Turns out I’m also a pale and anemic adult, but I’m a pale and anemic adult who went to the Galapagos Islands so take that red blood cell count

(This post was written on October 18th, so forgive some mild anachronisms! I was unable to access my computer in time to get it up, and organizing my pics took some time.)

I’m leaving soon for our rural homestay in the Amazon, so I wanted to write a quick post before I left. I promise this one will be short(er than the other ones). Bullet points. Let’s go.

  • We’ve been learning about Amazonian cultures and politics for about a week. I’m particularly intrigued by the politicization of traditional medicine, and gender in indigenous societies.
  • We’ve also had 4 or 5 sessions on introductory Kichwa, the major language of indigenas in Ecuador! I’ve been waiting for this ALL SEMESTER. The quantity of information can be somewhat overwhelming, and I know we’re not going to come out of this block with more than a rudimentary grasp of this language… But still, it is so cool. Did you know that Kichwa has no irregular verbs? Like, seriously, all the verbs just do what they’re supposed to do. It’s amazing.
  • Unfortunately I had to miss a chunk of our Kichwa classes, as the anemia+fatigue ya girl manages got bad this week. The plus side is that SIT has access to excellent medical and mental health professionals! Helena-certified.
  • I also have my third appointment with SIT’s therapist when I get back from the Amazon. Her name is Marta, and she’s great. Sessions are less psychotherapy and more alternative/spiritual healing, which makes me feel like I’m partaking in a strange form of mental health tourism. But hey, if it works, it works!
  • My group likes to go to a hip café near my house called Telate Café. The owner/barista has an undercut and there is always techno music playing. We try to do homework, but it never happens.
  • On Friday, the owner of Telate gave me a flyer for an indie techno music festival. I’m glad that I finally look like someone who would go to an indie techno music festival.
  • Last week, we got back from the Galapagos excursion. It was incredible; like being in a postcard or the tropical paradise you see on TV. After years of living on the Oregon coast, it was a bit bizarre to swim in an ocean that doesn’t immediately induce hypothermia.

    There I go!

  • It was so beautiful. I wish I could show you.
  • I had this odd sense of guilt throughout my time there. The Galapagos excursion was amazing; probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I SAW SHARKS. AND PENGUINS. AND REAL LIVE DOLPHINS. I got one of the worst sunburns of my life, and it was worth it.


  • But I kept thinking about people who had this… Uh, nonce-in-a-lifetime experience. There are Ecuadorians who spend their entire lives in this country, but will never have the same opportunity. My parents spent their 20s working and managing mental illness and trauma; I’m spending spending mine getting academic credit for snorkeling. #FirstGenFeels, I guess.
  • I’m don’t talk about this part very often because there’s nothing more annoying than someone complaining about good things that happen to them, and this program is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. But I think about that juxtaposition a lot.
  • The final phase of our program, the Independent Study Project (ISP) is fast approaching. I still don’t know what I’m going to do for my ISP, but I’m getting closer. Update from future Helena of October 30th, posting this: This statement is now outdated, as I have decided on my project. Stay tuned. 😉
  • Do I look like someone who would go to an indie techno music festival?


    Pondering the passage of time with this HUGE FRICKIN’ TORTOISE (they poop everywhere, it’s hazardous)

    Made a friend!

I was a pale and asthmatic child

It’s been almost a month since I arrived in Ecuador, and about a week since our first excursion. Since cultural immersion and experiential learning are the primary goals of this program, we have three scheduled academic excursion throughout the semester. Basically, they’re kickass field trips where we get to see some of Ecuador’s natural beauty and talk to activists fighting for social justice. The first excursion of the semester was to Intag, a cloud forest. It’s called that because… It’s a forest. With a lot of clouds. We were at a pretty high altitude.

We stayed at a lodge, ate a lot of amazing vegetarian food, went on a pretty intense hike, learned about indigenous tactics of resisting mining operations, and I bought a really cool hat from La Asociación de Mujeres, a grassroots organization of women that produces traditional wares to support their tribe.

Roberto, our guide on the hike! He was a real cool dude.

Also, I met the love of my life. Her name is Capuccina.

I miss her so much.

Before we left for Intag, our program director told us to watch for spiritual experiences in the forest. So, I did! Here’s a list of the spiritual experiences I had at Intag.

  • I ate a really good empanada that redefined the way I view empanadas
  • that’s about it.

Some people feel an intense connection to nature. Some people love camping and never want to return to civilization. Some people would lay down their lives to defend the environment. Some people major in environmental studies.

I am none of these people.

As a child, I remember caring very deeply about plants and animals and large bodies of water. But as I got older (probably middle school), I realized that there were so many things that wanted me to care about them, and the environmental just… Slid down my list. Now, it’s actually difficult for me to be interested in environmental issues. I know that they’re important, but there’s this disconnect between the part of me that knows I should care, and the part of me that does care.

So being in Ecuador is an interesting experience, because, well. The Galapagos Islands and the Amazon are in Ecuador; biology was practically born in here. It has crazy biodiversity and unbelievable natural beauty. Ecuador’s constitution explicitly acknowledges the environment as an entity with inviolable rights (although whether the government actually honors that is, of course, a different story). The result is that students on my program tend to have a lot of passion for the environment, many of the subjects in our courses involve environmental justice, our excursions are in less developed areas, and many of the social movements in Ecuador center on the environment- especially the indigenous movement, which is much more prominent here than in the States.

This is not an environmental studies program, but there’s a lot more environmental justice than I would seek out on my own. Honestly, this is probably good for me! Being exposed to topics outside of my usual interests is how I grow.

All the same, I spent a lot of Intag reflecting on my emotional disconnect from nature. Sure, I was happy to be in this gorgeous place, and it hurt my heart to think of Intag being destroyed. But the passion, the urgency, just isn’t there for me.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this is mostly a result of American capitalism and colonialism.

If you know me personally, you’re probably laughing a little, because this is a very Helena response.

I come from a culture and mindset that encourages the commodification of… Uh, everything, but expecially natural resources. Especially the consumption of natural resources as a solution to human suffering.

Got poverty?? Have you tried… Job creation?

As for the colonialism bit:

The reason why indigenous rights and environmental justice are so strongly linked is that the environment is an integral part of indigenous culture, religion, and life. This is why our stereotype of Native Americans is some mystical nature guide. Indigenas aren’t magically more in tune with nature; it’s just part of their culture and spirituality.

Centuries ago, European settlers came to this land. It was not theirs. And because there was nothing in it that they valued, because their own religion told them to, they could use it without remorse or hesitation. They began destroying the Americas without even thinking that they could be wrong.

My complacency and complacent consumption are the results of this legacy. I’m not gonna white guilt myself or my readers cause let’s be real, white guilt ain’t productive; but realizing how much of my attitude has been shaped by my colonial ancestry kinda sent me reeling. I’m definitely going to be watching myself and how my understanding of this world continues to develop.

On a lighter note, more pics!!

I wish I could explain to you how beautiful it is here. I can’t.

on this program, my catchphrase is, “I wanna climb that”

made a new friend

I love this solitary flower with all of my hardened heart.

Hey, y’all!

I’ve been in Ecuador for about two weeks, and Quito (the capital) for about one and a half. It is in many ways similar to the US (westernization and American media have had a huge influence here), and yet also decidedly unlike anything I’ve known. Quito functions as this odd mishmash of familiar and unfamiliar components, and I am not 100% sure how all its parts work together.

This is a city where I can stroll through the chaos of a street market as vendors beckon me over with an unfamiliar familiarity (Qué buscas, mijita?), and then walk ten minutes to el centro comercial to buy a new phone plan and discuss data charges. Germs don’t exist in Ecuador, but healthcare is free. Ecuador’s constitution is the most progressive in the world, but abortion is still illegal.

The way my American brain parses and categorizes things simply does not apply, especially in regards to the American liberal/conservative dichotomies through which I’ve been trained to view the world. I often feel as though I’ve stumbled into a fairy ring and now inhabit some kind of South American otherworld, where the rules are almost the same but somehow completely different. Although I adjust more every day, I seriously underestimated the culture shock I would experience here in Ecuador and am currently sleeping a lot. This is very normal, but I do seem to be more overwhelmed then mis companeros on the program. I attribute this to a couple factors.

For one, many of my fellow students have traveled to other countries; meanwhile, this is my first time spending longer than a week somewhere other than the west coast. For another, I’m pretty introverted, but am currently being inundated with a flood of new people, new places, and new social norms. Also, a lot of this is happening in Spanish. My verbal processing centers are working hella overtime, and I smile and nod a lot.

me, pretending that I understand what was just said to me

Finally –this one is my own dang fault- I fiddled with the dosage of my antidepressant right before my departure from the US, which made orientation week at least 3x more exhausting than it should have been. 0/10, do NOT recommend, please figure out your meds at least a couple of weeks before you plunge into the deep end of cultural immersion. I’ve also been physically tired from altitude adjustment; Quito is over 9000 feet above sea level.

But aside from my exhaustion, I’m ecstatic to be in Ecuador. It’s beautiful in a way that is difficult to articulate. The best word I can come up with is organic. It feels alive. It feels real.

Now, onto the academic portion! SIT Ecuador is a fast paced program, and there’s a lot of info being thrown at me. Orientation covered safety, healthcare, the basics of social norms, a brief intro to the political climate, and a few field assignments to make us practice navigating in a Spanish-speaking country. Now, we’ve just finished the first half of our two-week long intensive Spanish course.

Every weekday, I wake up at 6:45 AM, catch a bus by 7:20, and start class at 8. Then, for 5 hours, I learn and speak Spanish in a small classroom with three classmates and our instructor. I was originally placed in the beginner’s class but hopped up to intermediate, whereI am undoubtedly the weakest Spanish speaker in our small group (kinda regretting slacking in Spanish 306 last semester). But I know all the concepts and I’m improving rapidly!

On Thursday, the class had our first entrevista– an interview. For an hour and a half, we wandered around an Ecuadorian university, asking Ecuadorian students about the state of education in their country. Talking to people in English makes me nervous, so walking up to strangers and conversing in Spanish was quite the challenge. But it was so cool! And everyone we spoke with was so nice and willing to talk to us! You can pin it down to the famous Ecuadorian politeness, but I think Ecuadorians are generally social than strangers in the US.

This is definitely a program that pushes you out of your comfort zone. I’m incredibly excited for this semester.

Oh, also, in regards to the queer stuff: There is apparently a thriving gay scene at Quito, and I’m really hoping to check that out! I also somehow ended up with an agnostic host mom who is ridiculously progressive by Ecuadorian standards and has a rainbow magnet on her fridge. I love her so much.

I didn’t realize how important it was that my host family that accepted my identity, but I now feel immense relief from tension I hadn’t even noticed holding.