La Gringa con la mochila azul

Callista Helms - Ecuador


February 6, 2018

Every time I took a standardized test in school I would simply check off the box that said White/ Caucasian. Growing up, I never stood out or was targeted because I had the privilege of being a middle to an upper-class white girl. I have never had a problem fitting in, but now it is a different story. Here I do not blend in at all. In Southern Ecuador, you see foreigners mostly in Cuenca, but especially not many in smaller towns. Going onto my sixth month in my community I don’t consider myself a tourist anymore, even if I feel like it at times. With my blonde hair and lighter skin, I stick out like a sore thumb. Right off the bat, people can tell that I am not from here.


In my small town, most everyone knows me, but not by my name. They call me “La Gringa con la mochila azul” meaning the white girl with the blue backpack. I am constantly targeted by stares and comments because I stick out. In the beginning, this did not have a big effect, I assumed it was because I was the foreign new girl in town. As the months pass by, I can not help but be bothered when people make side comments or refer to me as the gringa rather than my name. I didn’t assume that I would be completely accepted by everyone in a new country and community, but I never anticipated these challenges from being a foreigner would last my whole gap year.


In taking a gap year or when studying abroad, there are different stages of cultural adjustment that one goes through. Needless to say, I have fallen in love with Ecuador and it has become my second home, but being a female foreigner in a heavy culture of machismo has its challenges. At this moment, more than halfway through my gap year, I feel that I have been successfully immersed but I continue to be surprised by some aspects of the culture.


I have realized that no matter how much time I spend here or how well I speak the language I will never completely fit in. The sense of others undermining my language abilities, people staring at me, and talking behind my back are many of the circumstances minorities face in the US. Being the only “white girl” in such a small town like Chordeleg has brought me the sense on how a person of minority experiences their day to day life and because of my privilege that I was born with back home, I was never subjected to. Nevertheless, the continuous experience of being labeled “Gringa” in Ecuador has been humbling. These circumstances have given me a stronger sense of empathy, understanding, and respect for other people's life stories in countries where they are not originally from.


Callista Helms