As the plane touched down in Quito, a flood of emotions swept over me. Excitement. Apprehension. Sadness. Anxiety. Curiosity. Excitement again… I was missing friends at home, but I couldn’t wait to experience this new place with my new friends from Global Citizen Year. Of course this was all complimented by the inability to pop my ears for the next few hours.
Quito is situated at 9,350 feet above sea level. Resting in the foothills of the great Andes mountains, the city is nestled in a valley, surrounded by volcanos on all sides. The nature of the valley has not allowed much East-West expansion, so since its founding by ancient kings over a thousand years ago the city’s expansion has been squeezed down the valley. It is now a tangle of streets and parks that run mostly North to South. It is a unique city, rich in culture and history, that I can’t wait to explore.
My first two days here in Ecuador, however, were spent not in Quito, but in a quaint little hostel about twenty minutes from the city. Run by a handful of sweet, old nuns, the hostel possessed a kind of modest beauty usually associated with abbeys and monasteries. A well tended flower garden filled the courtyard with an array of color. Behind the little cluster of housing buildings a few walking paths and shrines spread over a larger green area, where you could see some of the volcanos that encircle Quito. The hostel had a fair amount of Catholic symbolism, but that is to be expected almost anywhere in this country. It was not overbearing, even to the least religious of our group. If anything it was quite reassuring, that we were being welcomed to this country by such faithful and compassionate people. And the sisters were nothing but welcoming. Despite only having known us for two days, and having no further communication ability than a smile and “buenos días”, they made our welcome truly wonderful.
Today is my first day staying in the city. We had gone the past two days to get oriented, but today marks my first day with my Quito host family, who I will be with over the next three weeks as I study Spanish at the Experiment in International Living (EIL) office. I awoke this morning, packed my things, and boarded a bus with my cohort. As we traveled into Quito, a drive that already seems so familiar, I noted the view of the valley. Our descent from the hostel turns quickly into a scenic ascent, that gives way to a breathtaking view of Quito and the surrounding volcanos. For about ten minutes you can look out over the city and countryside, before descending once again, this time into the city herself. Upon arrival at the EIL office, where our families picked us up, another flood of emotion swept over me. I kept my composure, went over a few Spanish greetings in my head, and got off the bus.
“Emery! Emery! Your family has a sign for you!”, shouted Lisa, one of the regional team leaders for Global Citizen year. I pushed through the crowd of fellows and families, all trying to figure out who belonged to who, and saw mi padre, Ramiro, standing next to mi mama, Mónica, and holding a paper with my name written in red marker. I greeted them with hugs and cheek-kisses. Ramiro grabbed one of my bags and we set off. The street was crowded with vehicles, and as we came to a motorcycle Ramiro indicated that we’d be getting on. “!Chistoso!” Mónica shouted, as she gave him an affectionate push. She then informed me the “He thinks he’s funny, but he’s just annoying”. They laughed and we kept walking, and I knew that everything would be alright.
How lucky I am to have had such a beautiful welcome to this beautiful city. How lucky I am to have a fun and caring host family. I know my time in Quito will be nothing but enjoyable.