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Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

2014-01-19 Welcome to Ecuador

Two weeks ago today, I left my house in Colorado early in the morning—my fellow Linfield representatives left Portland even earlier—for the adventure of a lifetime. I’d been writing “Semester Abroad” into my four-year plan for more than two years at that point, put a lot of effort into my interviews and background research to make it happen in the spring of my junior year, and spent the fall semester filling out about a million forms and asking every question I could think to ask about Ecuador. I’d been second-guessing my suitcase contents for almost three days straight, but my mom’s words from the morning drive to the airport echoed in my mind: “Stop worrying about what you might have forgotten.” I had mentally truncated it to just, “Stop worrying.” I couldn’t change anything, and enjoying the moment had turned out to be pretty fun so far.

But it didn’t actually sink in that I was on my way until I hauled my carry-on bags aaaall the way through the Houston airport and found the other three girls to wait for our connecting flight to Quito. Even though almost every other flight out of Denver had been canceled because of the weather, mine had only been delayed enough to make the layover more like a nice rest than an inconvenience, so I’d just let my folks know I’d made it all right…but my phone wasn’t in my pocket. I’d left it at home, because I wasn’t going to need it for the next four and a half months.

On a certain level, I knew that, but it was a mixture of exciting and daunting to be finally, really on our way. We landed in South America in the wee hours of Monday morning, so there was nothing but black to see out the windows. No last-minute curiosity could help us know what to expect…and then we shuffled through customs, making double-sure we had the right stamp to stay for the whole semester, collected our bags, and walked together through propped-open double doors onto Ecuadorian pavement and into none-of-us-knew-exactly-what.

At least our fears of not recognizing our host parents were alleviated when each of us spotted our names on placards held by people just as concerned that they wouldn’t recognize us. My host parents greeted me with besos, wide smiles, and a profusion of all the polite niceties I had learned in high school Spanish classes and somehow forgotten. In that crucial first impression, my tired brain led, not with Mucho gusto, “pleased to meet you,” but instead with a parroting of Papá Ramiro’s Bienvenida.

I kicked myself internally, ducked under the tape, and realized I was the “well come” one. I was here.

My host parents drove me home from the airport at 2 a.m. and very carefully and clearly explained everything I had been trying to figure out how best to ask questions about. Mamá Sandra’s favorite phrase seemed to be no te preocupes, or possibly tranquila, “don’t worry.” They had to work the next day—my whole family leaves the house before 7 every weekday morning—but I would be taken care of by a very kind empleada (Blanquita, our housekeeper) when I woke up, and a neighbor would help me practice the bus route to the Universidad San Francisco. For the next few days, she said as she showed me the keys to the house, my little room, and the tall gate out into the street, I was to rest and do and eat whatever I’d like.

 What I did was wrangle my rusty Spanish into working order, drink a lot of water, and try not to count the things I wished I’d brought. Between deep sleeps, I kept my eyes wide open and asked a lot of questions. Every day since our arrival has been a different adventure: riding buses that keep us on our toes, being the international students at orientation, exploring downtown and working out the lay of the city, the first day of classes in a maze of unknown hallways, a night tour in a double-decker bus of the colonial buildings of the centro historico, the obligatory trip to the Mitad del Mundo monument, buying cell phones and learning card games and comparing classes and taking taxis and crossing streets and meeting people.

These days—two weeks in—new foods are always met with at least one complimentary ¡Que rico! The barking dogs and car alarms have become background noise. I can’t wait to make jugo for my family and friends stateside. I’ve been introduced to my host family’s family and developed a habit of carrying my backpack so that no one can touch the bottom of it or reach into my pocket without touching my hand. The list of things I learn every day far outpaces my journal entries, and a little bit more of my heart becomes Quiteña every day.

Let the adventures begin continue :)

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