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.
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.