Friday, March 12, 2010

Kathryn E.-Quito, Ecuador-Spring 2010

When I arrived in Quito, Ecuador´s capital, my host mother met me at the airport. She lives in an apartment with her 23 year old son, who attends the same university as I do during the night. I'm very lucky to live right next to the supermarket, movie theatre, and mall. Also the metro stops directly in front of the stairs leading to my apartment.

One of the best things about Ecuador is that there are a variety of great places to travel, and travel is cheap. A two hour bus ride into a mountain town is only two dollars, and the metro and regular buses are only a quarter each. You can always find a good meal for under $5.00 if you aren’t too picky. You do have to make sure that the food is safe, though, and whether or not you eat anything bad most people have some stomach discomfort at least once during their stay. Chifles (Chee-flays), or banana chips, are about the only safe homemade food that you can buy from street venders. In Mindo the safe place to zip line costs $10.00 for thirteen cables and I hope to take advantage of that again because it was one of the coolest things I have ever done.

In school I am doing well because I understand about 90 percent of what people are saying; however, my literature class is a bit difficult because the language is so much more formal and they sometimes use obscure words or regional dialects to set the scene (many of which are not in the dictionary). I am giving English lessons to my Math teacher for an hour after class because I have nothing to do between my morning math class and my other classes.
Because I am in the service-learning program, I have 5 classes (Monday, weds, Friday) and I am an assistant teacher and sometimes substitute in a school called Colegio America Latina on Tuesday and Thursday.

Differences in eating style are that we have juice all of the time, and that lunch is usually very large and eaten at 2 or 3pm with dinner being very small if not only a snack. There are also a lot of weird fruits to try. You cannot flush the toilet paper, that is why there is always a trashcan (ew). You can only drink bottled water, but that’s not too annoying. There is a lot of pollution (like visible black smoke trailing the buses). Nothing opens before 10am and everything but clubs and restaurants begin to close around 8pm. Sun block and bug spray are about $15.00 a bottle, which is really expensive for here, but you can buy DVDs for two dollars (ka-ching!).

Also, time is an absolute mystery because when people say “right now” it could mean anything from five minutes ago to an hour from now. This is very annoying when my host mother says we are leaving ´right now´ and we do not leave for another twenty to forty minutes. Everyone is like this, and there is hardly ever a clock in any room, including university classrooms.
I know that we are supposed to try and make friends, but really it is nearly impossible in a university where they have on average 200 foreign students. The Ecuadorian students know that we are leaving in four months and do not attempt to become close to us, which I understand. I am, however, getting along very well with my program group. We travel almost every weekend, and have even gone to the rainforest.

People are pick pocketed on the bus, but it is nothing to worry about if you watch your stuff; however you need to take a secure taxi at night. Also, at night they do rob people in certain areas (near the mall). I saw that almost happen last night to some kid down the street. The law does not mean a lot here. There are legitimate stores full of pirated movies every other block and no one does anything to them. People steal and sell dogs all of the time. Minimum wage is not enforced (partly because no one would be able to pay minimum wage and half of the people of Ecuador would be laid off if they enforced it). Also, police will not protect you from being robbed. Businesses and apartment buildings hire security guards because the police do not do their job sufficiently. Also, security guards are serious. They have the right under the law to shoot and kill robbers.

Really, though, if you are not stupid Ecuador is a much less violent country than the United States. They will rob you on the bus but they are much less likely to shoot you afterwards.
I like being in Ecuador a lot because I love to travel with my group on the weekends and see different things. My host mom is very friendly and I get along very well with the other girls. My service work is fun and valuable experience for my future in education, plus I like kids. That´s about it for right now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what you are doing is absolutely awesome first off. also, the fact that you are tutoring one of your teachers is hilarious but amazing at the same time. The differences in the amount of money for items there is so interesting to me. It must be so weird to only have to pay such a small amount of money for things there compared to back in the U.S. I bet it's going to be hard to adjust when you come back! Sounds like you are having a lot of fun and that you have been able to get involved in some fun and unforgetable activities!

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like your experience is amazing! It seems like you are forming great relationships with different people in Ecuador. I was wondering if it bothers you that you haven't made many friends with any Ecuador students because they know that you will be leaving soon anyways? Also, you sound like you are having a lot of fun but it also sounds like you are also very busy. How do you find the actual toughness of your classes? Are they comparable to the classes that you have taken at Elmhurst, or are they more difficult, minus the different language. Thanks!


3:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for blogging Kathryn. When i study abroad next fall I will be staying with a host family too. What were the first few weeks like while you and your new family were getting adjusted to each other?

Laura M.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Abby Powers said...

Hi Kathryn,

I am a student at EC, and I recently applied for IPSL's India program; I hope to travel during the Fall Term 2010.

I notice that you said that you, also, are part of a service-learing program. Which program did you travel through?

It sounds like you have "homestay" accomodations as well; I am sort of shy, and, honestly, this aspect (homestay with an Indian family) has me a little worried! How long did it take you to adjust to living with your host family?

Also, did you experiece culture shock at all?

Anyway, you sound as if you are having a ton of fun! I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay!

Abby Powers

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the first comment was by me
sorry for the confusion
Stacey Constantine

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Christina A. said...

You sound like you're having a good time...

What is one thing you didn't bring that you could use or vice versa?

Also, what's the perception of Americans as students in Ecuador?

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Jacob Stelter said...

Hey Kathryn,
Your experiences sound fantastic. it must be quite the immersion. Such a different way of life. I am an EC student going to study in Spain this summer and was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to sign up for classes when you arrive or how you choose them. You seem to have a busy schedule, but it sounds so cool! I am looking forward to my experience! Have a great rest of your time there!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Tyna said...


Reading your current experiences online have been so inspiring. I especially like your comment regarding the Ecuadorian opininion of time. In Guatemala it was the same way.

How did you choose to study in Ecuador and is it the program that goes through Elmhurst or through another study abroad program? (if the latter, which one?)

I also wanted to ask a question very similar to Jacob Shelter's. I too wanted to ask you about how you chose classes and a description of the process in general. Are all your classes in Spanish and can some of your class credits be applied to a major other than Spanish or elective credits?

Thank you for blogging and sharing your experiences. It truly helps other students, especially those on the fence about studying abroad or where to travel to.


3:17 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

I was wondering if Spanish is a necessity there? Do you really need it or do a lot of people know English?

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting. Yeah, it is awesome how cheaply you can travel, but it still adds up. Totally worth it though.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have my group to travel with just about every weekend, so it is not like I am without friends. Also, the classes are about the same as Elmhurst if not sometimes a bit easier. However, it depends on what you take. The biology and ecology courses are very hard.

My host family situation is very easy. Im mostly only with my host mother because her son is out. -Only one girl that I know of has had problems (pertaining to food and water issues). Most of these people are used to having foreigners in their homes, so they know how to handle it and they wont harrass you about going out.

India sounds amazing! I definitely want to go there. Im in the IPSL program and we are mostly working in schools(although some are special needs). When it comes to the host family, just try to be polite. They are used to having foreigners in their homes. I really dont feel any culture shock. Things are different sometimes, it doesnt shock me. this depends on where you go and your own personality. Some people cant leave home for more than three days without an emotional breakdown. You are the best judge on yourself.

Christina A.,
I left my favorite clothes at home because someone told me that they would be ruined in Ecuador´s awful washing machines, but that is not true for any of the girls I know. In fact, despite the poverty here, just about everyone wears brand name jeans either from the extremely overpriced mall (over US prices) or from the pirated market. Appearance is very important here.
As for the perception of US students, most people have a friendly attitude. There are more problems between black ecuadorians, indigenous people, and mestizos than with either of them and white/gringos (not a bad word here). Ecuador actually has a lot of Germans who come for service. Also a lot of Germans our grandparents age moved in a long time ago.
Sometimes the stereotype that girls are easy if they hang out in the bars, but unfortunately that is because some of the exchange students really are here just to party.

Jacob and Tyna,
I was able to sign up online at this university before I even came to the country; however, with my service component I needed to change a bit.I was able to have my director talk to a math teacher to get me into the class. In order to get 4 full EC credits, I need 5 classes. All are in spanish, so I recieve 4 spanish credits. I´ll also get credits for the classe themselves.

If you guys have jobs right now, or sports, I wouldnt worry about having plenty of time while you are abroad.
I chose Ecuador because I need to learn spanish and because I had come here before twice in high school with Habitat for Humanity. Plus they own the Galapagos --although I wont be going.
I chose the IPSL program, which has a service-work component. They also take us on a trip to the jungle, and to visit an indigenous village in the mountains this weekend. The worst part about the program is their once a week 4 hour class.


4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Very few people speak English. They teach English in many gradeschools, but unfortunately the quality of education in Ecuador is very poor, one of the worst in Latin America. It really is necessary to have some understanding if you are going to live here.

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Christina A. said...

Has there been any culture shock in relation to race relations? Maybe not with you particularly, but with other races/ethnicities getting along?

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christina A.
Regarding race relations, this problem exists everywhere and always. Two of my courses actually focus on sociology in Ecuador, and so I hear a lot about it. One thing is, it is better to be whiter, but if you are a foreigner then everyone assumes that you are rich and tries to charge you four times the normal cost of everything (not an exaggeration). Also, most of the population identifies as mestizo but don´t want to be in anyway referred to as indigenous at all. There are a lot of indigenous here, but the mixed people all want to be seen as more european than indigenous. On TV, the only time you see indigenous or black people are on US shows, cheap comedy, and the news. Blacks are not well liked either, black city people are ´dangerous´and black country people are ´friendly but not so bright´. That is the general idea. Also, everything that comes from Columbia is wonderful, except for the people who are drug smuggling thieves (the common stereotype here).


9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

another indication of race problems, in the University here, the only black people are from the United States.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any tips for selecting classes? I'm majoring in Spanish but I'm a little nervous about the classes. Do you suggest taking all classes in Spanish, or just a few of them?

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kathryn!

Ecuador sounds amazing! How were you affected when you first arrived? Did you experience culture shock? What was the hardest part about it? I hope you continue to have an awesome time!
-Catie C.

6:15 PM  

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