Culture is a funny thing. It dictates so many aspects of our daily lives and, whether we realize it or not, it is responsible for many of our values, routines, and social behaviors.
When I first arrived here in Ecuador, I was hopeless. I simply could not understand how to conduct myself in such a new cultural environment and my mind was swirling with so many questions. Why does the bus start moving before I’ve even hopped on? Why is it appropriate to say chao to some people, but only hasta luego to others? Am I always supposed to leave my bedroom door open? At what point in the day do I switch from buenos días to buenas tardes to buenas noches?
I was a newborn baby in Ecuadorian culture, and I knew very, very little. Fortunately, my host family took me up as I wandered aimlessly about my newfound life in Ecuador, gurgling out irrelevant pieces of US culture and unable to do anything but crawl with my new Ecuadorian legs. They began to teach me the ins and outs of their culture, and after plenty of mistakes made and feverish cultural observation, I began to speak a few words of Ecuadorian culture. I now know to absolutely always wear my shoes around the house because many Quiteños believe that we get sick from the bacteria on our feet. Whenever I walk into a room, I know to kiss everyone on the cheek so as to show my respects and bid them hello or farewell. I know that if I want to grab something to eat, I should also offer to buy for everyone else in my group so as to honor the Ecuadorian idea of sharing.
In a different sense, our host families raise us just as our real families did. They teach us how to navigate through this new world until we understand the norms, and they pick us up when we fall and are only able to communicate through our own cultural tantrums. As I begin to understand my place in Ecuador and become more and more comfortable, all I can do is thank my host family. I’m beginning to take a few steps on my own and, because of their nurturing, I have grown into a curious, energetic, beaming Ecuadorian toddler.