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Cinco Semanas!

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As of today, it has been 5 weeks since I returned to the U.S.  Holy cow!  Just last week, someone said to me, “Tell me about Ecuador in 10 seconds.”  He was kind of kidding, but wow!  Talk about a challenge!  I told him, “It was amazing . . . and it was hard.  But I am so glad I went.”  That kind of sums things up, huh?  Then, I referred him to this blog. 🙂

I cannot really begin to describe how it feels to be back.  (That’s clear, right?)  I don’t think I can even fully process it myself at this point!  Without a doubt, I think of Ecuador multiple times a day.  I reminisce about the beautiful country, amazingly loving people, fun and enthusiastic students, wonderful – yet difficult – language and incredible adventures available (and taken!).  Life feels very strange right now because I often have to remind myself that I recently had a life in Ecuador – for about a year.  I have to remind myself of this because I have essentially gotten back into the swing of things, which is definitely good in many ways.  However, sometimes it feels like a bummer because I don’t want the memories of my experience in Ecuador to ever be too far away in my thoughts.  And truthfully, I hope that my life in Ecuador has helped to shape who I am right now.

Just this morning it dawned on me that oftentimes, we remember events in our lives because we have lived them with other people.  All of the people I lived life with in Ecuador are not with me now, so that is one of the reasons it is really hard to remember my Ecuadorian life on a consistent basis.  I must mention that some people gave me really tremendous welcomes when I returned.  And surprisingly, it was mostly people I wouldn’t have anticipated to have missed me so much. 🙂  They definitely made me feel loved and that has made my heart happy.

While I was in Ecuador, there really weren’t oodles of things that I missed having from the U.S.  After all, Ecuador is much more of a developed country than most people think, so I had mostly everything I needed.  But, some of the things that have been enjoyable since I have been back have included: eating ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, touching books (instead of reading them on a Kindle), watching television in English, listening to the radio, working out at a gym, having unpredictable weather from day to day (or hour to hour, at times), drinking cold beverages, brushing my teeth with tap water, throwing toilet paper in the toilet, walking to the park and walking on sidewalks without holes in them.  As you can see, these are pretty small things, but have been nice to return to in St. Louis.

With all of that being said, I am s-l-o-w-l-y starting to wrap my head around my new position of teaching fifth grade, while building excitement at the same time.  I continue to wonder how my experience in Ecuador will impact my relationships with fellow colleagues, students, and families.  One thing that I have realized is that while I have been working on organizing my classroom for the school year, I keep thinking about how few things I feel like I actually need to facilitate great learning and discovery.  At the same time, I sometimes feel anxious because other classrooms look so cute, even though they have so much stuff – although it’s always amazingly organized.  I begin to feel anxious because I wonder if I am forgetting something or if I should have more stuff in my classroom.

But then, I think about my school in Riobamba and how I didn’t set-up anything or have much more than an iPod and whiteboard markers – and we learned.  The students learned . . . and I learned.  But before you begin to worry,  I promise that I am not going to have a bare room.  However, I do want my classroom to be organized with items that are intentional to guide both learning and strong community development.  And, once my students and I decide on new things we must have in order to do our best learning, we will gradually add to our room.

As I end this post, I suppose that means it’s the end of this blog site (sniff, sniff).  However, I have begun a new blog for my fifth grade classroom. (When one door closes another door opens!)  Please check it out and you can even subscribe to read posts each time it is updated.  The website is: http://www.im4students.wordpress.com

Again, thank you for being with me during my journey in Ecuador.  I don’t think I would have had the experience I did if it weren’t for my faithful blog followers who continued to send me encouraging words along the way.  I am glad to have lived and grown with you during the past year and I hope you have grown as well.  Hasta luego.

In conclusion . . .

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I feel like this should be either a spectacular or life-changing post, but truthfully,  I’m not sure it’s going to be either.  I just want to share my heart during these last days in Ecuador and the jumble of emotions I feel inside.  Here you go.

Excitement

  • Family and Friends: Of course I am looking forward to seeing family and friends that are 3-D, instead of 2-D on my computer.  It wil also be wonderful to get together with family and friends on a regular basis and be able to live life together.
  • Hannah: I have missed my dog terribly during my time here and am thoroughly looking forward to having her back in my life when I return to the U.S.  She is 12 years old now, but I am hoping we can enjoy our time together like we did before by walking, hanging out in parks, and driving in the car together.  I am so excited to see little Hannah.

    Yes, this is part of my family: dad, mom and niece.

    Yes, this is part of my family: dad, mom and niece.

  • School and Students: I am happy to return to Robinson where I taught 6 years prior to my time in Ecuador.  I feel like this is a blessing and I am excited to return to the comfort of being back at this wonderful school.  I will be teaching fifth grade and I cannot wait to have some of the students I taught when I was their teacher in first grade.  Fun!
  • Apartment: I am excited about the apartment I am moving into when I return to St. Louis.  The main reason is because it is located less than a mile from my school.  Therefore, I will be able to walk to and from work.  Yay!  After realizing how much I enjoyed walking in Ecuador, I wanted to continue this when I return.
  • Baseball: I don’t know if I ever thought this would make my list of things to be excited about, but I look forward to seeing and hearing about baseball.  Of course I am a Cardinals fan, but I think more than anything I am looking forward to the cultural aspect of the sport of baseball because it truly is one representation of our American culture.
  • Seasons: I have missed having four seasons.  At least, right now I miss it. While it has been nice to have predictable weather everyday, I miss changing seasons and the correlation seasons and holidays have throughout the year.  So, when I am complaining this winter about how cold it is, remind me that something I was looking forward to were seasons.

Sadness

  • Friendships: Thankfully, I have made three wonderful friends here; Cesar, Paty, and Soraida.  In addition, I have met incredible volunteers and directors from WorldTeach, as well as people at my school whom I absolutely adore.  Fortunately (and unfortunately), I have really gotten to know the teachers and secretaries at my school better in the past month or so, which is one of the reasons it is so difficult to think about leaving so soon.

    Here is a picture of me with my students after they presented the country of Mexico during a fair at our school.

    Here is a picture of me with my students after teaching others about Mexico during a fair at our school.

  • Spanish: It is no secret that Spanish has been a challenge for me during my time here.  However, I am sad that I won’t likely be able to struggle through Spanish conversations on a daily basis once I return to the U.S.  Even though it has been hard, I will miss hearing Spanish on a daily basis.
  • School: The school I have been teaching at in Riobamba is amazing.  The culture of the school is fun and relaxed, which has made it a pleasure for me the past 8 months.  Not only are the classes dynamic, but we provide extra activities for the students to enjoy as well.  As a result of the amazing things that take place at my school, I am going to miss it a lot.
  • Students: A direct extension of the school are the outstanding students I have worked with during my time in Ecuador.  Of course there have been difficult times in my classes, but overall, I have loved learning with and getting to know my students.  They are fun and sweet and have welcomed their foreign teacher with open arms – even if I am too serious at times and don’t let us play games during the entire class period. (This is a common complaint from my students.  What is wrong with me?!?)
  • Walking: As you know, I have enjoyed walking to and from places in Ecuador.  When I commute by foot in Riobamba, there is always something interesting happening.  This might be someone selling food or drinks, a pharmacy having a sale with music blaring, an appliance store having a sale with a man on stilts outside to attract customers, a fruit truck selling fruit with a loud speaker or a laundry truck playing lullaby.  It is always an adventure – and I’m really going to miss it.

Nervousness

  • School: Ok . . . remember that I am excited to return to Robinson, right?  I am also nervous.  I have never taught fifth grade and don’t know what to fully expect from the curriculum or my students – yet.  I know that over time this will get better, but I am slightly nervous about the change at the moment.

    Here is little Hannah.  She is 12 years old now.

    Here is little Hannah. She is 12 years old now.

  • Friendships: Some of my friendships from the U.S. have changed since I have been in Ecuador and will not be the same when I return.  Therefore, I am nervous about what my friendships will look like and if I will have people to spend time with – or who will want to spend time with me!  But, I am also trying to look at this transition as an opportunity to meet new people and share the new parts of me that have developed in Ecuador.
  • Aging Dog: Of course I am excited to see Hannah, but I am nervous about her age.  Like I said, she is 12 years old and I do have some worry about how her health will be in the future.  I think that this worry has recently come about because the dog that I was living with here in Ecuador just passed away on Saturday.  Therefore, I have some nervousness about what Hannah’s future will be like when I return.
  • Church: My church in St. Louis is wonderful and has been during the several years I have been attending.  However, because I am moving to a new apartment, there is a church (still the same church, just a different location) that is closer to where I will live.  Therefore, I am nervous as to what it will look like to transition to a different location and don’t know what to expect with this change.

Familiarity

  • Family: How nice it will be to have family nearby when I return.  I look forward to this immensely.  Also, it will be nice to celebrate family events together, take my niece and nephew out, and meet family for dinner on a regular basis.
  • School: Again, what a blessing it is for my heart to return to the same elementary school I left last year.  One of the reasons I want to return is because the school community is amazing – we have incredible students and families.  Another reason is because the principal of my school is wonderful and encourages me to learn and become a better teacher.  I desire nothing more than to be back at this school for the upcoming school year.english
  • Dog: I know . . . Hannah is rather popular in this post.  However, I look forward to resuming our daily walks and enjoying the company of my sweet dog.  By the way, I have to give a HUGE thank you to my friend, Christina, and her family for taking amazing care of Hannah while I have been away.  They have truly been a lifesaver  and have kept me at peace during times of worry about my dog.
  • English: Whew . . . I will actually understand all of the conversations, television, music, and other forms of communication around me.  Although I am confident I will miss hearing Spanish, there is comfort in understanding 100% of the communication I am exposed to.

Dread

  • Driving: As many of you have heard, I do not miss driving at all.  First off, I have not driven for 6 months, so watch out!  Secondly, I love being able to hop in a taxi if I need a ride somewhere and not having any stress related to driving.  Therefore, I am not looking forward to driving when I return, but am sure it will be fine once I get back into the routine of tackling the roads in St. Louis.

    I hope this isn't my first reaction to driving!

    I hope this isn’t my first reaction to driving!

  • Price Shock: Ecuador is pretty inexpensive, as a whole.  And Riobamba is even cheaper.  I am used to paying $1 for a taxi, 64 cents for a soda, 35 cents for Oreos, $3 for lunch, 40 cents for bottled water, 20 cents for my favorite new snack, Palomitas, and so on.  Now do you see why I am going to experience price shock when I return?  Eek.
  • Food and Grocery Shopping: I’ve been a little spoiled because someone cooks lunch for me everyday and I don’t ever have to grocery shop or make meals for myself (other than bread or oatmeal, on occasion).  Granted, I do pay for this luxury, but I am not particularly looking forward to having to start cooking and shopping for myself.  No wonder I have had some extra time on my hands while I have been here!
  • Taking out the Trash: Ok, another luxury.  I never have to take out the trash here . . . it is always done for me, which is another pleasure.  I guess I need to come back to reality and take care of my own trash when I return.  Bummer.

Uncertainty

  • School: Even though I am returning to a familiar school and environment, I don’t know what it will be like returning with my questionEcuadorian teaching experience.  How will this impact my teaching and students?  I have no idea, but I hope it will do so in a positive way.
  • Relationships: What will my relationships be like with friends and family who can’t fully understand my experience in Ecuador?  I know that some people will want to hear about my time in Ecuador, but no one is really going to “get it” except those who have lived abroad for an extended period of time.  Will this be hard having few people to relate to my experience or will this be a good thing?
  • Spanish: What will it be like to hear virtually no Spanish after being exposed to it on a daily basis for the past 10 months?  Will I forget everything I have learned or will I find opportunities to continue learning Spanish through classes or connecting with other Spanish speakers?
  • Blending In: If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know that I battle with looking different than a majority of the people I live with and come into contact with in Riobamba.  However, I wonder what it will be like to return to an environment where I am just like everyone else.  Will it be weird to fit in again?  Will I miss being different?  After all, when I visited Chimborazo last weekend, two groups of Ecuadorians wanted to take pictures with me just because I was a foreigner.  How silly, but sometimes it’s kind of funny too.
  • Traveling: As I have mentioned previously, it is incredibly easy and inexpensive to travel in Ecuador.  I love picking-up and leaving for the weekend to travel by bus to random cities across the country.  I wonder what it will be like not having that same ease of travel and knowing that it will not be as feasible to travel as it has been here.  Will I miss it or will I make it a priority to take more trips knowing that I enjoyed it in Ecuador and have learned that I want to explore more of the U.S.?

So . . . that’s it!  I know it was a lot.  Remember I said I had a jumble of feelings about my transition in a few, short days?  I hope that now you have a glimpse of why this is difficult for me.  While this will probably be my last post while I am in Ecuador, I will write about my transition back to the U.S. at some point in the near future.   Thanks for sticking with me on this journey.

 

So . . . did I summit Chimborazo?

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chimborazo.pictureAnd the answer is . . . no.  But . . .  I am completely at peace with the outcome because it was an amazingly beautiful (and challenging!) weekend.  Here’s a play by play for you.  Also, after you read the chain of events from the weekend, check out the pictures at the end of the post that show you more details about the journey.  (By the way, if you have no idea what I am talking about so far, read this post first.)

Friday, June 21

  • 2:30pm: I was driven to Casa Condor (about 30 minutes away) by a friendly taxi driver named Roberto.  Ironically, he ended up being the father of one of my previous students here in Riobamba.  I stayed at Casa Condor because it is at a higher altitude (3800 meters/12,400 feet) than Riobamba and it’s wise to slowly acclimate to the higher altitude of Chimborazo.
  • 4:00pm: I went on an incredibly challenging “walk” to acclimate to the higher altitude (this was suggested by my taxi driver).  The place I walked was so steep, it was quite a challenge!  Here’s a video of me while I was resting on my walk.  As you can tell, it was a bit windy!
  • 6:00pm: I went to scope out the kitchen in the hostel so I knew where I’d be cooking my dinner.  That’s where I met two other guys that that I learned would be hiking with me the following evening.  They are both from Australia and their names are Garrick and Ron.  They are nice guys and as it ended up, I was really glad that we all took this journey together.  That evening, we made a pasta dinner and talked a bit to get to know one another, since we’d be spending plenty of time together over the next 36 hours.
  • 8:00pm: I went back to my room and was asleep by 9:00pm. 🙂

Saturday, June 22

  • 8:00am: I got out of bed after reading for awhile, took some pictures of the beautiful countryside, and made breakfast.
  • 10:45am: Garrick, Ron and I went on a walk around the community where we were staying.
  • 12:30pm: We were picked up by our guides and drove to the first refuge (4800 meters/15,700 feet) of Chimborazo.
  • 2:30pm: We drank Coca tea (apparently helps with altitude sickness) and soup at the refuge.
  • 3:00pm: We went to rest/sleep to let our bodies get ready for the upcoming demands of the evening.
  • 4:30pm: We woke-up and ate “dinner” and then hiked to the second refuge (5000 meters/16,400 feet).
  • 6:30pm: We arrived at the second refuge and got ready for bed.  We were supposed to sleep from 7:00pm until 10:00pm to rest for the hike.
  • 6:45pm: I walked outside to see an amazing sunset and filmed a short video before going to sleep.  Watch it here.
  • 10:00pm: We were woken up and to eat “breakfast” and then got dressed and ready to leave for the hike.
  • 11:30pm: 3 hikers (me, Ron, and Garrick) and 3 guides (Fabian, Raul, and Alberto) left to begin the journey up Chimborazo.

Sunday, June 23

  • 12:15am: After hiking for about 45 minutes, we stopped to put crampons (equipment you put on your shoes in order to hike in snow and ice) on our boots for the rest of the journey.
  • 12:20am: I had no idea how to walk with crampons.
  • 1:00am: I started to partly understand how to walk with crampons.
  • 2:00am: Our group of 6 discussed our progress at that point.  We were pretty exhausted already.  Our guides decided that at our current pace (apparently rather tortoise-like), it would take about 6 more hours to summit Chimborazo.
  • 2:15am: Two of us decided to go on and continue to hike onto the glacier.
  • 3:30am: My guide, Fabian, told me that we still had about 5 hours until the top.  At that point, I needed to stop about every 30 seconds to rest and I didn’t foresee that getting better as the altitude increased.  After hiking through a lot of ice and snow, I decided to call it quits (5700 meters18.700 feet) and surrender.
  • 4:00am: We started to descend and head back to the refuge with another hiker and his guide.
  • 6:30am: We arrived at the second refuge and tried to get a couple of hours of sleep.  (This was very difficult because it was freezing!)
  • 9:000am: We walked down to the first refuge, were picked up and driven back to Riobamba to end our adventurous journey.
This is where I stayed on Friday evening . . . obviously an amazing view.

This is where I stayed on Friday evening . . . obviously an amazing view.

After going on my "walk," I relaxed by listening to some music at the top of the hill and looking at Chimborazo.

After going on my “walk,” I relaxed by listening to some music at the top of the hill and looking at gorgeous Chimborazo.

Several cute sheep hanging around the hostel.

There were several cute sheep that lived next to the hostel.

The incredible view from my room . . . for only $12/night.

The incredible view from my room for only $12/night.  Amazing.

These are the two guys from Australia that I met.  We all hiked together with our guides.

These are the two guys from Australia that I met, Garrick and Ron. We all hiked together with our guides.

Here is the food I bought for dinner, breakfast and hiking.  Note the Hershey bar that cost $1.50!  That was quite a splurge!

Here is the food I bought for dinner, breakfast and hiking.

This is the first refuge.  We ate downstairs and rested here for awhile before walking up to the second refuge.

This is the first refuge. We ate downstairs and rested here for awhile before walking up to the second refuge.

This was the sunset from the second refuge.  Look at how cool it was that we were above the clouds!

This was the sunset from the second refuge.

Ron, Garrick and I getting ready to embark on the journey up (part of) Chimborazo.

Ron, Garrick and I getting ready to embark on the journey up (part of) Chimborazo.

My wonderful guide, Fabian, who hikes Chimborazo 2 or 3 times each week!

Here I am with my wonderful guide, Fabian.  He hikes Chimborazo 2 or 3 times each week!  Holy cow!

You wondered what crampons are?  They're the spiky things that are on my boots here.

You wondered what crampons look like?  They’re the spiky things that are on my boots.  Interesting, huh?

Here I am - looking a little chilly.  But, I want you to notice that I was expected to walk through those rocks behind me - with the crampons on.  Yeesh!

Here I am – looking a little chilly.  I want you to notice that I was expected to walk through those rocks behind me – with the crampons. Yeesh!

Here is the picture of me after I surrendered to the mountain and decided not to hike anymore.  At least I was still happy!

Here is the picture of me after I surrendered to the mountain and decided not to hike anymore.  At least I was still happy!

We had a perfectly full moon during the hike.  This picture is at about 6:30am, when the sun was coming up.  The moon is amazing and you can see how high we were since the clouds are all below us.

We had a perfectly full moon during the hike. It was so bright, we didn’t have to use our headlamps.  This picture was taken at 6:30am.  The moon was still amazing and you can see how high we were since the clouds are all below us.

Top 10 Best Things about Ecuador

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Oh my goodness . . . how did it get to the point where I only had 32 days left in Ecuador?  The days seem to be going by rather quickly and it’s already June!  Eek!

While many of you have read about my roller coaster of emotions and the period of time when I did not enjoy Ecuador, now I am loving many things in this amazing country.  (See?  I am a roller coaster!)  So, I thought I’d make a list of the things that are special about Ecuador, so you can get a small taste of why I love living here these days.  Here we go!

Top 10 Best Things about Ecuadordollar coin

10: THE VALUE OF A DOLLAR  In Ecuador, it is amazing how far a dollar can go.  The other volunteers and I have discussed how valuable even 25 cents can be these days.  Here are some examples of what I can buy with a dollar: 1 taxi ride, a soda and a small snack, 4 quimbolitos (a tasty cake-like snack), 1 hamburger, 2 humitas, 5 bags of palomitas (my new, favorite sweet snack), 4 bus rides, 2 shoeshines, or a movie.  Now, do you see why a dollar is so valuable here?  I love it.

hammock9. “MAS O MENOS” Where do I begin with this phrase?  To translate this phrase into English, is means “more or less.”  This phrase is used so often and it displays the flexibility and relaxed atmosphere of the culture.  For example, I could say, “Let’s meet for dinner at 7:00pm – mas or menos.”  This would give us each about 15 minutes on either side of 7:00pm to meet.  It makes things much less rushed and feels so nice to have as a part of my life these days.almuerzo  Look!  You can even see how relaxed I am in the picture on the left!

8. ALMUERZO This word means “lunch” in English, but has a totally different significance in Ecuador.  While dinner is the biggest meal of the day in the U.S., it is lunch for Ecuadorians.  Lunch always consists of soup, rice and juice.  In addition to those staples, we usually have any combination of meat, chicken or fish, vegetables, plantains, and potatoes.  The Ecuadorian family unit is represented well during this time of day.  Many families leave work around 1:00pm and return to their house to have lunch together.  This also means that oftentimes extended family comes over too.  For example, in my house a typical lunch consists of the mom, dad, son, daughter-in-law, sister, empleada, and me.  That’s a lot of people, but it’s pretty neat to see how everyone comes together in the middle of the day and returns to work around 3:00pm.  I have often wondered what it would be like in the U.S. to leave work in the middle of the day to spend time with family and then return to work.  Would it be a good thing to have a break from work mid-day?  I think it might. 🙂

7. TAXIS Riding in a taxi is always an adventure – for many reasons.  First off, I might get a taxi driver that is very chatty, completely silent, or on occasion, drunk.  But, what I have loved most is when I have gotten into a cab and the driver has his wife and child in the passenger seat.  This might sound strange, but I think it is really sweet.  It is an opportunity for the family to spend time together, during work hours.  Also, you might find it interesting to know that 99% of taxis have a “carpet” on the dashboard and a small rug on the backseat.  It is fascinating to see the style of carpeting each driver chooses . . . it shows his/her personality a bit. 🙂  And finally, driving in Ecuador is completely different than in the United States.  There are dividing lines on some roads, but this is rare.  Therefore, the drivers are able to “work it out” and know where and when to drive.  This might seem unsafe at first, but I love it because everyone is aware of everything – so I think it’s safer overall.  Plus, it’s not uncommon for someone to stop in the middle of the street, make a u-turn or do something else completely erratic – but because the other drivers expect the unexpected – they are ready for it.  It’s pretty cool to see.

sidewalk6. EXTREME SPORTS – AND SIDEWALKS  What?!?  Well, look at this picture of a sidewalk and  you can understand why I categorize them with the extreme sports that are available in Ecuador. 🙂  Surprisingly, I have now found the challenge of walking to be charming.  I never know if I have to hop over a hole, sidestep some dog poop or walk off of the sidewalk to avoid trash.  Moving onto extreme sports . . . things such as bridge jumping, canyoning, and zip-lining are offered here.  These are all fun activities, but a little crazy, if you ask me!  Many of you saw this link on another post, but I figured I’d link it again just so show you all how lucky I am to still be alive here in Ecuador after trying an extreme sport.  This was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done!  This is called canyoning. Check this out!  choclo

5. BUS TRIPS Oh the bus trips in Ecuador!  First off, check out this link to a bus schedule that has been very useful during my time in Ecuador.  I love the bus system here because without it, I would have had very few travel opportunities.  The buses are amazingly convenient and easy to navigate and are often an adventure.  And, as I have mentioned before, vendors get on and off of the buses selling a wide-variety of items.  From empanadas to ice cream . . . most everything can be purchased on a bus.  (However, I have yet to see pizza being sold on bus yet, which I think would be a very wise item to sell!) Here is a picture of some corn on the cob I bought on the bus one day. 🙂  On a more embarrassing note, I must admit that I often feel motion-sick on buses have become best friends with Dramamine on most of my trips.  However, the one time I chose not to use my best friend, I was the one on the bus that threw up.  Yep.  That was me . . . throwing up in a bag.  Disgusting, I know.

ceviche4: THE VARIETY OF FOOD AND DRINK SOLD ON THE STREET  Ecuadorians take pride in their diverse cuisine.  Therefore, most dishes are delicious and have been prepared with lots of love – and sometime with unclean hands – but . . . maybe that add to the occasional “uniqueness” of the cuisine.  In all seriousness though, I really enjoy most Ecuadorian food.  I can easily walk down the street and choose from a wide variety of foods and drinks such as: hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled plantains, pinchos (shish kebobs), candy apples, coconut juice, mangoes, tamales, ceviche (pictured to the left), salchipapas, humitas, quimbolitos, llapingachos, chocolate covered strawberries, juice, hornado, and candy.  Generally, the food and drinks cost anywhere from 25 cents to one dollar.  Can you see why this is one of my favorite things about Ecuador? cartoon

3. SPANISH As many of you know, I have been trying to learn Spanish for awhile now.  Trying.  While I have developed an amazing friendship with my Spanish teacher and his family, I have to admit that I am not a good student.  Learning a language is really hard for me!  Plus, I go through phases when I study outside of class and other times when I don’t.  But oftentimes, I just don’t make the time to learn Spanish other than during my class.  With that being said, I have not learned as much Spanish as I would have liked during my time here, but maybe I’ll find some opportunities to practice when I return to St. Louis.  Or,  since I still have a month to learn . . . maybe I will maximize that.  (The guy in the cartoon is exactly how I feel sometimes.)

tortise2. MOUNTAINS, VOLCANOES, WATERFALLS . . . AND MORE!  OH, AND THAT FAMOUS PLACE CALLED THE GALAPAGOS.  The flora and fauna in Ecuador is incredible.  Ecuador’s mainland is unique because it has three specific areas: the coast (beaches), the sierra (mountains and volcanoes) and the oriente (the jungle). Plus, Ecuador also has the incredible Galapagos islands, which I had the pleasure to visit with a friend at the beginning of May.  To the left is a picture of us with a tortoise.  There is also a city nearby, called Banos, that I have enjoyed visiting.  It is beautiful and there is always something different to experience in the city.  For example, here is a video of some waterfalls I recently saw in Banos.  Check out this and this.  Amazing, huh?students

1. ECUADORIAN PEOPLE . . . PARTICULARLY MY STUDENTS Ecuadorians are amazing and (most) have a wonderful heart!  The students I have had the pleasure of teaching these past 7 months have been wonderful.  Their hearts are simply an extension of the Ecuadorian culture.  For example, when you meet someone, say hello or goodbye, you always kiss the other person on the cheek.  This is just one example of what many of you have heard of as a “hot-climate” culture.  (By the way, if you want to learn a little more about that, click here.)  My students and I have been able to learn together and have fun – at the same time.  And, I don’t want you to think that all of the time has been rosy with my students, as there have definitely been some difficult moments.  However, overall, the students that I have met are one of my favorite things about Ecuador.  Oh, and it you’re bored today, here is a link to a video of me teaching my students.  It is LONG because it was a requirement for me to videotape myself teaching for WorldTeach.  Anyway . . . without a doubt – after the other 9 items on my top 10 list – Ecuadorians are by far the best thing about Ecuador. 🙂

 Please write me a comment and I will read it and reply to you.  Plus . . . I love hearing from you guys!

  • If you were to write a “Top 10 List,” what would it be about and what would be #1?

 

Mis Meses en Ecuador . . .

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Hello there!  While I was out of town the past two weeks, I had an idea to write a post summarizing the events from my months in Ecuador thus far.  I thought it would be fun for me to reflect on my time here and hoped you might enjoy it too!  Here we go!

equatorIn September . . .

  • I arrived in Quito, Ecuador for my 10 month adventure of living and teaching abroad.
  • WorldTeach had orientation for 33 volunteers for four weeks to teach us about Ecuador and how to teach English.
  • four other volunteers and I rode the teleferico up to the top of a mountain in Quito.
  • my host mom, Susy, and I visited the equator and had a wonderful time!

In October . . .pajaro.1

  • I moved to Riobamba.
  • my host sister and I went to my first Ecuadorian soccer game.
  • another volunteer and I traveled to Manta and Isla de la Plata (the beach) and saw the famous Ecuadorian birds called Blue-Footed Boobies.
  • I took my first – of MANY – bus trips.
  • two other volunteers and I traveled to the city, Banos, for one day.

In November . . .

  • I started teaching my first English classes at my school, University of San Francisco.
  • my Spanish classes with my teacher, Cesar, began.

In December . . .chimborazo

  • I spent a few hours with friends from the U.S. in Quito.
  • some friends and I climbed part of the amazing volcano, Chimborazo.
  • I traveled to the U.S. to spend time with family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s.
  • I acted and danced in my first Spanish play – A Christmas Carol.

In January . . .

  • I began teaching new English classes.
  • I went to Esmeraldes (the beach) for a WorldTeach meeting.

dancingIn February . . .valentines day

  • my students celebrated Valentine’s Day.
  • I danced in my second Spanish play – Hawaiian Adventure.
  • I celebrated the Ecuadorian holiday of Carnaval.
  • three other volunteers and I visited Tena (the jungle) and went whitewater rafting.
  • I began feeling homesick and missed family and friends in the U.S. – a lot. 😦

robinsonIn March . . .

  • the students at my school decorated AMAZING Easter Eggs.
  • I had vacation time and took a cruise with my parents.
  • I felt very homesick and contemplated leaving Ecuador early to return to the U.S.  But then . . .
  • I found out that I would be returning to Robinson (the previous school where I taught) to teach fifth grade. 🙂

In April . . .bolones

  • I took a last minute trip with a friend to visit Cuenca (the sierra).
  • my Spanish teacher’s wife, Paty, taught me how to make bolones. (Here is a recipe!)  Yum!
  • I danced in 15 Latin American dances (with the other teachers) for the students at my school.
  • a student, friend and I went canyoning.  Check out this video.  Yikes!

galapagosIn May . . .

  • my friend and I visited the Galapagos for five, incredible days.
  • I visited Loja and Vilcabamba (the sierra).  Read about amazing Vilcabamba here.
  • I began my last teaching cycle and have 30 students – so far.  Yikes!sea lion

In June . . .

  • Oh yeah . . . I can’t write this one yet . . . but you can!
  • What are YOUR plans for June?  Reply to this post because I’d love to hear from you!
  • Plus, I’ll reply to you after reading your comment. 🙂

Yo soy una montana rusa!

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roller coasterYou might be wondering what the subject of this post means, right?  Let me tell you.  It means, “I am a roller coaster!”  I say this because I feel that over the past few months, my emotions have been quite similar to a roller coaster.  Yikes!  At some points, I have absolutely loved Ecuador.  But at other points, I felt like I was done and wanted to go back to the U.S.

And now . . . the good news!  While many tears were shed during those months, now I feel like my heart is peaceful and Ecuador is where I am supposed to live right now.  I feel like I am over the hump and am pleased to be here until July.  Yay!  If you knew where I came from recently, you would know that this truly deserves a celebration.  Seriously.

During the difficult times the past few months, I have to honestly tell you that I continued to experience God’s faithfulness.  Even when I didn’t feel like looking for God’s presence and was starting to give up on everything related to Ecuador, He was still with me.  Amazing . . . but not surprising.  Here are two situations where God continued to be by my side.  First, during the beginning of this teaching cycle when I was contemplating whether to return to the U.S. early because I felt horribly out of place and sad, God gave me a beautiful gift of security and predictability.  He secured a position for me to return to the same elementary school to teach this fall – Robinson.  This was an incredible comfort for me and settled my heart in amazing ways.  Next,  I received my two favorite groups of students this teaching cycle.  These students and I have connected and have fun and learn together – simultaneously.  There is a comfort with these students that I have not experienced with other students thus far in Ecuador.  And again, I believe this is another example of God’s faithfulness that has comforted my soul.

As I was reflecting the other day, I realized what a weird feeling it is to enjoy where I am living, while simultaneously craving another place too.  It’s hard to be caught in a place of tension between Ecuador and the U.S., but it is thought-provoking too.  I think I find it fascinating because each culture is very distinct and I am in awe that I can feel comfort in both locations.  I have a feeling that the tension between living comfortably in one place while desiring another is going to travel with me when I return to the U.S. in July.  I am going to miss Ecuador and that is difficult for me to digest.   So I begin to wonder, is there a way to combat this?  Unfortunately, I think that this tension is simply a part of the process when one lives in another country for an extended period of time and while it will fade over time, it will always be a part of who I am.

So, now what?  I soak in as much Ecuador as possible, right now, and happily anticipate the familiarity of the U.S. in a few, short months.  I work on “being present” and not rushing through my days, like I so often do.  I live . . . moment by moment, and do not worry about trivial things that can so often snowball into anxiety and worry for me.  I trust in my God and know that He has everything taken care of for me and know that He will continue to be faithful in everything Ecuador and everything U.S.

This morning, as I was walking to my Spanish class, I was thinking about how when I return to the U.S. I will (surprisingly) miss the blasting, dance music that shouts out of appliance store entrances . . . our stores in the U.S. just aren’t that hip. 🙂

As always, thanks for traveling on this journey with me.

Me . . . the Different One.

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eggI am the different one in Ecuador.  So my question is, “What does it feel like to live as a minority on a daily basis?”  Well, it feels a lot like these pictures.  Kind of adventurous, kind of lonely, and kind of awkward.

My intention in this post is not to throw a “pity party” for myself.  However, my intention is to communicate what it feels like living as a minority and for many of us to (hopefully) open our hearts to those we interact with on a daily basis, who are considered minorities.

After living in Ecuador for almost six months, I believe I can speak about what it feels like to be a minority.  Not only do I look different; I think, cartoonact, and speak differently too.  In a recent post about the things I love about Riobamba, I wrote about how sometimes I feel like a celebrity from the attention I get because I look different.  In parenthesis, I added that I have a love/hate relationship with this fact.  When I walk down the street, people often stare at me.  When I walk into a store, sometimes I am the one that a child stares at.  When I am out in public, I am often told at a later time that someone who knows me saw me in the street – because I am that recognizable.  As a result of my cultural upbringing, I often do things differently or expect other people to act differently.  As a teacher, I usually think and teach differently because I am have lived in a different culture for 95% of my life.  Sometimes these events are really funny and sometimes they are eye-opening for everyone involved, but sometimes they are uncomfortable and make me feel sad.  So I begin to ask myself the following questions:

  • Is it a disadvantage to be in the minority?  If so, why?
  • Can there be positive aspect about being a minority? If so, what?
  • Do some people thrive in the minority? If so, who? (I’d like to meet them!)

In the interest of keeping this post short, I will spare you with long, detailed stories.  However, if you’d like to hear more from me directly, just let me know via email.  Needless to say, my experience thus far has proven to be difficult.  But to take a different spin on things, maybe it does not have to be as difficult, or as negative, as I make it out to be.  Maybe I am thinking into things too much.  Or . . . maybe I am solely looking at things from my perspective and there is another way to view the situation.  And maybe, just maybe, there is as way I can use my “minority status” in a positive way to serve and love others.  After all, when I had an opportunity to teach English to indigenous children, my appearance definitely got their attention because I looked markedly different than everyone else in the school.  Plus, they might have even learned a little bit more as a result. (I sure hope so!)

When I return to the U.S. in July, I ask myself, “How will my temporary experience as a minority change my perspective about those who are living in cultures where they are in the minority – either temporarily or permanently?”  I wonder how my perspective will be different in two specific areas.  One area is with people originating from other countries or cultures, and another is with students in my classroom who are considered minorities.  Will I have a different sense of empathy for each individual?  Will I identify with them from a heart level, instead of just from my head?  Will I love them differently?

Ok . . . you knew it was coming, so here is your part. 🙂  Seriously though, I desire to hear your perspective and what you think about minorities in your culture.  Please write a comment and share your heart with me about any of the following questions.

  • How do you view and treat minorities in your life?
  • What can you do differently today to treat minorities differently?
  • Am I being too analytical and serious with my perspective of what it feels like to be a minority? (I tend to over-think things!)
  • How can I use my “minority status” to serve others in positive and loving ways?

Thoughts from Ecuador

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Meet my “host nephew” Gabrielito. He is so much fun! How could you resist this face? Muy guapo, si?

I noticed it’s been awhile since I’ve posted thoughts about my time in Ecuador.  I know I’ve recently written about a couple of great trips I’ve taken, but that’s just “stuff,” not what is really going on inside of me.  So . . . here you go – your glimpse inside my head and heart.  Proceed with caution. 🙂

I have been in Ecuador for a little over 8 weeks . . . that is a long time!  It’s hard to imagine that it’s been about two months since I’ve seen family, friends, my dog . . . and been able to drive.  While I miss those aspects of my life, my brain has been working to try to make sense of my current life and the new experiences here.  It’s strange being in a place where I feel comfortable and life feels familiar because of my routines, but yet it is all so unfamiliar at the same time.  Most everything is new and I’m not sure my brain knows how to process all of this yet.

I was thinking the other night about how I got here.  Meaning, how I got to the point in my life where I wanted to live in another country for an extended period of time.  Here’s the brief overview.  After visiting Central America several times in the past few years, I started to notice a passion inside of me for the Latin American culture and the possibility of using my teaching experience to educate those in need.  This past spring, God placed it heavily on my heart that now was the time to follow this passion.  So, I did . . . and, here I am . . . living in Ecuador.  (By the way, the decision wasn’t quite that easy, but I just wanted to give you the brief overview, remember?)

Someone asked me the other day if Riobamba feels like home yet and my answer was no.  That made me wonder what it takes for a place to feel like home.  I like the city, my Ecuadorian family is wonderful, and the school where I’ll be teaching seems great.  But, I don’t wake up with warm and fuzzy feelings as if this is my home.  Then I wonder, did I wake-up with those feelings in St. Louis?  I don’t know.  Do you?  In Riobamba, I feel comfortable, cared for, and safe, but it is not home . . . yet.  So, that leaves me thinking that I am not sure what it really takes for a place to feel like home.  Does it happen in 10 months?  It that an unrealistic hope?  What does it really take to call a place home?

And . . . how does living in a country that speaks another language fit into all of this?  Gratefully, I do feel like my Spanish has improved since I’ve been in Ecuador.  At the same time, however, Spanish has been hard for me lately.  I don’t feel like I am learning much Spanish during my weekly lessons and have realized that I need to be challenged differently.  With that being said, I am planning on finding a new Spanish teacher and hope for a positive change.  Obviously, when there is a communication barrier in any scenario, it can be difficult to connect and feel like you are valued . . . because you really aren’t sure.  So, now I wonder if strengthening my communciation is one of the key components to Riobamba feeling like home.

And, to conclude . . . I begin teaching on Monday.  Wow . . . it’s hard to imagine that the time is finally here!  After a month of orientation and a month of observing other teachers, the first day of classes is so close!  I am excited . . . and nervous.  I have been assigned to teach Level 7 English classes.  At my school, there are 8 levels (plus a few additional methodology classes), so this means that the students in my classes should be rather proficient with English.  At some point after I get into the teaching routine, I’ll let you know how things are going.

I know this post was long.  Thanks for sticking with me.  As you may have realized, I have a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head these days.  If you have any advice to share with me about my time here, I would love to hear from you.  Hasta luego mis amigos!