Not a Mexican Restaurant

Tessalyn Morrison - Ecuador

September 22, 2011

My host brother and I in the Cloud Forest
Two miles of zipline
View from the Spanish classroom

As fellows we were all asked questions before we left about why we were taking a gap year. In my house it was “Will this experience be worth it?” If I had already been abroad for a year in Germany, then was I wasting time before starting my career? After my first week in intensive Spanish classes, I am finally starting to answer this question.

I am going into this experience with no more knowledge of Spanish than anyone who has ever been to a Mexican restaurant. Of course living in an Ecuadorian family is not a Mexican restaurant. Communication is a little different when there’s no mutual language. Instead of words we use hand signs, drawings, facial expressions, and laughter.

Each day I get home from Spanish or Culture classes and have two or three hours alone with my host mother before the rest of the family gets home. On the first day, I understood nothing and made noncommittal answers that left me out of trouble like, “Mhmm…” and “Yes, that’s great…” I was in a vicious circle of shame–ashamed of myself at first for not understanding and further ashamed for not understanding that not understanding is okay.

After a few more days of patience…and sometimes lack thereof… we left for a weekend in the Cloud Forest. As the rest of my family went for groceries, my host mother and I waited in the truck. It felt like a test. We began talking and my noncommittal answers became real answers. After twenty minutes my family came back and before they reached the car my host mother turned to me smiling and said, “We just had our first real conversation.”

So back to the question: “Is this really worth it?” Sometimes speaking in three word sentences all day makes me feel like it is definitely not worth it, but I am forgetting something. Last time I went on exchange I came into the experience with language skills and no understanding of international experience. Now it is the exact opposite. Continually answering this question of whether it is worth it creates my experience by analyzing what I really want from this year—to understand.




Tessalyn Morrison