The Best Parts Of My EcuaLife

Despite the romanticized idea of moving to another country, my adjustment
to life in Ecuador has been quite the challenge. Whether it’s home
sickness, culture shock, language barriers, isolation, or everything all at
once, making it through some days can be tough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m
infatuated with Ecuador and its people and culture. However, the dramatic
and continuous changes in my life can be a lot to digest! Sometimes, the
thought of being comfortably snuggled up on my couch in Oregon with my
family and dog sounds all too nice. To combat the very real temptation of
bailing and hopping on the next flight home, I’ve made a list of my
favorite parts of life in this wonderful country and the things that are
keeping me here.

At the top of my list is the group hugs I get to be a part of at the start
of every English class at the school where I work. The moment I open the
door I am faced with a stampede of anywhere from 10 to 40 eight-year-olds.
It’s an overwhelming experience and sometimes I lose my balance but I
wouldn’t trade those welcomes for anything.

Another thing I value is my walks. I do a lot of walking here – averaging
about seven miles a day. This gives me a chance to process everything that
happens throughout my days and can also can be a great way to cool down
after a frustration!! Every walk is different – the chilly dashes to school
at 6:30am are nothing like the hikes through cornfields in the afternoon’s
sweltering sun, but I love them just the same. The clarity I get during
this time is invaluable.

Here in Ecuador there is a fourth meal – Pan y Cafecito. Every day between
4pm and 6pm everyone sits down together and has bread and over-sugared
black coffee. I love that many families in Ecuador take this additional
time during the day to be intentional about being together. Pan y Cafecito
is my favorite meal!

The people I’ve met through this program are incredible and I have
developed very deep and meaningful friendships that I am so grateful for.
Moving across the world together really bonds people and I can’t imagine
going through this experience with anyone else by my side. My friends here
in Ecuador as well as the larger global cohort inspire me to continue
giving this experience my all.

I recently moved in with the Almeida family and their
kindness and welcoming spirits have made my days here so much happier. (The
picture above is of us resting in a park last Sunday after a big meal of
empanadas and fried fish!) One of my favorite parts of living with this
family is the dance parties I get to have with my four-year old host
sister, Sammy. At least once a day we turn on the speaker, turn of the
lights, and dance our hearts out.

Ecuadorians greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. This took some
getting used to but I now really appreciate it and I think it speaks
wonders to the friendly Ecuadorian culture.

One of my favorite parts of every day is my handshake with Josue Cruz.
Josue is a spunky nine-year-old and is one of my best friends at my school.
We didn’t intentionally develop a handshake, but it happened all the same.
All the kids here greet each other with a high five and a fist bump and I,
of course, now do the same. One day, Josue and I added an extra fist bump.
Since then, every day, an addition is made to our greeting. It has turned
into a slightly complicated ordeal and I love it so much. The best thing
about it is that Josue and I have never talked about our handshake or what
we want to add to it. It just happens!

The volcanoes. I love the volcanoes and the beautiful
mountain range that I’m living in.

Since here in Ecuador, I’ve learned how to play Chess, or
Ajedrez. Every night my host brother Danny challenges me to a game (I have
yet to win one). His face lights up every time I agree to play. I have come
to love the routine of coming home each evening with the chess board set up
and waiting for me.

Since the day I arrived in my community, I’ve been hearing “teacher,
teacher!” everywhere I go. It took about an hour for people to figure out
who I was (I stand out here – just a bit). It was fun to have people
recognize me and to feel like I had a role here in the community. But,
recently, “teacher” has turned into “Madeline.” And let me tell you, it
feels even better to be known in the community as Madeline than it ever did
as “teacher.” This subtle change makes me feel 1000% more welcome here and
it’s the first step to feeling at home in this community.

There are days when I am positive that I made the best choice of my life by
coming to Ecuador. There are others when I’m holding back tears and taking
deep breaths for what seems like hours. But, as my wise mother reminds me,
“Life is just hard sometimes.” I know that adjustment is a process and
looks different for everyone. I know that this challenge is good for me and
that I am learning more about myself through every struggle. I know that I
made the right choice in coming to Ecuador. But it has absolutely been
hard! During the tough moments I cling to the good and remind myself why I
love living in Ecuador. I sure do have a lot to love, and I’m so thankful
for that!