What the Future Holds and Spanish Struggles

Kai Milici - Ecuador


September 8, 2016

Today–after weeks of speculating, and begging team leaders to give me hints about where I will be spending the next seven months–I received my placement information! The descriptions of where I will be living, who I’ll be living with, and what I’ll be doing fit onto a small piece of paper, but I haven’t been able to stop looking at it since I received it about five hours ago (at the time of this writing).

Here is the information I have: I will be living in the city of Imbaya in the province of Imbabura. Imbabura is about two hours north of Quito, relatively close to Colombia. I will be living with a mother, father, 16-year old brother and 13-year old sister. As for my apprenticeship, I will be working at a microfinance institute for women for half of the time. The other half of the time, I will either be teaching English at a local school, working at an infant center, or working at a doctor’s office (my host mom, who is very involved in the community, will introduce me to each of these places and then I will choose where to spend my time).

With this new host of information, the permanence of what I am doing feels much more real. We are getting that much closer to finishing our orientation: Being in the city, taking Spanish classes every day, and being part of a 45-person cohort. Soon I will not be seeing other Fellows and speaking English with them every day. I will not be in a metropolis that reminds me of home, and I will have to become comfortable figuring out a routine in unfamiliar territory.

I have a huge, impossible-looking to do list for next week before I leave for Imbabura that Saturday. I want to spend as much time as possible with the Fellows that won’t be in my region (I will be in a regional cohort of 10), especially those that will be near Cuenca, which is about a 13-hour drive from Ibarra.I want to see more and more of Quito every day, which will be hard considering our full days of Spanish classes and Global Citizen Year sessions. However I want to try my best to understand the most globalized city of this country so that I have the best framework to compare it to whatever else I see over the next few months. I want to get even closer with my Quito host family and see the city through their eyes. On top of all of these priorities, I need to make sure I set aside study time each night for Spanish.

With Spanish–just like anything–I get out what I put in. By the end of the day when I come home, all I want to do is take a nap after a full day of sessions. However on the days that I review and memorize all of the structures and words I learned that day in class, I am able to have much higher-quality conversations with my host family when they come home. Before I came to Ecuador, I told myself that I would learn Spanish as I went, so I could be patient with myself when I couldn’t respond to someone or say something I wanted to say. This is true. However, I need to find a balance between realizing I can take my time, and knowing that each day I choose the “take my time” mindset is a day that I couldn’t connect as well with my host family because I am not bridging the language barrier gap to the best of my ability. By April, I want to be more than just conversational, because there is so much I want to ask about while I’m here.

There is a controversial presidential election coming up in February that I have not been able to ask my host family about. I see how people stare at Afro-Ecuadorians on the bus and Kichwa people on the street but I can’t ask questions about that either. Every day on the bus, just passing by buildings, I have a rapid fire of questions about development and Americanization and globalization and diversity and poverty and the environment and the list goes on…  It is so, so frustrating not to be able to ask these questions to Ecuadorians, especially given that I live in an apartment with two of them and the insights are right there if I just knew how to ask. I have to keep in mind how important it is for me to eventually have these conversations and not lose sight of that, even if pushing myself more and more every day towards fluency is uncomfortable.

This year is about getting out of my comfort zone and making sure I take advantage of a learning environment that isn’t a classroom. So… As I prepare over this next week for more permanence, more independence and more questions to run through my brain, I want to make sure I prioritize my curiosity more than anything.


Kai Milici