Highlights of my time in Ecuador

Hola amigos, sadly my time in Ecuador has come to an end. However, for those of you who may be thinking about studying abroad (or just visiting Ecuador), I’ve compiled a list of highlights of my time abroad. If you visit Ecuador, some of these places should be on your list too!

  1. Amazonía – Tena & Misahuallí

  2. Baños
  3. Carnaval Weekend
  4. Centro Histórico de Quito
  5. Cotopaxi
  6. Enrique Iglesias Concert
  7. Mindo
  8. Mitad del Mundo
  9. Museos de Quito
  10. Quilotoa
  11. ¡Quito!

What I’ve Learned Through Study-Abroad

¡Hola amigos! With just a few more weeks left in this beautiful country, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on things I’ve learned, my growth, and how I’ve changed since arriving. While it’s difficult to name all of the ways I’ve changed (I’m sure to discover changes once I return to Holland), I’m going to try my best to generalize these changes so that all study-abroad students can relate.


 

PHYSICAL CHANGES

First of all, there will be physical changes after studying abroad. I’m near the equator, but no matter how much sunscreen I wear, I inevitably became more tan. If you’re used to living in a sunny climate and study abroad in a cloudier, sun-less climate then you’re likely to return to your home country with a paler, lighter complexion.

Next, depending on how well (or not) you eat in your host country, you’ll most likely either gain or lose weight.  At the beginning of our program, our directors told us that in most cases women tend to gain weight and men tend to lose weight. But all of that depends on how well you treat your body and your overall mental health. For example, if you’re having a hard time adapting to a new environment you might have a loss of appetite for new foods and lose weight.  Or you might have sleepless nights adjusting to the jet-lag and new sleeping sounds (for me, it was all of the cars honking and gas trucks beeping at 6 A.M. every morning).

Lastly, you might gain a new scar or two depending on the different adventures you embarked on in your host country. I have a ton of scabs on my legs that will eventually scar over from scratching all of my bug bites. If you’ve witnessed something traumatic in your host country, then you’ll likely be left with an emotional scar as well (this should be dealt with by seeking counseling provided by your host school or home school upon return to the U.S.). This leads me to the next set of changes…

MENTAL CHANGES

Studying abroad is one of the greatest ways to mature, grow in your knowledge of cultures beyond your own, and become open to new ways of thinking. Even if you travel to a country with a culture similar to your own (i.e. a mexicana studying abroad in América Latina… en Ecuador), you’ll still be able to learn more about your own culture and the new culture you’re immersed in.

In my own experience, I thought it would be easy studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country because of my Mexican background. What I learned is that although the two countries share many Latin American customs, they each have their own dialects and ways of thinking.

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Learning with my friends in an interactive museum on the equator

I’ve also found some similarities between United States culture and Ecuadorian culture, so I find that interesting as well. I think that because I come from a Latina background, I was able to adapt faster to the culture here than most of my other classmates who came from different backgrounds in the U.S.

Lastly, my classmates and I have changed mentally by learning about the history, environment, and language of this country, but we’ve learned most from the daily interactions we have with Ecuadorians. If it’s possible to stay at a homestay in your host country when studying abroad, I would highly encourage you to do so. You’ll be surprised how much you learn from your homestay family about the culture and from hearing about your classmates’ homestays. Plus, if your ideologies clash with theirs you’ll have a great opportunity to learn from a different perspective (but if you really can’t get along, you can always inform a program director and they can find a better homestay for you)!

SAFETY CHANGES

One amazing thing about living in the U.S. (and especially in Holland, MI) is that you usually aren’t concerned about your safety. We have awesome security forces that work to maintain our safety at all times. Living in a country where security can be an issue will teach you (just as it has taught me) to be more aware of your surroundings and cautious.

It’s important to take care of oneself, so when you travel to a new country keep in mind that there will be different threats than ones that you are used to back at home. In Holland, I’m alert for the occasional tornado watch or winter storm alert. I practiced fire drills and safety drills in case of a school attack from an armed stranger. In Ecuador, I had to keep in mind that I was surrounded by a few active volcanoes that may or may not erupt while I was here. I also had to make sure that I looked out for my personal safety and belongings whenever I left the house because of the pick-pocketers in the big city. Besides that, we were warned about potential earthquakes although we did not imagine that a serious one would ever occur while we were studying abroad here.

What I want to say is that there are dangers everywhere, but depending where you are in the world the dangers might be different. Studying abroad has taught me that you should do everything in your control to stay safe, but there are just some circumstances that are out of your control that you may have to deal with. Try your best to stay positive and take everything as a learning experience; these are the things that will end up changing you.

SPIRITUAL CHANGES

The last type of change you will likely face is a change in spirituality. Think about how religions are different all over the world and how your religion may not be the dominant one in your host country. It’s okay not to actively practice your religion at a place of worship if there aren’t any places nearby where you can do that.

However, if you do find it easy to practice your religion in your host country, then do so… and learn more about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep learning about something you care so deeply about. If you feel like spreading the word, then do so, but keep in mind that others may have completely different ways of viewing the world, religion, and spirituality. Just be respectful.

Along with that, you can also learn about new religions from your host country. It’s always exciting to see how people think and view life and death in a different culture or religion. It’s even more exciting when you can find ties between two or more religions in one single religion. Connecting a new religion to your own can expand your way of thinking and can also help you see that we are all connected in one way or another. After all, todos somos humanos.

I hope that you can relate to some of the changes I’ve experienced. For those of you who haven’t studied abroad (yet), I hope this helps prepare you for the journey you have ahead. Para todos, ojalá que hayan aprendido sobre mis experiencias de intercambio.

Final note: I would like to dedicate this post to the people of Ecuador after living through one of the most destructive earthquakes to strike the country. The Ecuadorian northwest coast is mostly destroyed leaving many people in need of assistance, supplies, food, and shelter. Any donations are helpful while the country begins to rebuild itself and continue to search for people under the rubble. I’m asking for any kind of help for my host country. There are a few websites where donations can be received: My.Care.org, Generosity.com, WorldVision.org, and YouCaring.com (this site donates directly to the town of Canoa which faced a lot of destruction). Thank you ahead of time for your generosity and donations and for helping a country that has found a place forever in my heart! Muchas gracias por todo #UnidosConEcuador #PrayforEcuador

Art field trip to Quilotoa

¿Qué tal amigos? I hope you all are doing well and are excited to hear about the second volcanic crater I entered. If you don’t already know, Quilotoa’s crater was formed several hundred years ago, much like Cuicocha. The lake now sits in that crater and is a popular place to canoe and observe.

For our Andean Popular Arts class, we had a field trip to Quilotoa mostly because it’s such a beautiful lake and it’s near the art and history exhibits we planned to visit.

Our first stop on this trip, however, was at an hacienda where we visited the capilla del Divino Niño de Isinche. The story of this capilla and small church begins years ago when the Spanish came to Ecuador. A statue of baby Jesus appeared on the property and people took it as a sign that a church should be built to adore God. So the church was built with a smaller building that, to this day, holds the statue of el Divino Niño.

Many people visit this hacienda to ask el Divino Niño to grant miracles for them. The tiny capilla is full of photos and plaques asking for help and thanking for prayers granted.

After a few minutes admiring the hacienda, we continued on our journey to Quilotoa. When we got to the town, it was cloudy and cold; the altitude made it even colder. I was not prepared for the chill, so I bought myself a blue alpaca sweater from a vendor inside the small artesanal market. I put it on, over my three layers, and went to go observe the lake with friends while looking like a fluffy, blue snowman. But I was warm!

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Posing with my new, warm sweater 🙂

We opted for a photo shoot instead of a hike down the crater (approx. 40 minutes) and a hike back up (approx. 1.5 hours) since we had a limited time before lunch. The view was a lot more amazing in person, much more spectacular than any camera could capture. When small rays of sun would hit the lake from in between the clouds, the water would appear lime green and turquoise! ¡Simplemente espectacular!

Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon
Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon

Lunch wasn’t amazing… but we ate while the rainstorm hit, so we stayed dry. After lunch, we made it to our final destination of the field trip: a small shop and art studio outside of Quilotoa.

The shop sold many colorful masks, paintings, shoes, sweaters, bracelets, etc. The paintings were by far my favorite since they were full of color and several Andean myths. The paintings shared stories that I wish someone would have explained to me, but nonetheless I was amazed. The masks were also quite chévere since they were hand-carved out of wood and painted with bright colors.

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I fell asleep on the 3 hour bus ride back, mostly so that I wouldn’t get car sick (but I still did). I had an amazing day learning about different aspects of Andean culture and observing the beauty of Lake Quilotoa. Plus, I got my cozy, alpaca sweater as un recuerdo excelente of the trip. ¡Hasta el próximo blog, amigos!

The Flora & Fauna of Ecuador

Why did you choose to study abroad in Ecuador? Why didn’t you pick some tropical place like Costa Rica? Before I came to Ecuador, I knew that it was a tropical country because of its location on the equator, but I never expected it to be as diverse as it is.

Ecuador is ranked as one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, and because of its small size it is probably one of the most diverse relative to size. So to that person who asked me why I picked Ecuador over Costa Rica: that is the reason why.

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Image Source (The Galapagos Islands have been enlarged to show the shapes of the islands)

The country is divided into 4 different environmental regions: The Galapagos Islands (Galápagos), the Coast (La Costa), the Mountains (La Sierra), and the Amazon (El Oriente / Amazonía).

Because the climates in these environments are very different, there are tons of different species unique to each area. The mountains act as a barrier between the coast and the Amazon, making isolation of these species easier. The isolated species reproduce over and over again throughout generations which makes the species vary from a similar species found elsewhere in the country. Great examples of these evolutionary changes are found on the Galapagos Islands where the species have evolved to adapt to their environment over several hundred years.

I had the opportunity to visit the Guayllabamba Zoo just north of Quito. This zoo is unique in that most of the animals found there are actually animals of Ecuador. A few exceptions would be the African lion and the ostrich. There are many species of birds there that would typically be found in the Amazon.

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Other animals I saw included monkeys, bears, wild cats, and the famous Galapagos tortoises.

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Besides its wide array of species, Ecuador also has a variety of different plants. Because of it’s different types of ecosystems like the páramotropical rain-forest (the Amazon), cloud-forests, dry-forests of the coast, and Galapagos, to name a few, there are thousands of different plant species all over the country.

Going to the botanical gardens of Quito is a great way to become introduced to a variety of the plant species in Ecuador. I have taken two trips there and both times I was introduced to different types of plants; there are just too many to show in one day. Our guide showed us the different medicinal plants that some indigenous communities of Ecuador still use. She also showed us which plants were edible and which were definitely not. As a part of the tour, we explored the orchid exhibit which housed hundreds of orchid species native to Ecuador. Along with that, we were able to enter the carnivorous greenhouse where we were introduced to the carnivorous plants one could find in the tropical rain-forest.

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I had a fun time exploring the different flora and fauna of this country and I hope you do too with these pictures! ¡Hasta luego, amigos! Stay tuned for other study abroad tips with me 🙂

Seeing Enrique Iglesias!

¿Cómo están mis amigos? I’ve been MIA for a while, but I’m back to update you all on what’s been going on since my last blog update! Plus, if you know anything about the man in the title, prepare to be excited…

As part of his Sex & Love Tour, Enrique Iglesias made a stop in Quito. On March 3rd, he performed in the Coliseo General Rumiñahui along with the group Gente de Zona. If you’ve ever heard the popular Latin hit “Bailando,” you’ll recognize that Gente de Zona sing with Enrique Iglesias on that track.

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From where we were sitting, the stage was pretty close. Photo ft. my new headband.

Well I was fortunate enough to be able to see him at this concert with a big group of compañeros from my program. Three girls in our group bought the tickets for us all so that we could all sit together, and we paid them back. We didn’t have the closest seating, but since the stadium was pretty small we could see the stage very well from where we were sitting.

Our evening consisted in taking a ton of group pictures beforehand and shouting at the top of our lungs. I had bought an “Enrique Iglesias Love” headband outside (while waiting in line to enter the stadium) and wore it throughout the whole night. I thought that Enrique might be able to spot me from afar if I wore it (I don’t think he did, but it made me feel better).

Photo taken by a Gama TV reporter. She was ecstatic about our excitement!
Photo taken by a Gama TV reporter. She was ecstatic about our excitement!

The concert started off with a smaller, lesser-known artist who only sang probably two songs. Then Gente de Zona came out and sang a few songs when suddenly… the power went off…

We were told to wait for “five minutes” till they fixed it. We waited probably half an hour anxiously anticipating Enrique’s arrival. We wanted Enrique to come out! But once the lights went back on, we had to watch the rest of Gente de Zona’s performance before Enrique took stage.

When he did… I could not believe it! He was there in the same room as me and I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent the rest of the concert dancing along to his music, jumping up and down when he would look over at our section, and shouting con emoción. I thought I would lose my voice.

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I cried only a little when he sang the song “Heroe” since it’s emotional and it made me emotional hearing him sing it live.

Gente de Zona returned for the last song so they could sing “Bailando” with him. Overall it was a great concert and a great experience for me since Enrique Iglesias is one of my favorite artists and this was my first real concert. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up! He sings in Spanish and English. But until next time, amigos: ¡Ciao!

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I’ll leave you all with this image of Enrique. Quisiera que fuera mi heroe.