First Impressions

Take a moment to reflect about Ecuador. What do you know about this “developing” country? What images start circulating in your mind? Do you picture an immense Amazon filled with emerald trees and buzzing insects of iridescent colors? Maybe you visualize the prominent Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin first broached the topic of evolution using finches. When I first told YOU I was heading to Ecuador for eight months, did you picture tin huts that lack electricity? Did images of underdeveloped houses, dirt roads, and looming volcanoes spring into your mind while an eclectic mix of Spanish music hummed into the background of your thoughts? Did you picture the equator and the running water trick where the drains flow in different directions depending on which side of the imaginary and physical yellow line you stand?

Honestly, I’m not judging you if any one of these scenarios came to mind when the word “Ecuador” was said. When I first contemplated going to Ecuador, many of you may know I was actually dead-set on Brazil. I thought I knew so much about Brazil that the idea of living there comforted me. I wrote my research paper about the Brazilian economy and the complicated relationship between energy developments while preserving the diverse natural resources there. I thought I had a good idea about the culture, and I could literally picture myself enjoying the diverse natural locations throughout Brazil.

But life had a different plan for me and there will never be a day that goes by in which I will regret coming to Ecuador. The decision was out of my control where I headed, like all other decisions that Global Citizen Year makes. That is partly why this year is so invigorating. We all leave our homes without any expectations or ideas in our heads about how life will be because it is so far beyond our comfort zones that we cannot picture life on another continent. We can’t truly envision Ecuador when words such as “developing” or “third-world” come to mind due to connotations we’ve been taught. But what do these words mean? Ecuador is in no way a third-world country, but by looking at the globe through a dualistic worldview where everything is either good or bad, backward or modern, developed or underdeveloped (Rothenberg 5), we aren’t really reaching our potential to understand life outside our comfort zones. Before I stepped on that plane to California, I could visualize all the stereotypical scenes and images associated with life outside the US, especially in a “developing” nation. But neither one word nor mental image can accurately capture Ecuador, just as these words on my blog can’t portray the depth of my experience this year. So, I don’t blame you for categorizing me or Ecuador into one box when you visualized this place

Because that’s how it was for me. And I will continue to learn.

I had no idea that Ecuador would teem with such diversity I literally lay awake in my host mom’s bed at night trying to discern the day’s events. I’ve never been so overwhelmed at the zoom of cars and chaotic crossings of each street as I live here in Quito. This country is so vibrant and multi-faceted that it cannot be summed up in a single story, but I can at least try to give you a vibrant picture of the capital city which rests so high in the clouds that I could stroke them with my own fingertips as I drink cinnamon tea on top of our Spanish class building.

Each morning, I wake up to a pounding alarm. My room is large with wooden floorboards that creek beneath my feet. A bulky tv rests next to my bed and sometimes I fall asleep to the chaotic Spanish if my mind isn’t already tired from battling it all day. I drink green tea with my host mom at her kitchen counter and eat slices of bread with caramel on it for breakfast. We have a washer and dryer. We have running water, albeit our shower is sort of chilly when the electrical wires above my head give out halfway through bathing and I have to find the proper mix of water pressure to start the heater while not overwhelming it with too much water since it heats just above me head. I walk to school along one of the busiest streets, careful to avoid being run over by zooming vehicles. I sit in a well lit classroom with views of Cotopaxi, one of the largest volcanoes I have ever seen. We enjoy the harsh biting wind in the shade of the terrace on our school’s roof and we eat bananas or plantain chips for a snack between droning hours of Spanish classes taught only in Spanish from Experiment International Living (EIL).

For almuerzo, my host mom brings me a fresh box of lunch every single day. She walks the 30 minute journey from her house to the school just to ensure my arroz and pescado are fresh and carefully packed into my plastic container. Lunch is the largest meal of the day, so we have two full of hours to consume it while walking around the crowded Quito streets before we all make our way to the hostel, Sebad, for Global Citizen Year curriculum from 2-5pm.

I walk home each night as the looming mountain shadows create a chilly dusk. Night comes quickly on the equator where darkness falls before a dinner of hot chocolate and bread can even be served first. Dinner is sparse; hospitality isn’t.

The vibrancy of this city amazes me even if I can’t feel at home yet. I’m still in transition. I’m still awaiting my unknown placement without expectations of a single Ecuadorian story that I’m grappling to understand. Quito, you are a city so close to the sky I feel out of place with the world below me. Home seems like a comforting metaphor at the moment instead of an exact place. More or less, many days make home seem like the comfort of friends and family regardless of location. You are a fruit basket of words I can’t yet pronounce and tastes I can’t wait to try. You are the bubbles of excitement and chaotic smells reminding me how far from the United States I truly am. You are the gray buildings that kiss mountains while flirting with volcanoes and you are redefining my American stereotypes one day at a time.

By the time I get back to the United States, I truly want to be able to say my mind was opened from this experience. As the Spanish starts to push my English aside to crowd into my thoughts, I want to allow Ecuador to seep into my own culture. I can’t wait for the day when I can march onto a bus with near-perfect Spanish, confident enough to blend in while sticking out as a gringa, simultaneously creating this third-cultural-blend of Ecuadorian and North-American-Nomad. I specifically say North American, because after reading a passage from my Eugene Lang textbook, I know I still have so much to learn regarding global perspectives. Rothenburg said that “most people in the United States refer to themselves as ‘Americans’ but some would be less likely to apply that term to people who were born and live in Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil, and other Central and South American nations although, strictly speaking all of us are ‘American’ and, in fact, the people in [this] part of the world had a prior claim to the title” (4). I was an American at home, and I’m still home amongst Americans, here. In Ecuador. In a developing nation. Out of my comfort zone. So far from what I know and so open to expanding my primary perspectives that I have right now.

Maybe I can help expand yours too as you learn along with me from this blog. You already participated in my visualization activity, and if you started to re-think your own culture in the United States then I think I’m doing an okay job as being a storyteller for this journey. A sojourner. A writer. An observer. An over-thinker?

Thanks for reading. Know that I miss you. If you have enjoyed anything I’ve ever said above or you understand the ingenuity of this program, I urge you to please continue donating to Global Citizen Year. I haven’t met my goal of raising $2,500 for next year’s fellows, but I’m still determined to try whether I’m in the US or Ecuador. Please donate. Share. Read. Enjoy this experience as much as I am!


Paula Rothenberg, ed. Beyond Borders: Thinking Critically About Global Issues. New
York: Worth Publishers, 2006.