1 year, 3 countries

Annika Kapp - Ecuador


December 22, 2019

 

In 2019, I was lucky enough to live in and call three different countries my home: Norway, Germany and Ecuador. This is actually still surreal to me now that I’m typing it out. I’ve always wanted to travel and to see the world, but it just wasn’t too realistic financially. It truly was UWC that opened this door for me. When I got my acceptance letter in January 2017, my future drastically changed, it was a gigantic step into the unknown. I did, however, know one thing for sure: my life will never be boring again. This has since proven to be true in for my life and especially for 2019. In this blog post, I want to look back on the year and reflect on how these three different countries and homes have shaped my experience and what they have taught me. 

 

January – May : Norway
 
Inline-Bild
UWC Red Cross Nordic Campus <3

 

I started the year in Germany, celebrating the New Year with my best friend Kathi and her family. In the beginning of January, I went back to Norway to start my fourth and final term at UWC RCN. Even though many people say third term is hell and afterwards you can finally enjoy your time at UWC again, fourth term was actually the hardest for me. This had many different reasons, but one were the university admission decisions that came out during this time. I had applied to maybe a bit too many prestigious schools, and big surprise, they rejected me. After I submitted my application to Sciences Po, they actually invited me to an interview. So in February, I left the freezing cold of western Norway and flew down to Nice in the south of France to have my interview at the Menton campus. 

 

The journey there was probably one of the most stressful travel experiences I’ve ever had, but I made it to my interview, and even though I wasn’t able to answer all of their questions, I was happy with myself. However, it wasn’t enough for them. The decision didn’t come completely unexpected, but I had idealised the university so much that the rejection took a toll on my academic- and self-confidence. Looking back at the whole process now, I am actually thankful for the experience. The trip to France itself was amazing: it gave me a chance to escape the darkness and routine of Norway, enjoy the warmth of southern France, and most of all, it gave me a huge confidence boost as a solo-traveler. I had successfully planned and managed this whole stressful 3-day trip myself, and I even went to Italy for a few hours after my interview! On the academic side of things, going to Sciences Po would actually have meant that I wouldn’t be able to take a gap year, as you can’t really defer your place. So I would never have made it to Ecuador! I won’t lie and tell you that all of these positives were clear to me in the moment, it did take me a few months to process this rejection, but nowadays I can be thankful that things turned out this way.

 

Even with all the obstacles and final exam stress of fourth term, I can say without a doubt that I genuinely loved my life in Norway. RCN was the first place that felt so intensely and deeply like home for me, a home that I created over the course of two years. I was living with and surrounded by so many people I loved and cared about, and who cared about me. Every single day in Norway felt meaningful. My life was filled with (maybe too many) activities, classes, interesting conversations, walks, tea sessions, cantina table talks, kayak trips, endless hikes, crazy adventures like biking all the way to the ocean, cultural events, complaining, hitch-hiking, learning, studying, reading, questioning everything, laughing, crying, breakdowns, hugs and endless solidarity. I also don’t know how many hours I spent just looking at the fjord, sitting by the fjord, walking along the fjord, napping by the fjord in a hammock, jumping in the fjord, swimming in the fjord, kayaking in the fjord. I would sit on hidden cliffs by this fjord in my worst moments when I just wanted to be alone, on sunny days I would lay on the warm moss-covered rocks with my best friend reading poetry, or celebrate someone’s 18th birthday by throwing them into the ice-cold water. Norway taught me to appreciate the incredibly beautiful nature we were surrounded by and living in, and I tried to enjoy it to the fullest. I learned that even on the toughest days, I could find something to be grateful for (mostly my amazing friends who helped me through them). By always being aware that this experience only lasts two years and it would never be the same again, I appreciated every single day. 

 

My time in Norway taught me a LOT of things and I could write a whole book about it, but most of all, it showed me what depth of human connection is actually possible. That nationality, culture and language don’t stand in the way of these relationships, but make them even more fascinating and interesting. Oh, and I also learned a new language! Tusen takk for alt, Norge. <3 Flekke, du var alltid være mitt hjem! 

 

June – August: Germany
 
Inline-Bild
giving my UWC friends the traditional German Biergarten experience 😉

 

After having spent the first 5 months of the year in Norway and spending another two amazing weeks traveling through Norway, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands with one of my best friends from RCN, I arrived to my hometown Munich. I already wrote a whole blogpost about what it’s like for me to come home and leave home, which you can read here:

 

But just to sum it up for you: it wasn’t easy to come back. I spent a big part of this summer adapting to this huge change.

 
I also worked in my first proper job! This was actually an amazing experience. I spent every Sunday at the Munich airport, welcoming and supervising kids from all over the world who came to the city for German language courses. It was literally the perfect job for me: I got to practice all my languages and was working in one of my favourite places – which I really got to know very well during this time. I also had amazing international coworkers with whom I got along really well. 

 

During my two months in Munich, I also re-discovered the city where I had spent the first 16 years of my life. I once again fell in love with its architecture, its parks, museums and art-galleries, I found new cafés and restaurants, and I regained that confidence that you have when you actually know your way around a city. I was overwhelmed by the choices I had in the supermarket which I could  actually afford now. (Norwegian prices make EVERYTHING look cheap afterwards.) I adapted to speaking, reading and writing German again, reconnecting with my mother tongue. Most importantly, I got to spend time with my family. I saw my aunts and uncles, my cousins and my grandparents. After being away for so long, you really learn to appreciate the time where you’re actually in the same place as them and not a plane-ride away, and I tried to really make use of that. Lots of love to my family members who are reading this, thank you for always welcoming me home when I come back from my adventures! <3

 

Also as I mentioned in my other blogpost, I really learned to appreciate the German healthcare system during my two months there. The luxury of getting an appointment within two week’s time. Having the freedom to choose from a variety of doctors. Having any specialist you may need available in your city. Walking into the doctor’s office without having to worry about money at all, just showing your European health card and being seen. Getting reimbursed for all my travel vaccinations and malaria pills. I genuinely wouldn’t have been able to afford the medical preparations for GCY any other way, so I was very very grateful for my country’s health system. (Especially talking to US fellows now and comparing our experiences…)

 

September – December: Ecuador
 
Inline-Bild
Cajas National Park

 

The end of August rolled around and I left for the United States, spent a week in Stanford and then there I was, on a plane, headed to another continent to build a new home once again. It’s a bit hard for me to reflect on this experience already, because it’s not something I finished, I’m still living it. I will try my best. 

 

Now I’ve been living in this beautiful country for almost four months and what can I say? I love my life here. My thoughts about Spanish before coming here were a mix of naive confidence “I learned Italian and French, so how hard can it be to learn this?”, and being a little bit terrified about it, because well…I didn’t speak it. Which can come in a little unhandy when you’re supposed to start a new life in that language, living with a family and working in a place where people don’t really speak English. Funnily enough though, it was exactly a mix of all of these factors that helped me learn Spanish in the course of two months. I spent my first weeks communicating with a mix of Italian, French, Spanish and my hand and feet. And thanks to the fact that I only speak Spanish with my family, in my work and with my Ecuadorian friends, I can now confidently communicate and navigate my life in this language. Of course I’m still learning something new every single day, let it be new grammar in my Spanish classes, new vocabulary or local “slang” that my coworkers teach me.  
 

Thanks to these Spanish skills, I was able to do something I didn’t expect to be possible that soon and that easily: I became friends with locals who don’t speak English, and I was able to build up relationships purely in this new language that I’m still learning. This is probably one of my absolutely favourite things about learning foreign languages: you are able to connect with people who you otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate with. Suddenly I was having conversations in Spanish about my dreams and aspirations, my childhood, life philosophies, politics, and spirituality, topics that I didn’t think I could even talk about. Sure, they aren’t grammatically flawless, but it’s enough to enable me to connect with other people on a level that goes way beyond smalltalk, and that’s what I was craving. 

 

During these three and a half months, I became part of a new family.  It actually feels a bit weird to use the word “host family” to me because it implies this “othering”, this “me” and “them”, which just doesn’t represent what I feel like. I don’t feel like guest that is being hosted. With moving here I became the daughter of  Ruth and Patricio, the sister of Karla, Dani, Fernanda and Xavier. I love my family incredibly much and I know that my experience would have been very very different if I hadn’t lived with them. 

 

My host family runs two successful business: they own one of the best restaurants in the Cuenca area (without it even being in Cuenca!) and they have a company that produces fine herbs and other products, while creating work for the local community and supporting the local culture. Living with them and learning from them taught me about Ecuadorian entrepreneurs that have business ideas and make them become reality, who have crazy visions like building the largest wooden spoon on earth, who just go and do it and get a Guinness World Record for it.

 

It taught me about Ecuadorians who have visions of sustainable future that they’re working for, even though their country’s system isn’t that far yet. My host family recycles all their paper, plastic and glass, even though Paute doesn’t have any infrastructure for recycling, they drive all their materials to Cuenca and their current new crazy project is to use their recycled plastic to build a house. 

 

My work has also been essential to teaching me about and showing me other perspectives of this country, its structures and society. When you’re thinking of Ecuador as someone who’s never been there, you don’t think about special needs education. You don’t think about special education teachers, physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists and the amazing, important work they’re doing. But I have the honour to know these people and work with them every single day, to see with how much passion they perform their job, knowing they’re underpaid, representing how they’re not valued as much as “normal” teachers by their government and society. My coworkers are probably my favourite part about my apprenticeship, they have been so sweet in making me feel welcome, and some of them especially have really taken me under their wing. I really appreciate that I’m being treated like a normal staff member here. I get to sit with them in the “teacher’s room” (that is also the kitchen) every morning before class and every day during lunch break, they always ask me about my week and what I’ve been doing. They’re also really interested in my culture, always asking me questions about how this and that works in my country, if we celebrate Christmas in Germany (yes, we do), how much teachers get paid (more than here :c), or what the climate is like (there are actually 4 seasons!). I also get to teach them some German from time to time and it’s the cutest thing ever watching them trying to pronounce “Prost”, “Fröhliche Weihnachten” or “Milch”. :’) 
 
The other week, three of my coworkers actually invited me to go to Cuenca with them. They took me out for lunch and later to “Turi”, a place a bit up the mountain from which you have a beautiful over all of Cuenca. This invitation meant a lot to me, because it had nothing to do with work, they actually wanted me to be there, and I guess that’s when you’re really experiencing immersion.
 
 Inline-Bild

What Ecuador has taught me essentially is that no matter how far away I go , no matter if I arrive not speaking the language, with the right people, I can build a home anywhere. Realising this leaves me with a lot of confidence and peace of mind when I think about my future, (which I’m sure is going include a lot more moving and home-building). 

 

Ecuador, it’s only been four months but I’ve fallen in love with your culture, your food, your language and your people. Gracias por ser mi hogar en este año <3

 

 

 

Annika Kapp