One week ago I left everything comfortable behind to embark on a 4 1/2 month journey to Quito, Ecuador. I left my home, family, friends, favorite foods, the snow (not too sad about that one), and the all of the security that comes through those things. I’m now living in a new country where the language, customs, and various aspects of society are different than what I’m used to. It has been challenging so far, but a challenge that I’m excited to continue to grow through.
On January 2nd I flew from Chicago to Atlanta to Quito and throughout the whole day I was a nervous wreck. The unknowns of studying abroad were terrifying and they really didn’t hit me until I had to say goodbye to my family and my home. Luckily, I have the privilege of taking on this new adventure with one of my best friends, Emily, and we met in Atlanta to fly the rest of the way together. Having one another brought a lot of relief for our final flight. Once we got to Quito and went through customs we found some of the other students in our program and then went to meet our host families.
I am living in an apartment with one woman named Nelly. She has three sons who are all married so it’s just the two of us. Nelly is kind and patient with me when my Spanish skills are not very good. She gives me a lot of independence and has been helpful in showing me the customs of Ecuador. While living in a new home has been an adjustment, I have felt welcomed and cared for.
Quito is a huge city of over 1.5 million people and it is located at an altitude of 9,350 feet. It is also in the Andes Mountains which is a pretty great thing to wake up to every morning. I live close to a park called Parque la Carolina, a bunch of hip coffeeshops and restaurants, and am only a few blocks away from my school.
In the past week I have had orientation with the other students in my program and have learned a ton. Not only have I learned about Quito and the program (IES), but I have also learned different Ecuadorian phrases, how to use the bus (a continuing learning experience), and how to navigate my neighborhood. Living in a city is in no way similar to life in Holland, MI, but I’m figuring it out one day at a time.
Besides all of the information I’ve heard during orientation, we have also taken a few trips. One day we did a tour of the Centro Historico de Quito where we saw a few churches, La Plaza Grande, and El Panecillo (a statue of the Virgen Mary that overlooks the city). The historical district of Quito is filled with interesting architecture as well as stories behind the buildings. My favorite part of that day was El Panecillo because you can climb up to the top of the statue and see the entire city. We went at sunset which made for an incredible view. Another day we left Quito and visited Otavalo (an indigenous market), Laguna de Cuicocha (a crater lake), and Cascada de Peguche (a waterfall). Again, the views were unreal and they brought reassurance that I had chosen the right country to study abroad in.
We have done a lot in this last week and have already experienced a new way of life that will continue to develop over these next few months. There is much more to tell about Ecuador, but for now I’ll leave you with this: living in Ecuador is and will be hard yet transformative. Here’s to the beginning of the semester! As they say in Ecuador, chau!