Friday, August 22, 2014
an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity
I think that ‘adventure’ may be the best way to describe this first day of my study abroad experience. This morning, I left my home in Michigan to finally set out to Quito. The day started so early for me – 1:45a.m. to be exact – and I have been going ever since. My first flight from Detroit definitely turned out to be my first ‘adventure.’ After the plane was completely boarded at 6:30a.m., maintenance had to come and fix our plane door, delaying our flight by an entire hour. Since my connection in Charlotte was a close departure after the planned arrival, I missed my second flight from Charlotte to Miami. And who knows what happened to my checked luggage along the way! Needless to say, missing a flight was not the way I wanted to start this grand semester abroad.
The airlines got me onto a later flight to Miami, though, and I would be back on schedule.
All morning I was so frustrated and upset. I couldn’t stop wondering what I had gotten myself into, and was very angry at the flight situations as I waited for my rescheduled flight to Florida. But God already had something up His sleeve for me with this new and improvised route.
Once finally aboard the flight, I found myself in a middle seat at the back of the plane, between a woman near my age and another much older than me. After settling myself in, the older woman received and phone call – and proceeded to answer it and talk in Spanish. My interest was sparked. When she hung up, I mustered up the courage to ask her (in Spanish) where she was from. She ended up answering that she was so happy that I knew Spanish, and I learned that she was from Medellín, Colombia. I’d just made my first native-speaker friend of this semester. After a while of conversation – which I considered a pretty good warm up for all the Spanish I’d be speaking for the next four months - she took out a book and began to read. I glanced over at it, and saw that it was the Bible. With a huge smile, I asked her what she was reading. From that moment, we began to bond as sisters in Christ. I told her how scared I was for this trip, and she gave me such biblical encouragement. She quoted Ephesians to me, where we are told to put on the armor of Christ. She told me that the most important thing during this trip would be that I trust in Dios, and daily cover myself in His blood. She said, “Vas a un lugar desconocido, pero vas con un Dios conocido,” (You are going to an unknown place, but you are going with a known God). Later on she stated that she believed God put us both on that new flight together; she was supposed to leave the States a day earlier, but her flight had been cancelled, just as mine had been delayed. God works in amazing ways, and sometimes in the most unexpected times. Today, God worked so powerfully through her, Rosalba.
Now, I’m in the air on the way to Quito. We just passed over some beautiful shores of Cuba and saw a gorgeous sunset that made the clouds pink way up here. I’m about to be given dinner on the biggest plane I’ve ever been on (and of course, I’m literally as far back in the plane as possible. But really, I’m in seat 44A. THE last seat in the back. Anyways…) It’s so crazy to know that I’m not in the U.S. anymore. I’ll meet my host mom once I land and get through customs.
The next few days hold orientation for me in the city. I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m curious. And I’m definitely nervous.
But I’m ready.
The First Days
August 25, 2014
The first few days here in Quito have been quite the whirlwind. After arriving at my homestay after midnight, my mother, Ana, and I went straight to bed. The first things Saturday morning turned out to be a learning experience in even the smallest of things; during my first breakfast with Ana, I found out that Ecuador really is nothing like the States. When she asked me what I wanted to drink for breakfast, I told her milk. She then proceeded to pour me a glass, and put it right in the microwave to heat up for a few minutes...For obvious reasons, this wasn't at all what I was expecting. Finding out our many cultural differences had begun, in the simplest of ways.
Saturday also was IES orientation with the other students on the same program as me. This semester there is only one other girl besides myself in the direct enrollment program here at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), and her name is Shelby. For the IES orientation though, we had students with us who will be living in the Galápagos Islands through IES, and not here in Quito. I got to spend some good time with Shelby, and experience some new food when our directors took us out for lunch.
On Sunday, I had no school obligations, and so we were given the day to get to know our host families better. It is only Ana and I in our apartment, but her daughter, Anamaría, and grandson, Martín, live right across the hall in the apartment next to us. However, the two of them do all but sleep in our apartment, so here there is usually the four of us all. This is another thing I've learned about the culture here - no matter what your age or family situation is in Latin America, family time and closeness is likely the very top priority here. Ana, Anamaría, and I went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant in La Plaza de las Américas, and then went shopping at a few places after. It was interesting to see what the price levels were here, what kind of products are sold, and how the whole shopping system works.
Today was Monday, and I went to the university for the first time for USFQ orientation with all the other international students who have come to attend for the semester. I had to learn the bus system - which was more intimidating than anything - and figured out that my daily commute to campus will take me a little bit of walking, two buses, and about 45 minutes one way. The public transportation here is extremely cheap though; a bus ride only costs you 25-50 cents per person. I can get used to those kind of prices.
At USFQ, we all listened to many speakers and informational lectures about safety, health, culture tips, and academic requirements. We also were introduced to something called Ecuabuddies, which are Ecuadorian students who hang out with international students and want the non-Ecuadorian students to feel comfortable and have many opportunities while here. Also, they pair everyone up with one specific Ecuabuddy so that each student has a closer relationship with a local to ask questions with, etc. Two Ecuabuddies led my group's campus tour today; the campus was small, but beautiful and unique. During lunch, I sat with one of our leaders, Martín (what a coincidence that I've already met two Martín's here in three days), and got to get to know him better. He also was nice enough to give me a ride home because my host mom wasn't going to come get me for another two hours after orientation was over. The ride home was actually the most fun part of my time here so far - just speaking Spanish with a native my age, and trying to make it out of the crazy traffic alive. I think he counts as my first real Ecuadorian friend. :)
The Real End of Summer
August 27, 2014
Yesterday was a good, busy day. With USFQ international students, I was able to take a city tour of Quito from 9am-3pm. I was able to see central downtown Quito, where the colonial buildings are. We visited La Basílica, which is a huge cathedral from a couple centuries ago, as well as La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, which is a Jesuit church made with 700 pounds of gold. The entire inside of the church was gold - the walls, the ceiling, the balconies, the pulpits, everything. It was most beautiful thing I have seen here yet. My group and I also saw the presidential palace, La Plaza de Independencia, and ate at a very elegant restaurant. I got to meet a few new (American) friends along the way, too. After, I spent the evening with Shelby and her host sister, Anita. We went to Quicentro, which is the big mall by my house. Then we went to see a movie called El Tornado in the theater close by. It was a great movie, and such good practice for my Spanish!
Today was the first day of school. So I guess summer is really ending now, as much as I don't want it to! I had a really hard time today with my classes, actually. As it turned out, all my classes were with Americans, which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted while here in Ecuador. I have always wanted to take classes only with local students in order to really learn the language in a way that American Spanish-speakers can't teach me. So while all my classes are currently a mess, I'm working to change my entire schedule to different classes, if the professors will let me in. The most interesting part of my day was my Portuguese 101 class; this one was actually with Ecuadorians, but it basically doesn't even count though since we won't be learning/using Spanish in that class. So, I currently know nothing of Portuguese...and class today was taught 100% in Portuguese. No Spanish, and of course no English. Now that was a challenge! But I was excited that I still was able to understand probably near 70% of what the professor said in Portuguese, thanks to my Spanish knowledge. I am excited about this - learning my third language while living in my second language!
Week One: Check.
August 29, 2014
I have officially been here in Quito for a week as of today. To celebrate, I thought I'd share a list of some random things that I've already learned in 7 short days.
1. When you go to the gas station here, you don't fill up your own tank. At every station, there are workers that come up to your car - without you even having to get out and do a thing - and fill up your tank for you. Also, gas costs $1.48 a gallon here. Ridiculous.
2. Coins are the main currency. One dollar coins, half dollar coins, quarters, you name it. People are very wary about counterfeit money. When I went to the movies the other day, the guy checked my five dollar bill to make sure it was legit (it was only FIVE dollars!).
3. When you use the restroom, you can't put your toilet paper in the toilet. You have to throw it away in the trash can. There's not much more I can say about this one.
4. All drivers here are LOCO. I think that the paint dividing the lanes is barely even a recommendation. Car horns are used here like ten times more than in New York City (and that's pretty bad).
5. Some things here are more expensive than they are in the U.S., and some things are less expensive than in the U.S. For example, a taxi ride costs you about $1 to go across the city. A bus ride costs 25 cents. But clothes and shoes are much farther up in the price range than they are in the States.
6. The Colombian-Ecuadorian border is very dangerous. So don't go there. You'll likely get kidnapped (especially if you are from the United States).
7. Juice here is great. Because Ecuador has so many fresh fruits year round, the juice can't get any more natural for you.
8. It is not customary to give tips (to taxi drivers, etc, to whomever it may be).
9. I am pretty sure there is graffiti on every single wall on every single street in the city.
10. Lunch (el almuerzo) is a big deal here. It's eaten around 1:30 or 2:00pm, and the meal is huge. It's really culturally important to eat together too to spend time together and converse. Dinner (la cena) is usually served around 7 or 8 pm, and is quite small.
August 31, 2014
Yesterday, IES took all of its international students on a trip to the northern part of Ecuador. We traveled to a city called Otavalo, which has a very large indigenous population of Quechua people. The trip from Quito is usually about an hour and a half, but because of the earthquakes here a couple weeks ago, the main highway bridge that goes to the north was destroyed, and we had to take a very round-about route. So after three and a half hours of traveling, we stopped for a breakfast of eggs and bizcocho, which were little strips of hard bread wrapped with goat cheese. We then visited an art house where the family there creates spectacular religious sculptures and paintings that are sent out to churches around the world. The main churches who purchase their works of art are in Mexico and Guatemala.
From there, we went to the famous Otavalo market, where haggling is the name of the game. Mostly all the street merchants there are Quechua Indians, so it was interesting us all to barter in our second language which also turned out to be these people's second language as well. The market consists of diverse items, such as clothing, cloth, bags, food, jewelry, small trinkets and gifts, paintings, hats and gloves, and just about anything else handmade that you can think of. I purchased a number of things, and after haggling with the vendors over each price, got the items for an average of about $5 each. In the United States, handmade crafts like these would have cost ten times the price I paid yesterday.
Next, we went to lunch where we had popcorn as an appetizer, beans and cheese as the first plate, chicken and vegetables as the next, and a dessert of strawberries and a whipped cream type of frosting. All of us students ate together, along with Eduardo and Juan Carlos, two of the IES staff members in Quito. However, we were also accompanied by a German IES family vacationing in Ecuador, and our Ecuadorian bus driver. Those people sat at a separate table, and here is the interesting part: the Germans only spoke English and German, and the bus driver only spoke Spanish. Now there was my favorite part of the day; after a while of seeing them struggle to talk to each other, I decided to go over and sit with them to translate. I absolutely LOVE to do interpretation between people, so this was just so much fun for me! It was a good end of the lunch break for me.
Lastly, we went to La Laguna de Cuicocha. It was so beautiful. We learned that the lake was actually the crater of a volcano, and we got to take a little boat around it. I could see the bubbles coming up in the water every so often, proving the fact that we were actually in the middle of the volcano's crater. It was so cool! However, halfway through the boat tour, our boat kind of died. And our tour guide couldn't get the motor started again. So we were stuck out there till the next tour boat came by; they then proceeded to tie our boat to the back of their boat via a small rope, which slowly pulled us back to the dock. Long story short, we had an interesting and hilarious fiasco in the middle of a volcano, but we still made it back alive. Not many people can say the same, right?!
It's So Different
September 4, 2014
It's crazy how different everything is here. Studying abroad is truly throwing yourself into a situation unlike any other. The smallest things in daily life turn into mountains you have to figure out how to climb. It's all a part of the grand adventure.
Going for a run. (Where can I run that is safe? How do I run there without getting lost? Where do I put my things while I'm gone running, since I can't run by my apartment?)
Ordering your lunch. (Some places don't have menus, so what do I order? How do I say that in Spanish? Are these vegetables cooked correctly so that I don't get sick from
the bad water here?)
Taking the bus. (Which bus do I take? How do I know where to get off if I'm going somewhere new? How can I keep my belongings safe when people are packed in against
me on all sides?)
Introducing yourself to someone. (Okay, I know how to do this here now, but it's still so hard to remember that I don't shake their hand, but instead we kiss each other on the
cheek. It's seriously a challenge to remember to kiss goodbye too when we
Americans just wave bye after we already have started walking away.)
These are just a few random things that I happened to write down now. But the list of things goes on and on. It's all part of the adjustment - figuring out how to do life all over again in a completely different way than I've been doing it for the past twenty years. And that's okay; it's just a challenge to take on and learn how to conquer. There's nothing wrong with the life here at all, it's simply different than what I know. However, this past weekend God gave me a little bit of familiarity when we were coming back from Otavalo in the bus so late that night. I was looking out the window and instead of looking down at the city over the edge of the mountain like I usually do, I looked up. And I saw so many beautiful stars. It was exactly what I needed that night. It was as if God was saying right to me, "Look, my love, they're the same stars here as they are at home. See, not everything is difficult and new. Just look up and be reminded that I am God here - just like I am at home."
September 10, 2014
This past weekend was a busy and fun one! Lots of unique experiences were had around my new city of Quito. Friday evening I went to La Ronda with Shelby and her family, which is a well-known nightlife location near the historic center of the city. I ate my first authentic empanada there, which was the size of an elephant ear, and filled with cheese. I also ordered a hot chocolate, and learned that here they serve you a slice of cheese with it, to put IN your hot chocolate to drink..
Later that night, some friends and I went to a Karaoke bar, which actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Singing songs in Spanish is always a good way to learn more of the language!
The real weekend adventures began the next morning, when I set out with the Ecuabuddy program to an estate up in the mountains, in the town of Machachi. The Ecuabuddies program is a group of local Ecuadorians along with all the international students at USFQ with the purpose of pairing up each international student with a local one. It's a great thing to be a part of here. My Ecuabuddy's name is Santiago; honestly, he is the best thing that God has blessed me to have during my life here in Quito, for reasons that are too numerous to recount here. So the group of us traveled and spent the whole day at the top of this mountain, playing games and getting to know others. We got to see an actual bullfighting event, and some of my friends even got to go down in the ring and face the bulls themselves! It was crazy. We danced to a typical Ecuadorian band, and I also got to ride a horse around the mountainside, which was probably the highlight of my day.
On a whim on Sunday, I met up with some other friends from my literature class to go to La Mitad del Mundo for the afternoon. This is the where the equator is, which is famous for having a line drawn on the ground marking the North and South Hemispheres. I got to go stand on either side of the line, and be in both hemispheres at one time. I don't think too many people can say the same! It was a great experience. Plus we got to see some llamas.
I've got lots of other trips coming up in the future that will hopefully continue to be amazing. I have also started my internship this past week, working at the Human Rights Commission here in the city. Classes have finally settled down, while the homework load is already way more than I expected it to be! Some other new experiences I've had in the past week included getting lost on the bus (which was scary) and therefore learning about more of the city, and taking a taxi at night for the first time (which was equally as scary)! The list of 'firsts' and 'news' continues to grow for me - which I really am thankful for. Living in a foreign country means that you have the opportunity to be a student 24/7, increasing your knowledge during even the simplest aspects of life. This has been one of my study abroad goals from the start: to dedicate myself to becoming a full-time learner, inside and outside the classroom, in order to make the very most out of every day I am given here.
September 16, 2014
The past week or so in Ecuador has been unexpectedly and exceptionally good. The little things that have come about have very helpful in beginning to establish a life here. For one, I got the Ecuabuddies to begin weekly volleyball games on Thursday afternoons for us international students to play with our Ecuadorian friends. As it is well known, my favorite sport to play is volleyball, and so playing this first Thursday was so much fun! It's safe to say that volleyball (or "voley," as they call it) isn't the most popular sport down here...which I know by the general lack of any knowledge/experience at all with the game among the locals. Nonetheless, it was a great time, and so fun for the competitive side of me! However, within one minute of beginning to play, I realized that I had no clue how to communicate in Spanish when it came to sports language and vocabulary. How in the world was I supposed to translate "Got it!" as a volleyball term or explain the technical rules of the game in a foreign language?? Even after all of my seven-plus years of speaking Spanish, I'm reminded daily here that there will never be an end to this magnificent learning process. And I find new motivation almost hourly to research, investigate, ask, and memorize new realms of the language I love.
Another unexpected, yet great, thing that has come about is my Translation class. With the major mess that I had during the first week and a half of classes, the last thing I was expecting was that the random translation class that I frantically added to my schedule (because I HAD to have another class to take) would turn out to be the class I look forward to the most. I truly enjoy it! It's right up my alley, as translation or interpretation are essentially the pinnacle of my future goals and dreams. The class is with both Ecuadorian and American students; it's so unique to see the Ecuadorians get help from us to translate something into English, as we look to them at the same time for help into Spanish. The class is so insightful, challenging, and really intriguing for me to learn from. I love it!
Unexpected number 3: This past Saturday I traveled with a group from my university to a small town called Salasaka, about three hours south of Quito. This is an indigenous Quechuan pueblo, where life is completely and utterly different. I felt like I had taken a trip back a few centuries in history while I was there. This town has preserved its traditional culture better than I knew was possible. They live on the mountain sides making their own way of life without the amenities that today's world offers. For one example, these people make their own ponchos/typical clothing. Now, this isn't as easy as one would think; they grow their own sheep, use that cotton, weave it, dye it, preserve it, ect, until it is finally finished SIX months later! These ponchos are so specifically made that they aren't sold to the public and do not even have an economic value put on them, because they are worth so much. My group and I also got to witness a religious ceremony with a Shaman in one of their sacred places around the volcanoes and mountains. We observed traditional dances of the Salasakans, went to the town's cultural museum, and drank an alcoholic liquid kind of like tequila straight from a huge agave plant itself!
And the biggest accomplishment of all: I ate guinea pig. It's a delicacy here, very expensive, and of much cultural worth. On top of that, it was honestly the craziest thing I've done here yet.
Unexpected number 4: It might be possible that I learned this Sunday that I'm slightly afraid of heights... A small group of us went to La Basílica church again in the Historic Center, but this time to climb to the top of it. And by the top, I mean the very top. Like, we had to go up numerous ladders that we basically completely vertical and go through tunnels and winding staircases to get all the way up there. Don't get me wrong - it was such a great view up there of the city! But sheesh, was it scary or what!
Real Friends, Real Joys
September 21, 2014
There are some people in this country that are just simply amazing. I've never had more fun than I have had lately with some of my friends here. As I've always said, the greatest joy of traveling is the people you do it with. That couldn't be more true for the adventures I've had here so far.
There are 12 other Americans who have also come through my study abroad organization - IES Abroad - but to attend a different university in Quito (not USFQ like me). I only seem them every so often because of that, but this past Thursday night was one of those times. It was the birthday of the one and only boy, Charlie, in our program, so we decided to make it a big deal for him. In Quito, there is this tradition to ride around the city during special occasions in open buses called chivas. This happens a lot during the celebrations of Quito's founding in December every year. However, we got one rented for Charlie's birthday, and went out on it that night. These buses have no windows and are completed with tons of lights, drinks, and music. It drove us through the streets of the city while the birthday party inside it danced and sang the whole way. It was a blast!
Something huge that I've learned about myself here is that I actually find a lot of joy in teaching others. I've always known I could be a teacher if I wanted to since my whole family consists of teachers, but I never thought I'd enjoy it, just for that reason. However, I've been proven quite wrong. It is obvious that I am in Ecuador currently to learn Spanish; but, a lot of students my age also like that I can help them learn English while I'm here. I recently became part of a diversity club on campus that partners up a native Spanish-speaker with a native English-speaker to have conversations every week. These talks are half in Spanish and half in English so that each partner can have an opportunity to practice their second language and learn from a fluent speaker of that language. It's a great resource for practice. Also, my Ecuabuddy, Santiago, and I have a friendship where we can ask each other anything and are both more than willing to help the other with whatever they need. For example, whenever I don't understand a detail of why Ecuadorians use one word over another, I just ask him and he sits down to explain it to me. A few days ago, Santi and I had our first conversation in English. He is a little bit shy, and he hasn't ever asked me to talk in English with him before because he is still in the beginning stages of learning the language. Friday, we hung out for over an hour speaking in my language for once, and I found such joy in my heart in helping him figure out words he couldn't understand or expressions he didn't know; seeing his face light up when something finally clicked in his head was irreplaceable. (Plus it helps that Santiago is definitely the friend I cherish the most here!) Teaching him my own language was actually incredible, and I absolutely loved doing it. One of many things that I can add to the list of Things-Kassie-Has-Learned-About-Herself-Abroad is my love for teaching those who genuinely want to learn.
Yesterday, Shelby and I went to a town called Papallacta with three Ecuadorian friends to visit some natural hot springs up in the mountains. The place was in the middle of nowhere, but was gorgeous. There were five large pools filled with the natural water, heated from the underground lava from some volcanoes nearby. We spent the whole day traveling with these Ecuadorian friends, which meant an awesome time conversing in Spanish, sharing stories and laughs, and experiencing the unique location together. Forming real relationships with people from another culture and country has been so rewarding; it was one of my primary goals for studying abroad from the start. My Ecuadorian friends are by far the richest part of my journey here. I'd be missing out on the greatest of joys if it weren't for each of them.
The Amazon Rainforest
October 1, 2014
How many people actually get to say that they spent four days in the Amazon Rainforest?
I was able to travel to my university's Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the very eastern part of Ecuador this past weekend. To say the very least, it was an experience totally unlike any other in my life. Because Tiputini is literally in the middle of the rainforest and in an area protected by the government, the journey to get there was quite the ride. We flew from Quito to a town called Coca, then took a bus to the Coca River, then from there a long canoe-type boat for two hours, to another bus through the jungle, to a final boat down the Tiputini River. The amount of effort to arrive there was pretty crazy, honestly. Once we got there on Friday, the adventures just took off. The first thing I learned was of the humidity; I will never, ever complain about Michigan humidity ever again due to what I experienced there. It was more humid than any human has ever known to be possible. It was completely opposite of the cool weather and thin air that I am accustomed to in Quito.
Life in the Amazon included no electricity, no internet or technology of any sort, cold drops of water that counted as a shower, sweating without ceasing day and night, and tons of bug bites. I guess it was everything that one should expect when living 6 hours away from any form of civilization at all! Outside of the huge lifestyle change we underwent, I learned an incredible amount about this extraordinary area of the world. This jungle there is classified as untouched, so during our hikes through the forest I was able to see hundreds and hundreds of different species. I saw all kinds of birds and spiders, red deer, deathly poisonous frogs, spider monkeys, turtles, bats, butterflies flying around everywhere, snakes, and more types of insects than I knew existed. I also saw wild pig and jaguar footprints in the mud, which was so cool! I learned a ton about the plant species of the Rainforest too, especially many that are medicinal.
During one hike, we went to a location where we climbed up a tower of stairs to the treetops and walked along rope bridges. 50 meters up in the air, I was able to see everything (and felt like Shrek and Donkey walking over the rope bridge to save Princess Fiona...seriously). Then, as if that wasn't enough, I was able to climb up even farther to the highest part of the forest; however, to do this, I had to go up a ladder suspended in the air towards a tiny platform at the very top branch of the tree. And mind you, there was absolutely nothing beneath this ladder besides the forest floor. It was easily the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, but, I did it.
I climbed to the absolute top of the Rainforest there.
I experienced so much more, too. I went bird watching in a tree house, canoeing on a little lake in the forest, visited an indigenous Huaorani town, went swimming in the Tiputini River with piranhas, and met other students in my group that were from all over the world. I have loved becoming friends with other students at my school who come from places including the Czech Republic, Germany, Argentina, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, and more.
I really am so lucky to be here. I think my heart is actually half Latino, because there is so much of my personality that fits right in down here. The Spanish all around me is a dream come true, and I think I fall more in love with the language every single day. I'm not sure how much more I could ask for.
Crazy About Sums It Up
October 5, 2014
Yesterday was probably the most momentous day of my entire time in Ecuador so far. It began with Shelby and I, and two Ecuadorian friends, being excited to make a weekend trip to the very popular city of Baños. The city is known for being a quaint mountain town full of waterfalls and extreme sport activities that can entertain any tourist. It's located about four hours south of Quito, and centrally located in the country as a whole.
The first thing we did, after getting a hostel (it was only $7 for the night; how cheap!), was drive up a mountain in our friend's car to the Swing at the End of the World. It was so cool; the swing is on the edge of the mountain, and you swing right over the edge of it! After that, we drove down and saw some waterfalls and people doing zip lining, which we decided against doing in hopes for something even better to do instead. After wandering on a little further, I decided to do the craziest thing yet...I jumped off a bridge.
It. Was. Insane. Shelby and I did it together. It's called "puenting" here. They hooked us up to the bungee cords and such, and before we knew it, they had counted to three and we were free-falling through the air towards the river below us. When we finally were lowered down to the rocks to let us off the ropes, my whole body was shaking and I could barely walk. But how exciting it was!
....and then we got robbed. Yes, you read that right. Someone broke into our locked car while we were at the bridge and stole everything. Everything.
This crazy exciting weekend trip we had planned with friends turned into this awful day of losing almost everything of importance that I brought with me to Ecuador. And I certainly did not have "learning how to file a police report in a foreign country" on my study-abroad-bucket-list. I have a lot of work to do now in order to recuperate everything, but I do thank God that my friends and I are safe and weren't physically hurt. No matter what, I'll praise Him in the storm.
So, yep. Crazy about sums it up.
October 15, 2014
This past weekend was a three day weekend from school; Friday was a national holiday (Día de Guayaquil), so everyone had the day off. That translated into all study abroad students taking some kind of trip someplace! Lots of my international friends went to popular beaches along our western coast. However, Shelby and I went with our IES program to the southern edge of Ecuador, and visited a number of little towns there: Loja, Vilcabamba, Zamora, and more.
The trip was led by my program, so no planning was necessary on my behalf, and that was so nice. Over the four days we were gone, we did some exciting things. We toured each of the towns and ate typical southern Ecuadorian foods. My favorite was some strawberry juice I had - but seriously, who even knew that existed?! It was so delicious. I'm going to have to figure out how to make that stuff when I come back to the States... And, not to forget, I also ate some things that were completely disgusting. Example A: Soup with chicken feet in it. I kid you not, there were chicken feet chopped off (with all the toes and everything) just hangin' out at the bottom of my soup for lunch one day. I honestly couldn't even believe it. Shelby's soup had a chicken's neck in it!
The best thing that we did the whole trip was go horseback riding. I love to ride, and it felt so great to run on the horse and to get to see great views of the city of Vilcabamba when we rode to the top of a mountain there. We visited tons of waterfalls as well. It turns out that there are tiny waterfalls all over the place on the mountain sides down there in the south. But we hiked to a few big ones too in the forests, and they were magnificent. One was called La Casacada de los Dioses (The Waterfall of The Gods), which is also a sacred place to the Shuar people of the area. The Shuar are one of the twenty-some indigenous groups here in Ecuador. And this whole time, we were but a few hours away from Peru. Oh, how I would have loved to go there too!
It's about midterm time for me, so the work and exams beginning to pile up. This weekend will be a time of rest instead of traveling, which I am looking forward to. It's awesome how I can keep learning even while just staying in Quito, instead of through traveling some place new to learn. It has been good to put some roots down here in this city by spending time with my native friends and doing normal college-kid stuff outside of classes, like going to soccer games and going to the mall with friends. I often have thought that study abroad students spend a little too much time just traveling around everywhere, and they never really form a normal and solid life in their host city itself. I believe this is an intricate part of the process of living halfway around the world and truly getting the full experience from it. This is one area where I have definitely broken out of the typical international student mold - and I'm very happy to be able to say so.
Church: Ecuadorian Style
October 19, 2014
I am so thankful for the church that God led me to today.
I'd been excited all week to go to this new Christian church this Sunday. I've been to a bunch of Catholic masses down here during the past two months, mainly because this country is (statistically) 95% Catholic, and so that's usually about all you find here. But seeing as I'm not Catholic, it was never exactly what I was looking to have during my stay in Ecuador.
This morning I got to worship with other believers at a church in Quito called Verbo Mañosca. The place was packed with hundreds of Ecuadorians and their families - and I think I was literally the only white person in the building. But, let me tell you, it was so great. We sang (in Spanish), greeted everyone and their brother around us (with hugs and kisses, and in Spanish), and listened to an awesome message from the pastor (in Spanish). Obviously enough, I so greatly enjoyed even just the simple fact of being immersed in my favorite language while worshipping
and being with God at the same time. It was the perfect combination.
Going to this place was one of the best things I've done on this journey so far.
It was refreshing, life-giving, and encouraging, like nothing else but Jesus can be.
October 27, 2014
I haven't decided yet exactly what I think about being halfway done with my semester in Ecuador. I officially have just under two months left until I return to the States, when I'll have finally accomplished my dream and goal to study abroad, which I have been anticipating for years and years. I really am excited to come home to be with my people and my country again. One thing I've learned while living here is that I am so grateful to be an American, and I am proud to be one. I've never been incredibly patriotic before, but that is one on a long list of things that have changed about me here. This trip is defining me. It's shaping me. As cliché as it sounds, it's opening my eyes. I've come to know and be a part of a completely different culture, with a completely different way of living and thinking and expressing yourself, with completely different (and amazing) people around me every day. Now, I forget words in my own language, and can only think of how to say some things in Spanish instead. Now, I can hold my own in this crazy public transportation system and get on and off moving buses (they don't always stop for you here) as if I was an Ecuadorian myself. Now, I kiss people hello and goodbye without ever thinking twice about it. Actually, it feels really wrong now when someone doesn't greet me with a kiss,
and I wonder what's going on!
I've heard it said,
"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."
I think that's become true to me here. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I've formed relationships and met people here in this country that I have come to love. I've traveled with them, been embarrassed with them when we mess up, laughed with them, tried so many new things with them, and spent days upon days and nights upon nights with them. Saying goodbye to them really is going to be hard. I mean, I have friends from all over the world now! Spain, France, Argentina, Germany, Canada, you name it. Sometimes, I don't know what I'll do without ever getting to see them again. But I think that's part of the journey. Maybe that's just part of the growth. Leaving little pieces of your heart all over the world with these people, wherever they go.
Let's Get the Facts Straight
October 29, 2014
Here are some more interesting facts and tidbits that I have learned while here in Quito! Just in case you're interested in my accumulation of random knowledge. :)
1. Ecuador has 36 mountains with snow peaks that reach over 11,600 feet above sea level. The famous volcano Cotopaxi (a few hours away from where I live) climbs to 19,347 feet
above sea level. That's the 2nd tallest active volcano in the world!
2. There are more than 20 varieties of bananas grown in this country.
3. The Amazon, known as the Green Ocean, is split among 9 South American countries.
4. "La hora ecuatoriana" (Ecuadorian time) = I'm-Ecuadorian-so-I'm-always-late-
5. Most all cars here are manual transmissions. Automatics are kind of rare!
6. The two main beers here: Club and Pilsener. You can get a huge bottle of these (like twice the size of the beer bottles you get int the U.S.) for, like, $1.25. They are crazy cheap!
7. It's completely normal to dress up every single day here. And people don't ever wear shorts.
8. The whole country of Ecuador is about equal in area to the state of Nevada.
9. Rafael Correa was re-elected to his third term as president in 2013. According to Ecuador's current constitution, he will not be allowed to be re-elected again. However, I have heard
talk that Correa is looking to actually change the constitution during his current time in office
to allow himself to remain in power even longer.
10. A newly discovered species of gecko - small enough at its full-grown size to rest comfortably on a pencil's eraser - was discovered in Ecuador.
October 30, 2014
"Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things - air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky..." -Cesare Pavese
Living abroad is a dream. It is. So many people want it, but I would say that only a small percentage of them actually achieve it. I am grateful for this life-changing experience I am having in Ecuador. Every facet of my being has been touched by the past two months I’ve lived here, for better or for worse. This traveling is shaping me, remaking me. I’ve definitely been forced time and time again to trust strangers. I’ve definitely been forced every day to forget the comforts of home and to live off balance in this seemingly other world I’m in. It is unmistakeably different than the life I led before Ecuador. But, I think the brutality of it may actually be the beauty of it too. It makes you go take a chance. It makes you learn in ways that you never would've another way. It makes you seek your Lord day in and day out for your every need, sometimes for your every breath.
That's beauty, wouldn't you say?
November 5, 2014
It felt crazy to me saying goodbye to my friends the day before our mid-semester break and telling them that I was going to the Galapagos Islands for my week off. It seemed unreal to me that I was actually getting to go there.
Then I got on the plane. Then, flying over the Pacific Ocean, I saw my first glimpse of the Islands below me. It seemed even more unreal then.
Then I got off the plane and set foot on Santa Cruz island for the first time. UN-real. I was there.
The waters were the bluest of blues I've ever seen. Turquoise even. For the most part, the islands were untouched and left as pure nature and animal habitat. The vibrant colors there were. The beautiful sun and sky. The species upon species of animals I never dreamed I'd see. Sea lions. Blue footed boobies. Marine iguanas, penguins, giant tortoises, starfish and stingrays.
Words will never do this trip justice, and my pictures can only come a little bit closer to revealing the majestic creation I saw there. It was incredible, breath-taking, and certainly once in a lifetime.
Something to be Proud of
November 9, 2014
Let's face it and just sum it right up: studying abroad is hard! As I've mentioned before, it seems like most everything can be a challenge to you when you're living in another country. Because of that, I wanted to take the time to remember some of my accomplishments here, whether they're big or small. I'm proud of myself for many things I've done in Ecuador, and sometimes I think I need to focus on those successes a little bit more than I normally do.
I've learned how to take care of myself and communicate nearly everything in another language.
I've held my own in an internship, working in a Latin American business.
I've figured out directions, street names, & transportation systems that honestly don't make sense.
I've tried foods I never thought I'd be willing to try.
I've been successfully learning a third language (Portuguese) while living in my second language.
I've made true friends, including with Ecuadorians.
I've learned a little bit of how to dance salsa, merengue, and bachata (Latin American dances).
I've climbed up 16,000 feet on a volcano covered in snow.
I survived living in the Amazon rainforest with all its humidity and met exotic animals up close.
I've survived being robbed.
I've formed a good relationship with the first brother I've ever had in my life.
And so much more...
You know, I think you just have to celebrate every once in a while. Simple or not, I think I should start acknowledging all that I've done here, and thank God for helping me with all the hard work I've put into the last two and a half months of my life. After all, it's something to be proud of!
November 13, 2014
I love a lot of things in life. I learned to love football years ago while watching the games every Sunday on TV with my dad. I fell in love with reading way back when my mom put the first book in my hands. I fell in love with Jesus Christ, who saved my life and gives me my very breath every day. I've fallen in love with my fiance Sean, who is infinitely more than I've ever dreamed or hoped for. My love for traveling brought about this trip to Ecuador, and I'll continue to pursue seeing the world and traveling for the rest of my life.
On top of that all, I have more than fallen in love with the Spanish language and culture. The biggest thing this semester has done for me is reinforce that love over and over again Nothing makes me happier here than to speak Spanish with natives everywhere that I go. The affectionate and warm culture in this place are amazing and so comfortable for me. Spanish is literally everywhere I turn: on the bus, in classes, with my host family, on the road signs, and every place in between... and I love it! The Latino music that I hear so much always sends a smile racing to my face. I've more than dipped my toes into the way of life here; I've lived it and breathed it for nearly three months now. And somehow, i think my love for all things Spanish continues to grow. In one way or another, this culture has laid its roots down in my very own heart.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
The Day I Became Blind
November 16, 2014
I went blind yesterday. It was scary, frustrating, and depressing, and an experience like none other.
One of my Ecuadorian friends, Dennis, took me along with his brothers, sister, and cousin to a restaurant called La Casa de Rafa. In this restaurant, guests get to learn a little bit about what the life of a blind person is like. The dining room is an underground cave, where there is not even the smallest hint of light whatsoever. Eyes open, eyes closed...it's all the same. Complete blackness.
This place gets more special yet. The waiters here are actual blind people. They take orders, serve, and do everything else that other waiters do, except they work in a place where it doesn't matter that they can't see. Our waiter's name was Frankie, and when we arrived, he led us down a tunnel to the cave and to our tables. And we would have been lost without him. We couldn't do anything for ourselves; we couldn't find our seats, we couldn't know what condiments there were on the table, and we didn't know that our food was in front of us until he told us so. Unbelievably, I actually stepped into the life of a blind person for two hours of my life, and let me tell you, it was hard! Not knowing what exactly you're eating unless someone tells you first. Not knowing where to blankly stare off into space, or if I should just keep my eyes closed instead. Not knowing if someone was beside me, or who that someone might be. I walked away, after eating the most delicious meal, thanking God for my sight and almost feeling like a different person somehow.
I've done a lot of crazy things while studying abroad. And this one definitely made the list.
Lesson Number One
November 18, 2014
"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home." -- James A. Michener
I've known from day one of dreaming about study abroad that for me, it's about completely submerging myself in it all. In the culture, in the language, in the food, everything. I have always wanted to make my study abroad different than the typical one. And I have definitely gone out of my way to make sure of that, too. Making friends with Ecuadorians has been my priority. Doing what the locals do has always been my goal. You see, I honestly think way too many students who go abroad don't do the little things that make study abroad worth it. They live in a new country, yes, but they do it from within their American bubble; they speak English constantly, they only hang out with other Americans, and don't spend much time at all investing in the local
way of life. But like the quote says, if you're not going to immerse yourself in it all, you might
as well not have even gone.
The other day, Shelby and I were at a friend's soccer game, watching alongside a few other local students. Shelby and I mostly talked with each other, until one of Ecuadorian boys spoke up and asked us, "Why are you guys talking to each other in Spanish?" We were shocked, as speaking in Spanish even with each other has been our standard since the beginning. But I think his question says a lot. That Shelby and I were defying the norms and really being a part of where we're at. That we are making this semester count by learning in any possible moment. Spanish is the number one reason we are here, isn't it? So go the extra mile. Work that little bit more to achieve what you came here for. Make the study abroad be more than just an extended vacation, and stretch your heart and mind by burying yourself in the way of life that's surrounding you.
That's the lesson of the day. That's how you make studying abroad really count.
November 22, 2014
I think that the biggest factor that goes into studying abroad is the actual studying part. While, admittedly, many students abroad have numerous other priorities during their semesters, the learning part really is the main reason one should go to school somewhere across the world.
USFQ - my university here - is different in a lot of ways from my home school, Grand Valley State University. To start, the university is tiny to me. As my only other college experience at Grand Valley has been being surrounded with 25,000 other undergrads, the total population of 5,000 students at USFQ has seemed miniscule in my eyes. About 200 of that few thousand are international students like me. I find it interesting that here, it feels like I see international students everywhere I turn, in every room and at every event; however, at my school in the States, I don't remember noticing hardly any exchange students at all in two entire years there. Now a days, after all I've learned this semester, that seems pretty sad to me. It isn't that there just were never any international kids at GVSU. It's more that my eyes were never open to them. I was always too focused on my own groups of friends and on all I had to do in my own life. To be certain, that's one thing that I want to change when I return home. I don't want to ignore the foreign students ever again, but instead, I want to go out of my way to be their friend. Taking my own advice, and realizing now that studying abroad is impossible to do alone, I plan to invest in the lives of international students at Grand Valley so that they never need to face feeling alone.
Academics wise, my classes here are much easier than anything I've taken at Grand Valley. My classes this semester are a Latin American literature class, Basic Portuguese, Ecuadorian Culture, and a Translation class. On top of those, I also have an internship at a human rights organization. I really have studied well (per usual, as I'm still the complete nerd I've always been) and have learned quite a bit along the way. Sometimes, though, I actually miss hard work of my classes back home. I understand that school systems are not equal everywhere, but I am looking forward to the intense coursework I'll be reintroduced to in January.
The studying part in Quito has also brought me to the unique place of learning from within a drastically different world view. Latin Americans definitely don't think the same way Americans do, and they don't see the world in the same light either. Now I have had to study while (more or less) not being a part of that ever so powerful country to the north. And that changes things. It changes what people study and focus on, what people say, and what people's opinions are of my nation. Sometimes, it's even changed my own world view, and I am not sure that I'll ever be able to go back to my old way of thinking. I love that part about actually studying abroad - how you stretch your heart and mind to embrace the differences encountered, and how you learn to seize all the opportunities for growth, both inside and outside the academic world.
It's That Time of Year Again
November 25, 2014
It's Thanksgiving in two days. One of my favorite holidays! It's a little different this year, though, since I'm in a country where it doesn't exist. There are no leaves turning colors here, no turkeys being baked, no big football games on TV, and no smell of pumpkin pie in the air.
The beginning of the holiday season for me here has brought even larger waves of homesickness than the usual ones. Without all the typical hustle and activities of November and December, without the family, the snow, and the Christmas decorations everywhere, it feels pretty different. Needless to say, one of the reasons that I'm looking forward to the States again is to feel a little bit of the joyous holiday spirit that is so much more prevalent in my own country than it is here.
Two good things are coming up right now. For one, my mom is coming to visit me tomorrow! It'll be her first time to Ecuador, so I'll spend the four days she is here showing her Quito and the surrounding areas. I'm really looking forward to having a piece of home with me again and bringing her into my life here. Also, my program, IES Abroad, is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all its American students on Thursday. Man, am I ready for some turkey, mashed potatoes, salads, pies, and more... I mean, you don't ever get to eat those things down here!
In spite of the extra feelings of missing home currently, I still have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving:
I have an amazing fiance at home who has supported me so well during each day of this journey.
I have a loving family both in the States and in Ecuador.
I've made great friends, like Shelby, who have made time worthwhile.
I've adventured through the country, from the Amazon Rainforest to the Galapagos Islands.
I've improved my Spanish in such a way that even I have noticed the change.
(Buuut...) Homework and classes are finally winding down! Yay!
God has provided for my every need during this time abroad.
Please Help Me Not Sound Like A Gringo Anymore
December 1, 2014
Okay, all you Spanish lovers and Spanish speakers: it's time to be welcomed into the world of Ecuadorian slang! For me, this has always been one of the most interesting parts of Spanish. I love that so many regions and countries have their own vocabulary and their own version of the same language. Although, it does make for a hard time for any student of the language who aspires to understand the huge variety within it one day. While living here, I've learned a ton of Ecuadorian words and expressions. As a side note, a portion of them have to do with the Quechua language because of the indigenous background of the country.
Achachay - Quechua expression used when something is cold
Canguil - popcorn
Chupar - to drink alcoholic beverages
Chapa - police
Chévere - cool
Guagua - Quechua word for baby
Ñaño (a) - brother, sister, great friend
Chuta! - expression of surprise
Full - very much, so much
Chances are that if you can master Ecuadorian vocabulary like this, plus more, you'll have mastered half of the art of how to not sound like such a gringo. :)
Culture Shock is a Real Thing
December 3, 2014
I've heard talk about culture shock many times in the past. I don't think I ever understood why it happened, though, or why people didn't just get over the "shock" of being in a new culture and place. Shouldn't it be exciting and fun? Didn't you want the completely different way of life?
The answer is yes. Yes, you wanted this, and yes, it's exciting and fun. For a while, at least. To be honest, and maybe a little scientific too, there are actually multiple stages to culture shock. The first of these phases is feeling that everything is new, interesting, and exciting. I identified with this for a short two weeks during the first month of my time in Ecuador. I was intrigued by the different people and delighted by the array of new things to do and places to see. However, as it is for most people, that stage didn't last, and I hit the next couple pretty quickly. Differences become apparent and irritating. Problems occur and frustrations set in, and, You may feel homesick, depressed, and helpless. These ones were a big theme throughout my semester, actually. I've struggled with a lot of homesickness - more than the average student does, in my mind. And that has been something I haven't been able to understand about my own journey. Why me? Studying abroad has been my dream since I began high school. But now that I'm here doing it, it has turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had imagined it would be. The challenges, such as being alone across the world or trying to learn the new language completely, have led to some frustration. But, I think it's important that students studying around the globe understand that that is normal. They aren't the only student who has ever missed home before or gone through unexpected difficulties. Knowing that just might help bring them out of that stage a little bit sooner. Once a student learns that they can overcome their homesickness and the other problems, they really do learn that they can conquer anything, anywhere.
When moving on, you develop strategies to cope with difficulties and feelings, make new friends, and learn to adapt to the host culture. What sticks out to me here is the new friends part. I've said for months now that my Ecuadorian friends are the best thing I have here. It's true. They are the ones who have made my experience and with whom I have my greatest memories abroad. Whether those be playing volleyball, climbing up a volcano, grabbing lunch together, or just sitting and talking in Spanish, my new Ecuadorian friends have been the highlight of it all. I've adapted, and I've learned how to make it work navigating this different culture for 4 months.
You next accept and embrace cultural differences; you see the host as your new home and don't wish to depart or leave new friends. I can identify with this stage the least. Yes, it is true that I've had a hard time dealing with the fact of likely never seeing these people again once I leave. However, I haven't experienced the part of that fact compelling me to not want to go back to my home country and stay here instead. I know it definitely happens, as I've heard a number of other international students here saying how much they want to stay in Ecuador forever and never go home. As for myself, I've kind of jumped to the last step on the culture shock timetable and really experienced how you are excited about returning home. This country has been a great host and has taught me more than I've ever learned just living in the U.S. But the States are my home, and my heart and mind are looking forward to coming back and being a part of my country and my people again. For many reasons, I don't think I'm alone in having that sentiment. Once again, it's just another normal step in this entire process.
After all of that, and as much of a whirlwind that it can be, there is also this thing that exists called "Reverse Culture Shock." This part comes into play once you've stepped foot again on your home soil and return to your life previous to going abroad. I can't say I am an expert in these stages quite yet, but I just might be in a few weeks! Although I haven't been there myself yet, the phases go something like this: 1. You may feel frustrated, angry, or lonely because friends and family don't understand what you experienced and how you changed. You miss the host culture and friends, and may look for ways to return. 2. You gradually adjust to life at home. Things start to seem more normal and routine again, although not exactly the same. 3. You incorporate what you learned and experienced abroad into your new life and career.
This study abroad trip doesn't end the moment you step off the plane on your flight back home.
It continues. It goes with you and will always be a piece of you. The good and the bad - it is all part of how the experience has helped shape you and remake you.
America VS. Ecuador
December 7, 2014
fast-paced and busy VS. slow and relaxed
always on time VS. always late
wanting to keep their wealth to themselves VS. wanting to show their wealth off to the world
students wear t-shirts and sweatpants to class VS. students are dressed up to the nines for class
sleep less VS. sleep more
work oriented VS. family oriented
buses cost 3 dollars a ride VS. buses cost 25 cents a ride
kids live with their parents till they start college VS. kids live with their parents till their late 20's
there are 4 distinct seasons in my city VS. it is always, always raining in my city
spacious VS. crowded
access to anything you could ever need VS. not even access to drinkable water
little knowledge, if any, about Ecuador VS. vast and constantly current knowledge about the U.S.
burgers and fries VS. rice and more rice
4th of July and Thanksgiving VS. Fiestas de Quito and Día de los Muertos
I'm almost always safe in my city VS. I'm almost never safe in my city
Christmas spirit and decorations galore VS. I've seen 3 Christmas trees all month
throw your toilet paper in the toilet VS. throw your toilet paper in the trash can
football, baseball, and hockey VS. soccer, soccer, and soccer
northern hemisphere VS. southern hemisphere
my city is clean and orderly VS. my city is full of graffiti and pollution
people are more reserved and cold VS. people are more affectionate and intimate
PDA is not okay VS. PDA is totally okay
I have a sister! VS. I have a brother!
Rocky/Appalachian Mountains and Grand Canyon VS. Amazon rainforest and Galapagos Islands
I live at 610 feet above sea level VS. I live at 9,350 feet above sea level
It's true. I've kind of lived in two completely different worlds now. Which descriptions do you think fit with which country? You pick. Most of the time, it's not that hard to decide.
December 10, 2014
Study abroad changes you. It’s inevitable.
“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” -Danny Kaye
The changes come, and they don’t stop coming. Whether having been here for three weeks or for three months, I’m still adjusting. It’s a constant state of living when you’re studying abroad. Along the way, I’ve learned that one of the best things you can do is to embrace it. Embrace each change as it comes to you, accept it, keep breathing, and then learn from it.
Change here has come in an academic form, between the learning material in class, classmates, and different academic expectations in general. I’ve gone through my own linguistic change, as my Spanish has grown and developed over the months, allowing me to become more fluent in the way that you can only achieve by living abroad. Change has come in the music I listen to and the foods I am able to eat. I believe that I’ve found change for myself on a professional level as well, by completing an internship in a foreign country on top of a normal semester abroad, which is a feat on its own. My family life has changed, as well as the way I think and the way I act. I have faced many changes on an emotional scale, ranging from homesickness to cloud nine when traveling or making new friends.
It all changes. You can’t stop it. And I’ve found that fighting the changes often isn’t the best option. Sometimes, doing so will only be cheating yourself of the opportunities for
growth and the benefits to be reaped from the experience.
So embrace it. Accept it. Keep breathing. And let yourself learn from it.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
December 14, 2014
"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." -Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
I'm coming home soon. To the States, to my real home. It's safe to say that I'm overly excited and I simply cannot wait. The semester here has been quite a ride, and I've learned more than I could have imagined. I've experienced the ups and downs, the joys and hardships, and the fun days along with the awful ones. I've grown. I've stretched myself. I've laughed and I've cried. I have been exposed to the world like I never have been before, and because of that, I don't think I'm the same Kassie that I used to be.
Despite all of that, it's nearly time to come home again. To my country and to my people. To my family, my school, and my friends. It's crazy to me how much I've missed the American culture lately, as it was never even something I thought about before I ended up leaving it. I wonder what else I'll realize has changed in me when I set foot on U.S. soil once more.
The journey is important. All of it. The start, the middle, and the finish. But do you know what the last part of the journey is that I have left now? It just might be the best part of it all...