The Learning Curve, Pits, & Peaks
Today—the first Monday in February—marks exactly four weeks here in Ecuador for the four of us Oregon girls. In that time, I feel like I’ve learned so much that I can’t even begin to keep track of it all in my journal…I’ve stuck to my original goal of jotting down a Lesson of the Day before falling into bed every night, but have failed miserably at recording the new words, terms, or phrases I’m learning. There are too many. (It doesn’t help that my Advanced Conversation professor sent our class home with a list of eighty new vocab words last week…and I need to memorize a bunch of Quichua terms, too, for our first quiz this week. But more on classes later.) I thought I was good at this language before I came here, but the truth is more like I had a decent start on it.
Perfectionist me had a really hard time with constantly being corrected at first. With time, though, I’ve managed to mostly push through my tendency to not talk or do anything if I feel like I might do it wrong because handling life that way is just not practical. Conversation in a second language is absolutely challenging—verb tenses and pronouns trip me up, every time—but my perfectionism becomes an advantage because I often remember being corrected. There are snags to this strategy (like how sometimes people are too nice to point out my errors directly and immediately…and the sheer number of mistakes I’m trying to always keep in mind for the next time), but the fact is that my Spanish has never been better.
Another undeniable fact is that immersion is not an easy process. After a month, I’m feeling pretty settled in, but it’s a constant roller coaster of ups directly related to downs and vice versa. I miss the comforts of home and family and church family in Colorado, and all the wonderful people and happenings at a school I love in Oregon. I am so thankful to be able to keep in touch via the internet, but also feel the distance in ways I wasn’t expecting…like how there is not the tiniest chance I can go to any of LUPA’s Frisbee tournaments this spring. Ecuador will not have six more weeks of winter. And I watched the second half of the “Supertazón” by myself, with the Spanish commentary flying over my head, and game breaks thick with advertisements for all the soccer that will be aired (to rather more fanfare) in the next few days. Meanwhile, my newsfeed blew up with Seahawks excitement—I’m happy for you, my friends in the Pacific Northwest!—and I could almost hear Colorado get quieter and quieter as the gap in the score widened. (Ouch.) My new word for the day was (estar) hincha de, to be in support of a sports team.
What helps the homesickness most, though, is getting more and more involved here. My primary activity is school, and I think each of my classes merits a brief explanation:
-Conversation, as I mentioned, is intensive and probably the second-strongest contributor to my growing Spanish skills, only next to conversations with my host family. (I love it…but I have always really liked vocab. I’m a word nerd, I know.)
-Quichua is a totally foreign language to me, and I love the exercise in linguistics, even if I get put on the spot all the time because my name is at the top of our class’s alphabetized list. I can officially introduce myself, describe the people around me, and talk about my immediate family. On a good day.
-Language & Translation is my most challenging class so far. Because our professor worked as a translator for years, he knows both Spanish and English inside and out…and is very picky about details. So I’ve been getting papers back with more red on them than usual, and learning the complexities of Spanish grammar and a host of idioms kind of the hard way. Good translators do not get nearly enough credit, it takes a lot of hard work!
-What does NOT take hard work is stepping onto the school’s cancha de arena to play beach volleyball every other morning. I jumped in on what I thought was a pickup game the first Monday of class, and the coach offered me a slot while I was brushing sand off and putting my shoes on afterwards…definitely a good deal, we might even go to a tournament on the coast in March! Playing one of my favorite games in perfect weather for three hours every week is so much fun that it barely counts as a class, and has the added benefit of being a great way to stay active and get to know the students I’m playing with (and learn even more vocab, as I accumulate volleyball terms in Spanish, too).
-Ecuadorian history—the professor’s sense of humor makes up for any dryness in the material—came to life two weekends ago, when our resident program director, showed us around his favorite parts of the Centro Historico. We’d seen it by double-decker bus our first weekend, but I felt less like a tourist with Franco explaining things about the city he grew up in and loves. The colonial architecture is beautiful and every church has a story…the Basilica was especially noteworthy. It’s a Gothic cathedral with Galapagos animals in place of gargoyles, and the view from the top of the North Tower is worth every step to get up there.
Saturday was also a day of stunning vistas: Annie, a fellow extranjera—foreign student, she’s from Michigan and she’s awesome—and I took a cable car partway up Rucu Pichincha, the dormant volcano to the west of Quito. I was proud that I could identify a few main roads and landmarks from the viewpoint, and excited to get on the trail to the summit. (I’ll be back before May to make it all the way…turns out the last 500 meters or so are so steep that we were almost just skiing through the sand when we came back down, and the very top of the mountain is a Class 5 rock scramble, the highest mark a piece of terrain can get before you actually need ropes.) It’s an impressive hike, and our lessons of the day also included the appropriate taxi fare to and from the TeleferiQo ($5, not $8) and the increased need to eat well, drink water, and wear sunscreen at that kind of altitude. I’m sunburned and sore today, but wouldn’t have traded the time in such spectacular mountains for the world.
There’s so much more to tell, but I’ve been writing (and you’ve been reading) long enough. I have my first three quizzes this week, a program trip on Saturday, and plenty of excitement in and amongst…so I’ll talk to you soon!