Underrated Tourism: Ecuador 🇪🇨

Students who go abroad with hopes to see many countries and travel as much as they possibly can often study in Europe where traveling is cheap. Of course, where one chooses to study ultimately should be a reflection of their interests and academic goals, but if we are being honest, everyone who goes abroad is hoping to see, learn, and experience new parts of the world. Let me be an advocate for what the underrated country of Ecuador has to offer.

Ecuador is the land of four distinct and diverse landscapes in a country the size of the state of Colorado. There are the famous Galapagos Islands, the Coast, the Sierra/ Andes/ Mountains, and the Amazon. You don’t have to travel far to see anything and everything. They are four regions of diverse climates, animals, food, lifestyles, cultural traditions, and even some languages. The best of all– traveling within the country is cheap! Hostels are typically $10 a night and are honestly nicer than some hotels I have stayed in, and some even include meals! While buses are not always the most fun way to travel, it gives you the opportunity to see even more of the country and the transportation is very cheap, and is available throughout the country! (When you get to the point of retirement, come to Ecuador to get the most bang for your buck!)

Where do you go and what do you do? Well, I am glad you asked! A better question would be, what do you want to do? There is a coast and islands of gorgeous beaches to simply relax and enjoy the sunshine and incredible sea food, or adventures of surfing, snorkeling, and experiencing ocean wildlife. In the mountains there are many hiking, biking, and bus excursions to see the mountains and volcanos that make up breathtaking landscapes. The amazon has its own adventures with distinct wildlife, indigenous communities to learn from, and adventures of hiking, river rafting, and spelunking. Don’t let me forget all the lagoons in the craters of volcanoes, canyoning, waterfalls, and archeological sites! In the big well-known cities of the country such as Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil, there is well-preserved and rich historical centers with museums, cathedrals, and architecture. There are the cute coffee shops, chocolate tours, and great eats that will give you meals to fill your belly for just $3!

As we all know, there are pros and cons to everything and one of the cons to being in South America is that flights/ travel to other countries is expensive. Being in Ecuador however, there is really everything in one small country that outside travel isn’t really necessary, (however fun, of course, if you are willing to bite the bullet of the cost of a flight).

My WHY to Ecuador: Since my college search endeavor began, I was interested in the opportunity to study abroad because of my interest in Spanish (my WHY behind that interest also has a backstory for a later day). Taking advantage of my time in college to go abroad was/ is important for me to gain language fluency as my primary goal. Often, I think students forget the lifestyle and culture that impacts one’s experience when studying in another country. For me, I knew the options were Spain, or somewhere in Latin America and Spain was a no-go. Don’t get me wrong, Spain is a BEAUTIFUL country with a rich Spanish speaking culture, but I knew the European lifestyle wasn’t something I wanted to live in for an entire semester. When I began searching programs in Latin America, I was primarily drawn to the more globally well-known countries of Argentina, Peru, and Chile. The further I researched and the more I talked with other students who had gone abroad, I stumbled upon the program in Ecuador and was intrigued by their Spanish primarily. Ecuador is different than most Spanish speaking countries in that Ecuadorians typically speak slower and without a strong/ distinct accent. This made me excited because learning a language is hard enough, and picking up a distinct accent on top of that would be exhausting.

I was drawn to Ecuador primarily in search of an effective way to achieve my academic goals through the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the benefits of cheap travel became another benefit later. Now that I am here, I would say I have been a Student Tourist. I am obviously still here primarily for academic purposes, but believe me, I have been taking advantage of weekend trips since Week 1! Believe it or not, I have traveled so much already that I am burnt out and ready to take a break, but my bucket list says there is still much to see this semester.

While Ecuador may not be the hot topic Google presents for tourism, it is truly a country of beautiful diversity and adventure in every way! If you don’t believe me, let me be your tour guide. 🙂

Blessings,

Morgan

Ya estoy en España!

**English Below**

¿La última vez que he estado en este país? El 12 de agosto. Me acuerdo de los sentimientos pesados. No quería volverme a los EE.UU. ¿Por que? Pues, a ver…

Hablando de mis primeras impresiones de España, yo estaba enamorada de la cultura, la gente, y el estilo de vida. El primer día sentí una especie de sobrecogimiento cuando finalmente llegué a Valencia. Durante el verano, especialmente en la costa, España es maravillosa. Puede ver las montañas y las palmeras de cualquier sitio. La playa no está tan lejos del centro. Había fiesta del jueves al domingo. Siempre la comida es fresca y  se acompaña con un vino tinto o una copa de cerveza con limón. A partir de la segunda semana, la gente española me mostró que “se vive” en España.

Es una locura que  todo eso hace 4 meses y estoy en España de nuevo. ¿Sabes que? No me siento como hace 4 meses. Desde el momento que ha aterrizado el avión, me siento como hace 2 semanas que estuve en este país. ¿Se lo cree? Pues, yo tampoco. Esperaba que hubiera tenido un choque cultural. Cuando conocí a las personas de mi programa, enseguida, comenzé a hablar en español con ellos. Estaba llena de emoción y quería comenzar la experiencia con confianza en mí misma. Si quiere mejorar un aspecto de vida, hay que tener confianza en sí mismo. Esto es clave en un ambiente distinto. Sin embargo, el tener confianza en sí mismo no significa no necesitar la ayuda de otros. También esto es clave.

Solo he estado en España durante una semana. Todavía estoy enamorada con el país, especialmente la ciudad de Madrid. Si quieres saber mas de mi experiencia durante el verano, eche un vistazo a mi blog en tumblr (enlace). Tambien, estaré cargando unos videos bisemanales, más o menos. Abajo tengo la primera semana ya.  Espero que disfrute los blogs y videos. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English

The last time I was in this country? It was August 12th. I remember this heavy feeling. I didn’t want to go back home. Why? Well, let’s see…

My first impressions of Spain were those of a love affair. I was in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life. The first day I was in awe when I finally arrived in Valencia. Over the summer, especially on the coast, Spain is magnificently beautiful. You can see the mountains and palm trees from anywhere. The beach isn’t too far from the city. There were fiestas from Thursday to Sunday. The food is always fresh and they eat it with a glass of red wine or a beer mixed with lemon juice. From the second week on, Spanish people showed me that “one lives” life in Spain.

It’s crazy to think this was all 4 months ago and now I’m back again. You know what? I didn’t feel like it had been 4 months ago. From the moment the plane landed, I felt like it had only been 2 weeks ago that I was in Spain. Can you believe it? Me either. I was expecting to feel a culture shock. When I met people in my program, I immediately began speaking in Spanish. I was filled with excitement and I wanted to start off on the right foot with confidence. If you want to improve an aspect of your life, you have to have confidence in yourself. This is key in a new environment. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need the help of others. This is also really important.

I’ve only been in Madrid for a week. I’m still in love with the country, especially the city of Madrid. If you want to know more about my experience over the summer, check out my blog on tumblr. Also, I’ll try to upload videos every two weeks or so. Below is a video from the first week. I hope that you enjoy my blogs and videos! See y’all soon!

 

 

La Vie Française

Hello, world! I am back at it and this time not suffering from the negative effects of jet lag! I have now been in Paris for almost a month so I feel that I’m much more able to start posting about happenings and life in general in Paris now that I’m better acquainted with the city. This week we are talking about: the French home.

My study abroad program, French and Critical Studies with CIEE, is a language intensive program which means that everything that we do associated with CIEE is in French. What that means is that the program forces us to be fully immersed in the language ALL .THE. TIME. CIEE in Paris has two options for housing: student apartments or a homestay with a French family. The students in FCS, however, don’t have a choice; we are required to live in a home stay in order to keep us exposed to the French language.

That being said, for the past month I have been living with my host mother, Katherine (pronounced Kat-rine with a nice French rgh) who, as I mentioned in the previous post, doesn’t speak a word of English. When I first learned this, I was terrified that she and I would struggle to relate with one another; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to express myself. However, we are nearly a month into living, speaking, and dining with each other every single day and I can confidently say that my fears were completely unfounded.

You see, Katherine loves, and I mean LOVES to talk. She sits with me at breakfast every morning and listens to the radio, but as soon as she hears something that sparks her interest the radio is forgotten and she is speaking, with a relatively high level of knowledge about the subject and flowing right on into the next one. This was especially great for me the first few days into living with her because there really wasn’t a need for me to talk and I could get used to the pace of speech from an actual French speaker. These days I’m much better able to interject with my own opinions on the subject and she and I can have more and more conversations which I think both she and I really appreciate.

As I’ve been able to communicate with Katherine, I’ve learned a lot more about her and her life. She is in her 70s with three grown daughters, two of whom live nearby and frequent the apartment. She started her professional life as a secretary but somehow got connected with someone in the art restoration business which led to her second and most favorite career as an art restorer. She told me that she’s worked on a team that has restored big pieces of art such a painted ceiling in the Louvre and another work in l’Assemblée Nationale. She still does some smaller pieces and I occasionally come home to the smell of some of her chemicals that she uses on the paintings.

Speaking of home, for Katherine and me home is a two bedroom apartment in the northwestern suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. There I have my own room with a big window that looks out over our ally with those cute white Parisian window shutters. I also just have to mention: in the bathroom we have a heating rack for our towels! It’s pretty standard for French homes but I just find it amusing and also incredibly amazing when I get to wrap myself in a warm towel — it’s just great.

My bedroom

Our living room

A little bit about Neuilly: it’s smack dab in between l’Arc de Triomphe (that fancy Roman-looking arch that Napoleon built way back when) and La Defense which is just a gigantic hollow cube in the more business-y part of Paris. Neuilly, as I’m told, is rather chic, although I can’t say that stops people from letting their dogs “relieve” themselves on the sidewalks and not clean up after them. Yeah, watch your step.

Other than that, I’ve found that our apartment in Neuilly is actually in quite an ideal location. It takes me about four minutes to walk to the metro which will then take me straight into the city which can connect me to ten of the fourteen lines in the city. I am also just a ten minute walk away from the Bois de Boulogne which is to Paris what Central Park is to New York. Saturdays are especially hectic with runners and walkers everywhere, not to mention tons of adorable dogs out playing in the fields.

Bois de Boulogne
Some new friends I met in the park

Another essential part of my French home life is the food. Katherine is an amazing cook. She can turn anything into a delicious and nutritious meal. I remember my first night with her I was a little apprehensive when she put my first meal in front of me: cabbage wrapped in ham and covered in cheese. As far as looks went, I was strongly questioning whether what I was about to put into my body would even be worth it, but I was starving so I dug in and it was incredible! Also, leftover night at our place is not to be dreaded because she just whips something completely new together from the ingredients she used previously. I’m serious — carrot and mushroom in a creamy sauce over angel hair pasta…who would have thought?!

At times Paris can feel slightly exhausting and incredibly lonely; it’s hard to live in a place that you’re unfamiliar with around people who don’t know you or even speak your language. In a city where it is so easy to be anonymous sometimes you just want a taste of home. I’m sure every student who has studied in a foreign country understands exactly what I mean, but I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity. When I get these kinds of feelings I’ve found that it’s best to talk to friends and family; they really are just a phone call away! Also, if you can find it, eat some of your favorite food. If you can’t find that, listen to some of your favorite songs or do the same activities you would at home. For me, I’ve found that going for a run helps me immensely because running has always been a very cathartic activity and it’s something that I’ve done first at home, then at school when I moved away from home, and now I can do it here!

No, things will not be exactly the same as they are at home but that’s precisely the purpose of study abroad: to gain a new perspective. Instead of being stuck on what I miss about my home in the U.S., I go out and explore to find new things that help me feel at home here.

Reporting from the Coldest Place on the Earth

Saturday officially marked the third week that I have been in Chicago. It seems like I’ve been here for so much longer than that already! As a small town girl, I imagined the transition to go much less smoothly, but public transit and getting around the city has been intuitive and fun. All the Chicago Semester students have settled into their schedules and internships, as well as I have!

I am at Mercy Hospital, which is just southeast of Chinatown (one of my favorite neighborhoods). My placement is in the operating room (OR), pre- and post-operating care units, and the recovery room. So far, I’ve only spent time in the operating room, but I am thoroughly enjoying every case in which I’ve watched and helped. A unique challenge has been that the OR’s atmosphere and nursing expectations are different to a regular hospital unit. There a technical skills and instruments I have never seen before. Now that it’s the third week in the OR, I’m finally getting used to the roles that are expected of me, multitasking well, and the unique oddities of the OR. I am learning so much and anticipate using these lessons in my future nursing career.

The fact that my internship has come into full-swing has definitely not hindered my adventurous spirit. From spontaneous taco nights to swing dancing, I have fallen in love with all the exciting events that happen daily in the city, which reflect it’s unique history. Even though I’ve been *social* swing dancing for almost three years now, it felt like I had been dancing for three months. The style and energy was high above my technical level, and I anticipate getting much better in my dancing skills. Here’s a video of these talented dancers. I mean, what was I supposed to expect of one of the cities where blues/jazz originated?

I attended a play at Court Theatre, “Photograph 51”, about Rosalind Franklin. Commonly known for their discoveries about the characteristics of DNA, Watson and Crick owe the credit to their concept of DNA’s double helix to Franklin’s x-ray images of DNA, who is far less-popularly known. The story was captivating, dynamic, and full of emotion. What’s really cool about the Chicago Semester is that they offer free art events for the students every week. From the Art Institute to operas, I plan to go to as many as I can! There’s not many times in life where you get to go to free events that showcase Chicago’s diverse culture and history.

Most of my hours and days off have been spent exploring random parts of the city. Google has been a beautiful tool with which I’ve discovered interesting venues with fantastic events. From free arcade games to Lakeshore runs to the Navy Pier, I continue to settle in my internship, growing and learning and enjoying the city more than I would’ve imagined.

My favorite part of the city is how the people are all so connected. Somehow we live separate lives that converge at random points in time. I like to think of them as magic moments in which two strangers can somehow connect at a pre-destined time. I had to leave exactly 2 minutes after my shift ended to meet Ron, the 90-year old Chinese man, on the subway. After moving here in the late 40s, he bought a house in a north Chicago neighborhood and has since lived there. This short 15 minute conversation reminded me of how small I am in the grand scheme of life (a good reminder).

Overall, the past few weeks have been filled with small victories: conquering public transit, exploring a new city, and braving -50 degree weather, which made life very interesting and full of layers. Weird to think that I was in the coldest place in the world last Wednesday. Thankfully, I was bundled up inside with a cup of hot tea and fuzzy socks. Thankfully, the turn-around of 50 degree weather (yes, you read that right. We had a 100-degree difference in three day’s span) has allowed my adventurous spirit to re-emerge.

My goal for the next couple weeks? Continue learning at my internship (Gosh, it’s felt weird to be so young in my workplace). Hear more people’s stories. Find new ways to be uncomfortable (’cause that’s how humans grow to be better humans). Keep an open mind to new experiences that come spontaneously. Embrace city life.

Fresh Air is Good for the Soul

Ever since I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city.  Getting an apartment in New York or Chicago, taking public transportation to work every day; it all seemed like the dream. And living in London was the perfect trial run for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am loving living in the city. There’s so much to do and see every single day. It really keeps you on your toes too. The other day as I went by on the bus, I saw a man serenading some people very enthusiastically with his saxophone. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I was going to miss grass and trees and air that doesn’t smell like bus fumes all the time.

This past weekend we had a field trip to go see Stonehenge and spend a night in the city of Bath. I missed most of the drive up due to being asleep, but once we arrived at Stonehenge, I was surprised at how green everything still was. I’m so used to everything being brown and dead-looking in the middle of January.

After we walked around the stones for a while, my friends and I decided to not take the bus back to the visitor center and hike along the path through the hills instead. It was a bit blustery, but eventually the sun came out, and it was gorgeous. It was then that I realized how much I missed my shoes slipping in the mud while hiking, and the damp smell the earth gives after it rains.

In Bath we had a similar experience. The line to be able to sit in one of the baths fed by the hot springs was much too long, so once again, we decided to walk around. As we looked around the city, we noticed a large park that was situated a bit higher up than the rest of the city. We had no idea how to get there, but we were determined to find it anyway.

We walked out of the city center, into a neighborhood just outside of the city (accidentally walking through a few people’s garden paths in the process). Soon, we found the park. It’s green carpet was a vivid difference in comparison to the pale architecture of the rest of the city. We made our way up.

All of us decided not to look at the view until we hit the very top of the hill. As we stood with our backs facing the city, panting slightly from the incline, there was no doubt that smiles were plastered on all of our faces.

“One…Two…Three”

 

 

It was worth the biting wind, the muddy shoes, and forty-five-minute hike. If nothing else, it made me realize just how much I loved exploring in this capacity. It was refreshing to be able to clear our lungs and take a moment to appreciate this amazing journey we’re on.

Pre-Departure Thoughts

I leave in TWO days!!?? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited. But now that it’s here, I’m afraid something will go awry. I mean, I’m just a black girl from a poor black community in Saginaw, Michigan. You’ve probably never heard of the city, it’s next to Flint. Yeah, the place known for the on-going water crisis. Okay, this is sounding a lot more depressing than I intended. Wait, just let me backup a moment. Espera

The day I met the enthusiastic and wide-smiling Karl from Hope Admissions was the day that actually changed the course of my next four years. I was a junior in high school at the first ever career fair at my school. This guy was too excited; I had to figure out what he was smiling about. He told me that he went to Hope College and majored in both Spanish and International Studies. This idea immediately caught my attention. I loved Spanish and at the time I was thinking of diplomacy in a foreign country. He went on about the opportunities to study abroad, his time in Argentina, and the ability to double major and finish in two years at Hope. I was down! Fast Forward to freshman year at Hope, I was already talking with Amy Otis at the Center for Global Engagement. I knew that I wanted to go to Europe, preferably Spain or France. I kept this idea in my head for a while, but I honestly did not believe it was going to be possible. You know my background, poor black girl from a small town in Michigan and it’s only reference point is in relation to one of the nation’s biggest scandals. But to my surprise, the universe had something different aligned.

 

Let’s dwell in the past for a bit longer. Sophomore year, fall semester, I was highly encouraged to apply for the Art/History May term in Paris, France. I applied, and the scholarships came rolling in. By December I was sure that I was going. Then, I thought, I should truly make the best out if this opportunity. I’m still not sure that it’s possible for me to go abroad my junior year. Espera… there’s a way for me to do a cultural exchange in Spain. I decided to look for a Spanish family near a town where a summer friend of mine, Carmen, was going to school at the time. Long story short, it all worked out. I had the best four months of my life traveling across Europe.

Now you say, why am I so nervous? To be honest, as I think about how I get here, there is no reason for me to be nervous. I have beaten all the odds against me repeatedly, and I am not just talking about being the black girl from a poor community. My experience abroad gave me a new appreciation of the meaning to live life to the fullest. Confidence is a big part of living. And I am not talking about the egotistical kind. True confidence comes from the center of our desires and is nothing without faith. Confidence is just faith wrapped in a smile and laughs. It’s the willingness to be vulnerable and reveal your fears and desires. So here I am. Are you coming?

***Heads Up, Spanish in Future Blogs with English translation***

The Windy City Welcome

Hello from the Windy City!

It’s almost a week in the city, and I am already absolutely in love with all of the experiences that the Chicago has to offer.  Most of last weekend was filled with orientation sessions that help us understand how to live in the city, but we’ve already begun to explore the culture of the neighborhood. After my family and best friend helped me move in, we grabbed lunch at a restaurant, called Wow Bao.

       

None of us ordered bao, which are steamed buns filled with pork (usually), but the rice bowls that we did order were so tasty! Instead of the traditional counter and register to buy food, customers order on a computer and the food appears in the pods with your name. It was a “Welcome to the future” for us if anything and a great first meal in the city.

My Roommates (left to right) Shannon & Molly

Saturday and Sunday were filled mostly with unpacking and making the apartment homey, especially since we’re living here for the next three and a half months. Chicago Semester is very committed to ensure that its students are well-acquainted with how life in the city works; this includes learning about public transportation, safety in the city, networking, shopping, and community involvement. The program provided several session in which we learned about these various topics. Another important value of the program is that the students embrace the vast cultural diversity that is found throughout Chicago and its over 200 neighborhoods. The city is widely-known as a place where immigrants can find a fresh start. To get a taste of the culture, all the students went to a different part of the city for deserts for the first night of orientation. I went to the neighborhood of Pilsen to Panadaria Nuevo León. The patisserie was brimmed with various deserts whose names I had absolutely no clue but were falling apart in delicious goodness. We even got the baker (after all of us urging her to) to take a picture with us!

            

The following day, several different groups visited different parts of the city for lunch and a short introduction to the people that lived there. I visited Little India (which is almost all the way north edge of the city), where we had the most delicious food.

 Would you believe all this food (for 8 people) cost less than $50?!

Foods pictured: butter chicken, lentil curry, tika chicken, chapati and naan breads, potato curry, basmati rice, beef and bean somoas, and a beef dish.

I had had Indian food before, but this was the most to-die-for that I’ve ever had. Needless to say, it was worth the hour commute from our apartment complex.

After learning about the various neighborhoods, my roommates and I began mapping our semester bucket list. Our first adventure was to Millennium Park and Greek Town. Following the sage advice of the Chicago Semester faculty, we carefully mapped our route. Even though I’d been to Chicago multiple times, my family and I had only visited Chinatown together, because of my Chinese heritage. So, I resigned to do the most tourist-y thing: visit the Bean. The only thing I learned from the experience? The Bean is super dirty.

Greek Town is about a 20-minute walk from our apartment in the Gold Coast neighborhood, and it is full of restaurants (because Greek food is the amazing). Molly, Shannon, and I got sandwiches and cannolis that were so tasty!

The day was windy, cloudy, and cold, but the view was well-worth the aching feet and numb faces. We walked around and eventually landed at a coffee shop called Meddle Dark Matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday was the first day of internship for most of the students. Fortunately, Shannon and I don’t start until next week, and Molly’s first day started late. So, we accompanied her to Andersonville, where she works at their chamber of commerce. We explored the Swedish neighborhood until she had to leave for work. For all the neighborhoods I’ve visited so far, it’s been fairly easy to see what the people value and the center(s) of their culture.

Less than a week in, and I’ve only scratched a piece of the entire surface of the city, but I’m well on my way. Even though I’ve already gotten myself lost twice, I’m becoming more comfortable with riding public transit and routing my destinations better. My first day of internship is on Monday, and I anticipate nestling into a routine of a set schedule mixed with bouts spontaneity.

  

A Journey to the Past + NYC

It had been 8+ years since I had been on an airplane, so flying into New York was exciting in more ways then one. Given that I’m participating in a domestic program, I was lucky enough to have my mom fly down and spend the weekend with me before orientation on Monday. In order to get reasonably priced tickets, our flight had a layover in Chicago. How it makes sense to go from Detroit to Chicago and then to New York City, I do not know.

My first couple of days in New York were spent exploring the nearby blocks and buying the necessities I couldn’t fit into my suitcases (such as coffee for the coffee maker I did make sure to pack). As someone who’s lived in Michigan their whole life, I found it so bizarre to see your typical chain stores, e.g. Staples and Target, in multi-floor buildings! Take an escalator to buy some bananas? So odd.

I’ve also quickly discovered that it’s quite dangerous (read “dangerous” as “extremely-tempting-and-bad-for-my-wallet”) to live across from Taco Bell and Starbucks, and especially with Arby’s only a couple of blocks away. I have yet to succumb to the 99 Cent Fresh Pizza shops, but I know it will be soon.

I’m currently staying at the New Yorker Hotel (I know, educational housing in a hotel, weird right?) in midtown of Manhattan, so there’s constantly a bustle of noise going on outside my window. Honestly, the first couple of days were nerve wrecking as my mother and I attempted to navigate the streets and poured over app upon app trying to figure out how the subway worked, but we did not get lost, huzzah!

Right before my mother left, we were fortune enough to attend a showing of the Broadway musical Anastasia. I adored the movie Anastasia, so I was ecstatic to see this performance and it did not disappoint! The renditions of my favorite songs from the movie, “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past” were beautiful. And everything else, from the special effects to the scenery, was amazing.

As I’ve already hinted at, I didn’t really do much during my first weekend in NYC besides seeing Anastasia. At first, I felt ashamed by my reluctance to explore the city, holing up in my room as much as possible. But I’ve been reminding myself that I’m here for 15 weeks, and that I have time to explore. Pushing the bounds of my comfort zone and trying new things doesn’t need to be rushed. Growth takes time.

As I’m putting the final touches on this post, orientation and my second day of interning have already passed, and I can already feel the nervous energy that surrounded me being replaced with an acceptance of my new environment and an excitement to start properly exploring New York.

Let this journey begin!

Take Some Time and Forget the Map

On day one of orientation here in London, our program put on the screen a list of several apps to help make sure we knew where we were going the next few days. There was a frantic rush as everyone grabbed their pen or pencil to scribble down the names, myself included. I was nervous and overwhelmed, terrified of showing up late to any of the meetings or required events. Honestly, I needed all the help I could get.

Going to and from school and our residences, we were constantly clutching on to our phones, double checking that we were entering the right tube station, turning the right direction, or getting on the correct bus. By about day three, we were slowly starting to get the hang of where we needed to go—that is if we were going to school or back.

The Saturday after we arrived, my roommate and I decided to get some lunch before heading out to get our groceries. We mapped our way back to what we thought was our street, only to discover that there’s a difference between Angel and Angel street. Angel street just happened to be near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is about twenty minutes away from our home station. St. Paul’s was beautiful and ginormous, and it was a nice surprise to stumble on. After snapping a few pictures, we headed back to the bus using our trusted map app.

Bumping along the jammed London streets on the double decker bus, we got to see a lot more of London than we were expecting. Before we knew it, we were driving along Oxford street with all of its beautiful Christmas lights still up, and traveling through the West End, the bright marquees blinking furiously. We were so entranced by it all, we weren’t paying attention that our bus had crossed a bridge over the river Thames and onto the South Bank—definitely the opposite direction of where we needed to be. And there our bus stopped.

We ended up finding our way back to our residence, slowly but surely, and stopping to take pictures of the sun setting on the London skyline and the London eye in the process. It was quite an adventure. Almost two and a half hours in an attempt to get some measly groceries!

 

Since then, I’ve wandered into neighborhoods that are nowhere near where I live, found some great cafes and bakeries, turned the wrong way out of tube stations and discovered bookshops and theatres for shows I want to go see. Though I always have my map ready in case I need it, I’m starting to put it away and just explore, letting the city take me where it wants to.

 

¡Bienvenidos a Quito!

Welcome to the land where mountains surround, altitude sickness occurs, hectic traffic and crazy drivers rule the roads, and where people are relational above all things! I left my cozy small town of Zeeland, MI, Monday morning to arrive in the large foreign city of Quito, Ecuador, for the semester. Yes, for the semester… I am still trying to convince myself of this even as I am here.

I arrived late Monday night and met my fellow international students through IES on Tuesday. Together we were given a tour of old town Quito, Iglesia compañia de Jesús, Iglesia San Francisco, and Basilica del Voto National (pictures attached, see google for more!). These churches are incredible in the nature of their architecture that reveals the religious and political history of Quito. Wednesday through Friday this week were consumed with full days of orientation to learn about rules, safety, academics, culture, and tourism of Ecuador. While the information was helpful and needed, they were very long days.

Luckily, we were rewarded after a long week with a group excursion on Saturday to the Otavalo market that is famously run by the indigenous Andean people selling anything and everything handmade in hundreds of tents in the street. On our way we stopped for a typical Ecuadorian breakfast of bizcochos with coffee or tea at a small restaurant with a view of Cayambe Volcano. We also did a short hike on our way to the market to Cascada de Peguche, a beautiful waterfall, where we got to slightly test our lungs in the altitude. After a time of much fun and buying all things alpaca at the market, we went to Laguna Cayapas Cuichocha. This lagoon is in the crater of Cuichocha Volcano, which we later found out is active and the fourth most dangerous in Latin America. We took a boat around the lagoon in the crater to see the bubbling volcanic gasses being admitted to the surface of the water; it was beautiful!

Despite the excitement of being in a new country, being able to travel, and seeking out new opportunities in language, academics, and culture, I have struggled this week with feeling overwhelmed. Jumping into a new lifestyle is not easy for me and we had so much information thrown into our brains that is so foreign in just a few days of being here. I’m struggling with the idea that the middle of May feels so far away, yet I know that I will regret saying that by the time May comes around. Ecuador is a country that has so much to offer, I just need to learn how to live into the person I was created to be in a new place, with new people, and with new opportunities.

¡Hasta pronto!

Morgan

 

(click on first photo to view as slideshow!)