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.

Hey all, and welcome to the official grand opening of your new favorite blog! A lot of this you can find in my about, but I wanted to expand on some stuff. Context is key, yo.

Introduction to the Plattypus Herself: Who even is Helena Coleen Platt and why is she in Ecuador?

The Who

  • Helena Coleen Platt; age 20, Rhetoric Studies major. Beloved friend, sister, and awkward person standing slightly off to the side in group pictures.
  • Although I was born in San Francisco, Walla Walla (population 30,000) is the biggest city I’ve lived in since kindergarten. Quito (population 6,671,191) is going to be quite the experience.
  • I talk a lot. Words are cool.
  • I have no definite career in mind, but right now I’m interested in social/advocacy work because I love being poor and stressed, I guess?
  • I hate capitalism because it diminishes the inherent value of human life but I’m too jaded to be an anarchist so I just kind of float in this weird left-ish political space and this may show in my writing.
  • I’m white as h*ck, in terms of both ethnicity and culture. I grew up in a predominately white town and I attend a mostly white school. I mention this because, unfortunately, colorism is prevalent in Latin America and my skin tone will influence my experiences here.
  • I love cats a lot. Just want that on the record.
  • I identify as queer and nonbinary, and served as Whitman’s GLBTQ intern for my sophomore year. I’m not planning on expressing either of these identities during my time in Ecuador. Helena, back in the closet? What is this, 2015?
  • I am neuroatypical. The ways in which I process and respond to situations do not always align with how others do. This is actually kind of a blessing, because it gives me some pretty unique insight! When you spend a lot of time working to understand things, you often notice some interesting aspects that are overlooked.

The What and the Why

  • Many people have asked me what exactly I’ll be studying in Ecuador, and I honestly do not know what to tell them. Some of it is Spanish, some of it is politics, some of it is anthropology… Ecuador: Politics, Development and Language has a fairly nebulous theme. Hopefully my later posts will help clear this up for potential students!
  • During our first dinner together, Fabian (the academic instructor) told us that this program promises us only two things for certain: Fluency in Spanish, and cultural immersion in Ecuador.
  • I get the vibe that the cultural experience and understanding is a greater focus than academics on this program. To be honest, I’m really excited about this! If I wanted an intense academic experience, I’d just study at Whitman for all four years. But that’s less conducive to my development as a person, and I’m probably going to learn more from living in Ecuador than I could in most classrooms.
  • This is not to imply that I don’t care about academics on this program! On the contrary; I am so goshdarn nervous and excited for my Independent Study Project. (More on that later.)
  • The number one draw of this program for me is the emphasis on language, both in the language courses are taught in, and the focus on language’s political power. That’s my jam.
  • We study and speak in Spanish, which is incredibly appealing to me! Spanish is a beautiful language and it makes a lot of sense in my head. It’s also really useful in the US. If I end up in social work, advocacy or immigration justice, then being fluent in Spanish is critical.
  • We get to learn an indigenous, non-Romantic language! Quechua! You do not even know how excited I am for this!
  • I wanted a non-European study abroad.
  • I want to understand the impacts of colonialism and western civilization in Latin America, which is difficult for a white gal living in the United States.
  • Fabian has some pretty great reviews from former students.
  • Field-based study!!!

Aaand that about wraps up my intro! Tomorrow is our first day of orientation, so stay tuned for an actual post about the program. ;p

The first thing I took a picture of in Ecuador. I love this flower.

My cute li’l room! This is where they store us for orientation week, before they move us into homestays.