How I Lost 400 Bucks: Culture Shock & Budgeting in Another Country

Hugo Santiago - Ecuador


December 20, 2015

    During, “Pre-Departure Training” I found out I won a small amount of award money from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, so as any other 17 year would do I went haywire with the, “Emergency Money” my mom gave me for this trip. Suddenly 400$ were gone. Like just-GONE. I’ve never really had money in my life so I guess that explains why I had no precautions with budgeting-since I never actually had anything to budget!
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…later on I noticed how a lot of the other Fellows carried around cool-clunky looking DSLR cameras. I decided to invest some of my award money into one. I didn’t really think twice about it and I was ready to buy the camera today. So why did I start feeling so guilty about it?
    And there-just then, I started to experience it…this was culture shock!
    Did I feel guilty because all these kids out here are poor? Kids out here always asked me if they could have my cruddy-way too big-early 2000’s model laptop. Kids out here told me how they wish Santa Clause could come visit them on Christmas just like they visited kids in the United States (that hurt to hear). Kids out here walked on sidewalks that were cracked, which carried dust into the air when you stepped on it since there wasn’t enough concrete to cover the soil portion and because of this the town and all the kids were always a bit dusty.
    Well you want to know what honestly ran through my mind, how I countered that thought? “Tough shit”, things aren’t much better back in my hometown in the states. Let’s not forget my hometown was voted as the “#1 Worst City To Live in the United States” over the high percentages of my friends and I living below the poverty line, high diagnoses of diabetes in the citizens and the political corruption/near bankruptcy our city faced the 2000’s”, I contemplated.

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The City of Bell scandal is a scandal involving misappropriation of public funds in Bell, California over a period of several years in the 2000s.
“Tough shit”, that’s something my mom taught me. She never lent out money to those who were young enough to earn it themselves, because ever since her mother died when she was eight year old, she had to drop out of school and work the streets, she even immigrated to another country when she couldn’t find work in Mexico. I carried, “Thought shit” with me throughout high school and worked my butt off to not have to worry about paying for college. A culture of low-income was something I already knew about. So why did I feel guilty? I know how bad it gets and how at times you just want to go up to people and ask them for handouts. I should feel free to spend that money, no one handed it to me, I put all my effort onto that application for that award – all while still juggling my Global Citizen Year application, AP classes, applying to a thousand other scholarships on the side and working a job after school. I know exactly how these kids felt (it’s how I use to feel, it’s how I still feel actually). I worked for that money, so if these kids wanted the supposed luxury I never had in the States then they could get a job just like my mom and I had. This is the first time I’ve ever had money in my life to spend and I want to feel free to spend it…
…but that’s the thing…this is the first time I’ve been on the other side of the fence, the first time I’m the one with the money and power to spend it while there are others around me not to spend any…the first time I’m not apart of them.
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    For weeks I felt like…well-complete shit. I hated myself for not being responsible with the small money my mom put aside for me, for spending it so carelessly to go out when there were so many people out here in Ecuador who didn’t even have a dollar to their name. Most of all, I hated myself for winning that award money and letting it make me careless about my cash.
    I knew “hating myself” wasn’t going to fix anything so I thought it over and I talked about it with my Ecuador Supervisor Nancy. I think I came to some type of conclusion. The people of Ecuador reminded me where I root from: low income. Now that I have money, I shouldn’t feel bad about using it, but at the same time I shouldn’t exactly go hay-wire and spend it all on pointless crap. So I should stay critical about how I spend my money and really take the time to ask the question, “Okay…do you actually need this??”.
    It’s only been a while that I’ve entered this mindset but it’s working…little by little…this sounds cheesy, I know, but staying critical about how I’m spending my cash is something I really think this year has taught me and something I’ll carry when I go back to the States. I still have a bit of emergency money my mom left me and budgeting’s tough, but I’m determined to try to make those last few dollars last until the end of my GCY.
aww man…I really wanted that DSLR camera…

 

Hugo Santiago