Hasta Luego, Ecuador

Dear Study Abroad Quito,

You’ve changed me and my story. Maybe rather than changed, you added to my story. 4.5 months is not a long time, but it is plenty of time to be transformed, renewed, and strengthened. You were a risky choice in my college career because I had to give up a semester at Hope to become someone open to the unknown. The opportunity you presented me gave me a new posture of standing with opened hands toward my Heavenly Father for whatever He had in this experience for me, and for the life He has in front of me.

Thank you study abroad for giving me confidence, independence, vulnerability and new strength. I am more self-assured because I escaped comparison and encountered contentment in the person the Lord created me to be. I am more independent because of my time spent alone in a place of adventure. I am willing to let down my guard, and to ask and receive help when it is needed. I have been granted new strength in the midst of identifying the lies the world would like me to believe.

You taught me that some things cannot be planned, but rather are to be figured out step-by-step as they come. You showed me a new perspective of the same world I live in and gave me a spirit of gratitude for the nation in which I was born. You placed me in a new culture to live for a semester that inspires me to change the way I live within my own culture when I return home.

Thank you for the opportunity to be immersed in a new language, culture, and landscape. It provided me with incredible travel opportunities to locations that most of the world have no idea exist. Thank you for a semester of lightened class work so that I could take the time to focus on learning to care for myself, and learning the importance of being still, daily. Thank you for taking away my comforts of having my family, friends, and regular activities always at my fingertips—for showing me that my strength, assurance, and joy can only come from the source of having the presence of the Lord as the first place I run to. Ultimately, you taught me to live where my feet are—not one step forward nor one step back through the lives of Ecuadorians.

Ecuador, I am going to miss your breathtaking landscapes that surround me daily. I am going to miss the tranquility of your lifestyle and living in a culture where people focus on people above their work. I am going to miss the simplicity of life you demonstrate. I am going to miss having free time to plan my own schedule and not have to worry about other demands. But, more than missing things from this semester, I feel forever thankful for the time you’ve given me to learn and experience this way of living. I feel rejuvenated and ready to see how I can modify my life in the United States to better reflect the life lessons I’ve learned this semester.

Hasta luego, Ecuador—gracias, gracias y gracias!

Morgan

Finals Week

May someone please explain how it is already May? It’s officially finals week—finals week in more than the traditional college sense. Classes finished this week and the preparations for final exams, projects, and essays have begun. My friends at Hope are all moving home, starting summer jobs, and taking May terms. The weirdest feeling ever is that I will be home in just two weeks and be joining into that life, once again. It is the week of all the lasts in Ecuador, and it feels surreal.

The plan is to study a little, and spend lots of time walking and eating while exploring Quito one last time. Studying abroad is one of the experiences I wanted most out of my college career. It is something that I have been looking forward to since high school. As this chapter of my education is closing, it honestly just feels quite strange and I am not sure how I am going to process it yet. Pulling out the suitcase to begin to pack just doesn’t feel quite right. I thought that the time would never come when I would be getting ready to go back home. In January, May sounded impossibly far away. Then, what seemed like just a few weeks later, I woke up and May was already here.

This past week I began to say goodbye to the people that have had the most influential impact on me this semester. It just didn’t feel quite right, it felt too soon. My service-learning placement has been the highlight of my semester with Edwin and Lili, and Tuesday was my last day with them. They thanked me and celebrated the incredible semester we had together by driving me up to the top of Illaló, a mountain that overlooks Cumbayá, Lumbisí, and Tumbaco. It was a beautifully clear day, and the feeling of gratitude and utter awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness mutually filled our hearts. We took pictures, they laughed at my not so funny jokes, and I just smiled. It’s funny how our connection began with my decision to serve them, but ended with them serving me. God truly does create, transform, and love on people who are simply ready to open their hands and wait for His plan to unfold.

Next week is a week of continuing the lasts and saying goodbye. More than that, it is a week of smiles and laughter of the memories from the semester, and wonder of the God who led me from the fear of the unknown in January to the beauty of the most transformational experience in May. I am at a loss for adequate words as my emotions feel confused. The words I do have are thank you—thank you to all the people who have encouraged me and supported me here in Ecuador physically, but also to those from my community in West Michigan. Thank you to a God that surpasses my understanding and sees me wherever I am. Here’s to the final week in Ecuador—a country that has provided me with a life-changing transformation.

Coffee Shop Week

After a semester of adventure, my weekend trips have come to a close and I am enjoying my last couple of weeks bouncing around between my hometown of Cumbayá and the capital city of Quito. I am so thankful for some extra time to relax and enjoy my favorite places in town! As I am walking around with my fellow international students each day, we are always thinking of our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and walks that we can’t leave without doing, at least, one more time. Our list is getting quite large so it will be interesting to see how we attempt to fit everything in.

We are heading into our last week of classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito with a week of final exams to follow. This weekend will be one of wrapping up last assignments for the upcoming week, and continual reflection on the semester as a whole. Anyone who has been following my blog posts this semester knows how crucial my service learning placement has been for me over the past 4 months! The goodbyes begin on Tuesday, as it will be my last day there, and wow will that be tough one. I’ve realized what a blessing hard goodbyes, or rather see-you-laters, are because they represent the strength of the relationship that was formed! It is crazy that the weeks of all the “lasts” is already beginning.

You may not be surprised that college students in Ecuador love coffee shops, just like they do in West Michigan. It is the place where we can socialize with our friends and get some homework done at the same time (or at least attempt to). This past week has included lots of coffee shop time as everyone begins to feel the stress and time crunch at the end of the semester. Without the travel component, my weekends now feel a bit longer and I accomplish more academically, and in taking care of myself. I realize how content I feel to just rest, in these last few weeks, knowing that reverse culture shock may be just around the corner. This semester, rest has been such a blessing of healing that I was not able to recognize, arriving from a culture that is constantly busy being busy. Being intentional is going to be necessary to implement ways of changing my previous lifestyle at home to mold a life of increased personal connection with those around me, and to better care for myself.

Here’s to enjoying the calm, the relaxing, and the coffee shops. Here’s to learning how I can mesh the benefits of a very laid-back culture in Ecuador with the benefits busy of United States’ culture. Both cultures have positive and negative aspects. It is now my job to learn from them, and learn to implement them!

A Greater Restoration Purpose

The whole concept of technology being a good or bad thing is controversial in today’s generation. Like most things, there are positive and negative aspects to consider, but I have to admit that technology has been a vital blessing for me this semester. One of the most challenging things to learn while being abroad is how to adapt to change. This is something I knew was coming before I left the States, but learning to adapt to change that is sustainable and fulfilling for a long period of time is really difficult. I have been following my family’s church at home, through the online sermons that they post weekly, as a way to stay rooted in scripture. I am out of town traveling most weekends, so being able to follow their weekly devotions and sermons whenever and wherever I am is a blessing!

Forgive me for jumping around a bit, but this past week was Holy Week—the most important week of the year in the Catholic Church. It began with Palm Sunday and led up to Easter Sunday, the most important holiday of the year for Christians. Ecuador is a primarily Catholic nation and I learned much through the cultural events that took place this past week.

Back to the blessing of technology this semester, I was listening to the Palm Sunday service from my church at home and realized how similarly I live to the Jews who were waving their palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The palm branches are a symbol of pride and praise in celebration for a king the Jews thought was going to lead them into battle, and deliver them from the Romans. We now know how the story ends, and so did Jesus as he was riding through town on a donkey.

I really struggled at the beginning of the semester adapting to the constant change that happened during my first few weeks in Ecuador. I began to get frustrated that my original plans before I left weren’t the reality of what was happening when I arrived. If I’m being completely honest, I wanted to escape. I wanted a deliverance that seemed easy and would change my present circumstance. Like the Jews on Palm Sunday, I was gripping my palm branch so tightly and cheering so loudly for God to deliver me from the difficulty I was facing. In the sermon I listened to from this past week, the Pastor reminded me that I have to loosen my grip and stand with a posture of open hands to follow the Good Shepard. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” This is true, but I’ve learned you actually have to let go… like completely let go. Trust me, God will shred the old parts of you to pieces.

By the example of Jesus, we know how the story ends. God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his plans are always for us and not against us. I was blind to my purpose in Ecuador when my plans went to ruins, but God powerfully made clear to my closest family members that I am here for a reason. I was encouraged and prayed for to stay in the good fight! God’s lessons are some of the most painful to learn sometimes, but they have the most beautiful endings. I think Jesus felt this way, as well, riding on the donkey, knowing he was on his way to the Cross. He asked God to take the present circumstance away from him, if it were His will, but God didn’t because He had a bigger purpose for Jesus to accomplish.

No one, not even Jesus, likes to face hard things. Unlike Jesus, I began my semester with closed palms. The Good Shepard will use anyone with open hands, and Jesus knew that and trusted God with His entire being. When I, with the help of my peers, chose to open my hands to the opportunity placed before me, God’s goodness began to unfold. I experienced a semester of old parts of me being shredded to pieces for God to make His Way in me.

In the weight of the darkness is where transformation, healing, and restoration begin. I celebrate that my will wasn’t accomplished this semester, but that His was being fulfilled. I celebrate Easter because the story doesn’t end at the Cross, it begins with the new life I am given because of the One who went through the darkest of all trials, recognizing that God’s ways have the bigger picture of Redemption in mind!

Service Learning: Transformation in the Garden

Perhaps you remember reading my post about Lili and Edwin (posted February 3rd), and how they were such a huge answer to prayer for a class schedule for the semester, for friendship, and for a faith community. They are the leaders and business owners of their organic produce business, named Nativo, located in Lumbisí. The joy and peace I felt when I met them at the end of January has continued to be so abundant, throughout the duration of the semester.

For a bit of cultural context, Lumbisi is a small community with indigenous heritage and is a neighboring community to where I live in the valley of Cumbayá. It is an area of families who own land and cultivate their own crops, but would be socially considered lower class. What differentiates Lili and Edwin’s business from the rest is that their product is all organic and they have enough family land to produce enough for their household, and to sell.

I have had the opportunity, through IES Abroad, to take Service Learning as a class this semester. I feel so blessed by my placement with Lili and Edwin! They have the kindest hearts for service to their community, and the neighboring ones as well. They make organic produce affordable for those who would otherwise never bother to eat healthy, and they teach their clients the importance of caring for their bodies. They are the most genuine people I have ever met and their faith is what guides them through each and every day.

I truly admire Lili and Edwin for the work that they do for their community, and for the faith they continue to display, no matter the situation. They live in a community where they are “weirdly different.” Lili and Edwin both had the opportunity to study at universities in Ecuador, unlike many in Lumbisí, and they want to share their knowledge for the benefit of the entire community. Also, they don’t have friends in their community that are Christian, so it is difficult at times to develop deep connections with their neighbors. Despite these challenges, Lili and Edwin have each other and their families to help them continue to choose to serve, and be disciples to those around them.

This semester I helped Lili and Edwin prepare for their weekend sales, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Some days we would sort chocho for 3+ hours. Other days we would package the produce for the weekend, and we would go to their land to harvest produce such as avocados, lemons, limes, blackberries, and guava. I think IES Abroad and Lili and Edwin would admit that this placement was a bit of a gamble, at first. Lili and Edwin had never had a volunteer before, and IES Abroad holds high standards for the Service Learning class. This placement surely surpassed any requirements and the experience has been valued by Lili and Edwin, my IES Program Leaders here in Quito, and me. Lili and Edwin are always prepared for they days I come. They are always teaching me new things and health benefits of the plants/produce. In the repetitiveness of the tasks, I learn more about Ecuadorian culture by talking with them for hours on end.

My favorite moments of every week are with Lili and Edwin. When I am with them, I feel peace, joy, hope, needed, and so very loved. They care for me as if I am their child they and invite me to their special holiday meals. I am trying not to think about having to say goodbye to them yet. This past week, I introduced an IES Program Leader and a fellow classmate at my placement site with Lili and Edwin. After Lili mentioned how much they were able to develop as a business over these past couple months by having a set of extra hands, my program leader asked, “So, what are you going to do when Morgan leaves?” Lili just said, “Cry, we are going to cry.” Half jokingly because of the positive life view that Lili has and her continual trust that God will always provide. But, seriously in the reality that it will be hard to say goodbye to our weekly conversations and relationships.

I am thankful my original schedule didn’t work out when I got here, despite the stress I felt in January because of it. I know God hand-picked Lili and Edwin to show me, through their daily love and encouragement, how to live a life of joy and peace and friendship. A life that is selfless and fulfilling, no matter the circumstances thrown our way.

 

 

Language Fluency: How do you know when you have it?

“So, how do you think your Spanish is?” This is a question I’ve been asked recently, as I complete 3 of my 4.5 months abroad, by my host mom, my biological mom, and friends. This is another one of those questions that is hard to answer from my own perspective. Though I am not the one listening to myself speak each day, throughout my experience, it is incredible to look back on the first 3 months and see the growth that has occurred in my language ability!

When I arrived in Ecuador, I had just finished a summer and semester without taking any Spanish classes. I knew the vocabulary, and speaking would come back to me, but I felt apprehensive about academically using my Spanish. I knew my grammar would need a great deal of help, and let’s face it, my vocabulary was really quite small. Since I have had some shorter experiences abroad in the past, I was in an awkward in between stage of needing to try to translate things in my head before speaking, and just starting to talk out loud. I was confident that I would be able to get my point across and talk with anyone I needed to conversationally, but I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect.

Throughout the course of the semester, I have improved in every area of using the Spanish language! This brings up the question once again, “So, are you fluent?” While I am obviously not a native speaker, it is universally recognized that I can’t become a native speaker. Yes, I am fluent in Spanish, and this semester has helped me accomplish my primary goals I have for using the language. As a business major, my goal is to use Spanish as a supplemental skill to my future professional life. Most importantly, I want to have the conversational capacity to develop meaningful relationships.

The fact of the matter is that there is always more to learn, whether I am speaking English or Spanish (honestly, my Spanish grammar is probably better than my English). In a world where we are never done learning, we will continue to learn and grow and strengthen our skills. As I explained to my mom just this past week, it is sometimes hard to gauge how I am doing when I am not listening to myself. However, I am thankful for the confidence that I have gained to be able to use the language wherever I am, knowing that I will be understood and respected in a colloquial or professional manner.

I feel so blessed to have this experience abroad; for an entire semester to be immersed! Dominating another language is something that requires taking the time to be fully immersed, and it is an opportunity foreign to the United States in comparison to the rest of the world. I don’t know where my professional life will take me, but I am thankful for the acquired skill of Spanish that I am ready and capable to use in the future!

 

Weekly Freedoms and Limitations

Over the course of the past 3 months (it has already almost been that long!), I have experienced new freedoms and new limitations that come with living in a new culture. Let me preface that by saying that some of these things are not necessarily better or worse than my day to day life experiences I have in the States, but rather cultural differences I am living and growing through.

Freedoms:

Travel: What a strange concept it is to be able to travel on the weekends, and choose my weekly adventure! As I’ve mentioned before, Ecuador is a richly diverse country in every aspect, including it’s landscape. In the States, there is rarely the opportunity to travel somewhere for an entire weekend during the academic year. Weekends are too short and packed with homework nearly every single week at Hope. In Ecuador, the University provides 3 day weekends… (yes, that means never having Friday classes!). Academics in Ecuador seem to be a bit different, as well. While classes still have homework, tests, presentations, and group projects– there is much less “busy work.” All of the assignments tend to have a bit more weight, but they are all directly related to class material and there isn’t thousands of extra readings to be done. This makes traveling a reality, not only for the sake of time in days, but because of the decreased amount of homework than what I am used to. Not to mention the cheaper cost as well!

Time: Because I am here for only a semester without my closest friends and family and jobs, I have much more freedom with time. I can read a book for fun, go for a walk, watch a movie etc., things I rarely have time to enjoy during the academic year in the states.

Limitations:

Diet: The Ecuadorian diet is healthy, fresh, and nutritious for cheaper prices than at home. My biggest challenge is navigating life with a host family who rarely eats at home themselves. I have less control over what I eat than I do at home.

Transportation: Oh how I can’t wait to be able to drive my car again! The bus system is cheap and super helpful, as you can go anywhere in the country on a bus… however, it is also very time consuming on curvy mountain roads that make me feel quite sick.

Home: Being away from home just means being more conscious about everything. From safety, to time of day, to knowing where my food and water comes from, I’ve come to recognize the little things I take for granted at home.

These are just some of the basic things that are very different than my West Michigan life in the States. There are clearly freedoms and limitations in both lifestyles that provide different experiences and opportunities. What a ride it has been, the past 3 months!

 

 

Back to Routine

We are back in the swing of things here at USFQ! After a much needed and beautiful spring break adventure, school is back in full swing. The past two weeks have been getting back into a rhythm, but with a change in perspective. Over the past week, I have finished up midterms and have begun to get a glimpse of what the second half of my time abroad will entail.

This week marked exactly 2 months until I come home! In some ways that practically feels like tomorrow, while in other ways, I feel overwhelmed by all that has yet to happen. This mid-term week provided time to reflect. Through IES, I was encouraged to discuss the things that have gone well so far with my classes, my host family, and simply living in the Ecuadorian culture. Of course, we were then asked to specify changes we would like to see for the second half of this journey in regards to each of these areas.

Reflecting is one way for me to decompress, and also to look forward in hope. In the midst of the daily joys and trials, I often lose perspective of the bigger picture of my ‘why’ for being in Ecuador. Crossing the halfway point was almost like a flip of a switch for me; a night and day difference of mentality. May no longer sounds so daunting, and 4.5 months in another country is beginning to feel like such a small component of life’s journey. Having only 2 months to go fills my heart with gratitude for the growth that has already sprouted within me. I’m even more excited to see what that little sprout looks like in 2 more months.

What a difference the changing of a month can make! What I mean by that is, how good it felt when January turned into February and when February turned into March. Each month is one step closer of achieving a goal, growing through an experience, and living differently which has encouraged me to keep pressing into my time in Ecuador. These month changes feel a bit different now as April approaches; as the end begins to feel more real. May didn’t really feel like it would ever come in January or February, but now I know it is just around the corner. I have destinations on my bucket list and final projects in classes to complete all before mid-May, and oh how I’ve realized that it will be here in the blink of an eye.

I am grateful for a time of reflection over the past two weeks, an encouraged and refreshed mind, and hope for the opportunities yet to come in my final 2 months abroad! Praise be to God for His faithfulness, and making beauty out of ashes, the ashes where my mind began my journey abroad.

Spring Break!

As blunt and exaggerated as it sounds, this past week was one of the coolest and most precious weeks of my life! My spring break was split into two parts and both equally memorable. The first half of my spring break was spent with my Mom (I know I said that last post but it is a highlight for me), mostly in Puerto Lopez. We spent a day touring Quito and I got to show my mom everything the locals showed me when I first arrived in the gorgeous Historic Center of Quito. From the 13,500 ft. city view to the ancient cathedrals, we loved and enjoyed the beautiful city buzz of Quito. We then flew to the Pacific Coast of Ecuador to the small beach town of Puerto Lopez where we enjoyed a few relaxing days in hammocks overlooking the ocean. We stayed in a cute hotel where we slept with bug nets surrounding us in our own mini beach hut. We enjoyed beach walks, seafood, wildlife, game time, sunshine, and simply talking until we had to say goodbye at the airport a few days later. My heart felt so heavy with my mom leaving, knowing that my physical support was going to be gone again, but I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she was able to come to spend that precious time with me. I know her heart broke as well because she is such a compassionate and empathetic mom, who didn’t want to leave her child again.

All is well. Mom made it home safe to the rest of our family, and I took off for part two of my spring break with my study abroad program. This final weekend of spring break was spent on one of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Ecuador. If you have heard anything about these islands, I am sure you have heard of their extravagant beauty and wildlife, that I can say is constantly evident. They are Ecuador’s version of Hawaii with more wildlife, but also formed by volcanos. There are 13 islands in all of the Galapagos, 4 of which have small populations of people who live there. One of those islands is San Cristobal where I spent the past 4 days. Since we were a bit short on time, we couldn’t do the island hopping tour unfortunately, but we were able to pack the 4 days we had on San Cristobal with snorkeling, hiking, and boating! By boating to different parts of the island, and completing a 360 tour around the island one of the days, we were able to see everything that San Cristobal has to offer. The bright side to a short Galapagos trip in March, their hottest month, means less sunburn from the intensity on the equator! (I am proud to say that I didn’t burn, but I have also never worn so much sunscreen or wore a jacket in 85 degree weather!)

We saw all types of wild life– sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, the ginormous land turtles, sting rays, eagle rays, iguanas, blue footed boobies, fragatas, and mocking birds. We were able to see these animals up close and in their natural habitats. We snorkeled in the bright turquoise water in the bays that entice wildlife and walked the white, powder beaches that look like the actual google images photos. Our walks on the black volcanic rock provided no shade but unique experiences with the endemic wildlife of the Galapagos. (Yes, endemic is the one biology word I learned and understood while I was there haha). I am not sure if I’ll ever make it back to the Galapagos again, but I know there is so much more there to explore on the other islands that will be awaiting me!

Getting back from the incredibly exhausting travel week Sunday night with school the next morning, isn’t my ideal way to jump into midterm exams, but the once-in-a-lifetime experiences were definitely worth it! To all my Hope friends and Michiganders struggling in the crazy weather that is changing daily, your break is coming so soon and I will soon be jealous of you :).

Thank you everyone for your continued prayers and support as my journey continues to unfold! I am thankful for the week I had to break from academics.

 

She’s Here!

My mom is here– like my actual, real, biological mother! Since deciding to come to Ecuador last fall, I had always hoped that my mom would be able to come visit. When I arrived in January, we began to make the arrangements for my spring break, which is next week. All I have to say is YAY, and thank you God for making this opportunity a reality!

As many of you already know, my mom is literally my best friend. I really don’t know what I would do without her. She is selfless and loves her family so much. Being away from home has shown me how much both she and my dad care for my brothers and me. Their love is more extravagant than I knew was possible.

Now that she is here, I get to show her around my new hometown of Cumbayá, my school and service learning placement. My family gets to see pictures I take when I am traveling, but I am so thankful for the opportunity I have this week to show my mom the daily life I live here. We will also be spending a day in Quito going through the historical center and churches and seeing magnificent views of the city! I am so excited for this day because it is so different from anything my mom has ever experienced, and I get to be the tour guide! After two days in the place I call home for now, we will be headed to the province of Manabí along the coast of Ecuador to the small town of Puerto Lopez. This small beach town is part of the Machalilla National Park, home to beautiful beaches, delicious seafood, surfing and wildlife, and the well-known Isla de Plata.

Of course I am excited for this travel opportunity, but I am most excited to simply be with my mom. I feel like it has been forever since I talked with someone who really understands me. My mom literally flew across the world just to spend a couple of days with me! Yes, she does get a mini vacation out of the deal too, but I know she would never take a mini trip like this otherwise for vacation. Not only that, but my three brothers are at home with my dad during one of his busiest weeks of work. Plus, my grandparents who are always the first to offer help, are also out of town. My mom is here for me.

So, here’s to a weekend of probably lots of laughter, tears, relaxing, and hugs– I know I will be savoring every moment. If I’ve learned anything in the recent months, it is that home isn’t always a physical place. I am homesick not because of my physical home (I mean, how could I be when it is located in the tundra), but I am homesick because people are my home. My family and my friends are my home and I miss them! Thanks to a loving dad, understanding brothers, an adventurous mom, and a giving Heavenly Father, I get to spend a weekend with a glimpse of my home here in Ecuador.