Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
2010-05-20 A Day in the Life...
My typical dinner
I wrote this entry about a month ago, but I wasnt able to publish it. So here it is, at long last!
As I read over my former entries, I realize that most of them are about trips and fun things and the exciting parts of life. They are all true and they were all fun, but life in Ecuador hasnt been one big party. I truly have had a lot more homework here than I expected, and conflicts with my host family have made the semester interesting. In this entry, I want to give you a picture of daily life, minus the thrills of beach trips and backpacking and zip lining. This is a normal day in Ecuador:
My alarm goes off between 6:30 and 7 am. Sometimes, if my early classes are cancelled, I can sleep later, but my host sister Lisette usually comes over around 7:30 with her two daughters, Greta (4) and Ariel (7 months), because my host mom babysits Ariel during the day while Lisette is a work and Greta at school. If any of you have experience with 4-year-olds, you know that they make sleeping in very difficult! So, with one thing and another, Im usually up by 7ish. It was worse, though; I used to have a class at 7 am on Thursdays, so I had to be up by 5:15 at the latest to get there on time! Luckily, that class ended after spring break.
My host mom usually has breakfast waiting for me. Ive offered many times to get my own breakfast, particularly on the days when I have class at 8:30 and am leaving the house by 7. She resisted at first, but now she generally sleeps in and lets me find my own food. Breakfast for most of the family consists of coffee/hot chocolate and a piece of delicious Ecuadorian bread. I dont drink coffee or hot chocolate, so I usually have bread, sometimes with melted cheese on top or a small omelet, and some fruit. Pack a lunch (usually just an apple and a pear or something, but sometimes with some chifles (banana chips) or bread or something), brush my teeth, and Im off by 7:30 at the latest.
I used to take three buses to get to and from school, but that was adding up quickly, so about a month ago, I started walking part way to save money. Now, I walk to the Rio Coca Bus Station and catch a big green bus. This bus goes to Cumbaya, the town where my university is. I spend an hour a day on the green bus, but its not too bad. Most of the international students ride the bus, so I spend time chatting with friends while we travel. Or I do homework or look out the window at the amazing views. After I discovered Harry Potter in Spanish in the library, my hour bus ride became my reading time and I looked forward to it every day!
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my classes start at 9 am with Italian. I added this class later than my others, so Ive been a little behind all semester. But, Im not taking it for credit, just for fun, so its not a big deal. Plus, Italian is super similar to Spanish, which makes it a lot easier to learn. The pronunciation is the hardest part for me. Some sounds are like English and others like Spanish and others like neither, which just confuses my tongue. But its a cool language and I like the teacher a lot.
My next class is Temas de Amrica Latina, a political science class about Latin America. Its very interesting and Ive learned a lot, but its probably my most difficult class and the one I think Ill probably end up with a B in. The information isnt too difficult, but the professor, Jose Julio Cisneros, goes off on tangents a lot, which makes it hard to take notes or follow the main thread of the class. But Ive learned a lot about relations among countries in Latin America and relations with the US.
On Fridays, Im done after Temas, but on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have three more classes. Conversation is first, with Claudia Gutierrez. Claudia is an interesting professor- you either love her or hate her. Shes very good about correcting our grammar when we speak in class, which is good, but she sometimes makes you feel rather stupid for making a mistake. It doesnt bother me too much, mostly because Im in an intermediate class instead of advanced, so Im one of the best speakers in the class and dont get a lot of corrections from her. My favorite part about this class is that half of our tests are creative writing, using our vocabulary words in stories. For a creative writing major, thats perfect! My next class is Espaol Avanzada, a grammar class. This class is really good for me, because my grammar was lagging behind my speaking and understanding abilities, but its really boring and I often have a hard time sitting through it. The professor, Lidice, is nice and shes really good about having open office hours and being willing to read over an essay or something if we want her to.
My last class of the day, Capoeira, ends at 4 pm. I liked this class a lot at the beginning- learning kicks and blocks and tricks and music. Its a blast! But I hurt my shoulder over spring break, and it still doesnt feel completely healed. In Capoeira, we are working on back handsprings, but it hurts too much for me to do them. So I spend a lot of time sitting out in this class now, which sucks because Id really like to learn and get better at this sport. We had a really fun class the other day, though, in which I got to participate: the professor taught us to play the cool Capoeira instruments. Theres a tambourine and another instrument with a funny name that keeps the beat and an instrument that looks kind of like a bow with a gourd on the bottom that plays the melody. We learned them all. Super fun, but SO hard!
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I start class at 8:30 am with my Bilingual Education class. I absolutely love this class! Its super interesting, and the professor, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, really knows her stuff. She speaks four languages and has raised her children to speak all four of them. If any of you come to Ecuador, I totally recommend taking this class! My next class is soccer, which is fun but disappointing sometimes because nobody shows up. As the semester has worn on, our class has basically trickled down to nothing. Luckily, Im also playing on a club team, so I still have some soccer. My last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays used to be Volcanology, but that class ended after spring break as well. It was an interesting class, as long as you got along with the professor. Theo Toulkeridis is very smart, but a lot of people had trouble relating to him. I didnt, so I enjoyed the class a lot. If you want to travel, this class is a good one because you have four weekend trips in which you see some really cool stuff.
My afternoons are all different. On some days, I hurry back to Quito to work in a soup kitchen called Pan de Vida (I do this on Sundays as well, and I love it!) Other days, I go to a friends house to use the Internet or to bake cookies. Others, I have a soccer game in the afternoon, so I stick around at school to play in that. There is a school league that runs from February to April in which teams of 6 play on little fields. My team (me, international students Jill, Laura, and Shawna, and Ecuadorians Caro, Isa, Valeria, and two others) is doing really well. We just won our semi-final game against a team that has beat my teammates for the last two years, and were going to the finals next week. Its a lot of fun, and its been a really good chance to meet Ecuadorians and get to know them.
Most days, I stay at school for a few hours to use the Internet. I dont have Internet in my house, so I download a lot of information onto my flash drive and take it with me to do at home. I do my work at home, as much as I can, and just carry the completed work back to school to check sources or do last minute translations on the Internet. This entry, for example, Im writing at home, but Ill send it from school. Its a pain to not have Internet, but it has made me more productive because I dont have Facebook or email to distract me at home. So of course, I use Solitaire, Hearts, and Chess to distract me instead
When I get home, between 5 and 7 pm, dinner is waiting for me. My host parents eat around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, but they save a plate for me to heat up when I get home. Almuerzo (lunch, or in my case, dinner) usually consists of a bowl of soup, juice, some sort of vegetable, and a plato fuerte that has meat (usually chicken, but sometimes fish or beef--never pork), rice or potatoes or both, and some sort of sauce. We dont have dessert every day, but when we do it is usually cake, some sort of bread, or a fruit salad with cream. Most of my conflicts with my host family have centered on food. They got upset with me for eating too much fruit, which they claim is really expensive here. (I think its super cheap. $1 for 10 apples? Two pounds of strawberries for $2? But Im looking at it from a U.S. perspective, and I shouldnt do that.) Plus, my family, unlike most of the host families, is not rich and they really have to watch what they spend. I feel like Im paying them more than they are giving me, but I guess my payments also include my host mom making all my meals and the cost of my room and such.
At first, I had trouble because they always gave me vegetables that were smothered in mayonnaise or butter or something, which doesnt seem particularly healthy to me. It took me a long time to work up the courage to say something because Im not the most confrontational person with people I dont know well, but Im glad we finally talked. Now, my host mom sets my vegetables aside before putting sauce on everyone elses and I get to eat healthy veggies.
In the evenings, I usually do homework, watch a movie, read, or go out. Im not a huge partier, so I dont tend to go out every night like some people I know. But I do spend nights at friends houses or in the Mariscal, the section of Quito with all of the bars and restaurants and everything geared toward gringo tourists. We do a lot of movie nights, either at someones house or at the theater, because it is cheap, and I generally go to the theater once a month or so. I have a Bible study every Tuesday night at the English Fellowship Church, and I really enjoy that. I wanted to find a Catholic youth group, but I havent had any luck so far and its getting kind of late in the semester to be worth it. But the EFC group, Twenty Somethings, is really fun and has helped me make lots of friends. We generally go out for ice cream or to study together afterward.
But I dont have a lot of time on weekdays to go out, because I have a lot of homework. I have 6 academic classes in all, and although most of them dont give a lot of homework, it adds up. Ive had at least one test and one essay every week for the last three months, and its only getting worse. A lot of international students treat their semester abroad as a party, but their grades dont transfer back to their schools, so as long as they get a C or better, they dont have to worry. My grades transfer, and Im enough of a nerd to want straight As. So I work a lot harder than most people, but thats okay. I enjoy all of my classes, and I dont enjoy getting drunk in the Mariscal. So I dont mind.
I dont spend a lot of time with my host family on a day-to-day basis, and Im not entirely sure why. We eat dinner together if Im home- I eat my big lunch meal and they eat coffee/hot chocolate, bread, and cheese again. But after we eat and I help clean the kitchen, my host dad goes off to his room to watch TV, my host sister goes to her room to watch TV, and my host mom either watches with my sister or goes in the study to watch TV in there. Ive never like the television much, especially when the only shows available are the late night soap operas. Sometimes Ill watch movies with my host family, and I spend a good amount of time playing with Greta, my niece, or talking with the adults. But we dont go traveling together and they dont usually invite me to do things. Its kind of a shame; our relationship is more that of landlord and guest than parent and child. But they arent mean to me and they give me lots of space to be independent, which Id prefer to having an overprotective or needy family.
All in all, daily life here is not too exciting but its fine with me. I find little things to enjoy every day- a movie with a friend, playing with bubbles with Greta, playing in a soccer game. There are lots of wonderful little moments, little cultural or linguistic surprises that I delight in, and they make daily life great.