfortable I feel at home. And it´s not a bad feeling of uncomfortability, but an urge, an itch to experience more, to never stand still.