So it’s been about a month now since I left Arizona for Spain. I’d like to say that I’m settling in pretty nicely thus far. Fortunately I haven’t really had any extreme culture shock. My host family is great and everyone has received me with open arms and smiles. One cool thing I’ve noticed so far here is that it is a very intimate and interpersonal culture…if they know you hehe. People don’t hesitate to greet you with two kisses (one on either cheek) and, in some cases, the “personal space bubble” that we have in the US is nonexistent when talking to someone. Barcelona is an awesome city and, thanks to two friends that I knew prior to coming, I’ve gotten to know many important and historical sites around the city. So far I’d have to say that my favorite part about being here is how my Spanish is improving exponenially. Everyday my vocabulary is growing because of context in situations when I’m out with my friends or just talking with members of my host family. I bought an Español-Inglés pocket dictionary and it has become a very useful resource when I want to figure out how to say those random words that nobody knows how to say hehe. Oh and by the way, YES I did see a Barça game. Amazing experience. I have a ticket to one more in December and already cannot wait for it! Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze in one more before my three months is up!
It’s such an awesome feeling to finally be at this point. Something I’ve talked about doing for well over two years now is about to become a reality. Tomorrow I make my 15 hour trek eastward and by Thursday I will have stepped foot on European soil for the first time in my life. I don’t even know how I feel right now. It still doesn’t seem real just yet. It’s bittersweet as I’ll be leaving my loved ones for a while, but at the same time I’ll be taking on new experiences in a completely different world and saying that I’m excited would be a complete understatement. Later Phoenix! I’ll see ya soon…
This is my last week here in Ecuador. Saying it has been an amazing experience would be a complete understatement. I have learned so much about life and about myself as a person while meeting awesome people along the way! Today we hiked up Cotopaxi, a volcano here in Ecuador. It was probably one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life! The elevation here in this national park was already proving to be tough for me and today I pushed myself to the limit to see just what I was capable of. After suiting up in three pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, six articles of upper-body clothing, two beanies, and a pair of gloves I went up the side of the mountain to a refuge, where many tourists stop on the trek up the volcano. If I had to describe the experience in one word I would probably choose…..FREEZING!! Thanks to my eight years living in Arizona my blood has thinned out to the max and today I would say that I made my state proud by hiking in ridiculously cold temperatures with an unforgiving windchill! Tomorrow we head back to where this amazing trip started; Quito. There we’ll do some bike riding and rock climbing and other activities to finish off this amazing trip. Ecuador has treated me very well and has given me a great first impression of South America. I hope to find myself back here someday, but for now I’m anticipating that bittersweet arrival back to the states! Pictures to show and stories to tell for days!…
So the last two weeks have been interesting to say the least. We spent them putting in tons of hours of work to help out a community that really could use a complete overhaul. Working in Puerto El Morro really opened up my eyes. I was never raised to take things for granted but after having spent 14 days in an extremely underdeveloped community and seeing the issues that will probably take generations to resolve, I definitely have a different view on my life back home. We worked mostly on construction projects on the school grounds; building foundations, mixing concrete, etc. It definitely puts things into perspective and I am so glad that I had the experience that I did. Saying bye to the people of the community was so bittersweet. The children of the schools put on a show for us as we approached our last night. After an afternoon of songs and dancing we relaxed some more and then hung out on our own into the late hours of the night before finally heading to our rooms and calling it quits. This morning we had one last goodbye to the smaller kids who we taught English to, and they literally would not let us go! It was so sad, but they showered us with gifts of appreciation and I’ll never forget that town or those people. We finally got to the first hotel (with wifi! :D) of the trip, and now the adventure tour finally starts and I’m ready to have a bunch of fun that I’ll seriously never forget. Today our tour leader read us our itinerary for the following two weeks and it was so overwhelming. I have no words for what we’re about to experience. I’ll just have to take a ton of pictures and tell stories when I get back home!
Today was the first day of the actual volunteer work. It was an awesome experience. Puerto El Morro is a slowly growing small community that needs a lot of help. The key to the growth is always having the idea of “sustainable development” in the back of our minds which means we must help to make a difference that lasts for more than a generation. Today we helped move quite a bit of soil in the morning, and in the afternoon myself and another member of my group tought English to a group of about six adults. They were very appreciative of it and seemed really anxious for the next session. I really enjoyed myself and can´t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us!!
One flight and a two hour bus ride later we´ve finally arrived at our project site. Yesterday we met up with the other group members at the airport in Guayaquil and then headed further out to the coast to a small and extremely humble community called Puerto El Morro. Last night I could already feel the warmth of the people as they welcomed us with dinner and then dancing and a soccer match in the center of the town. We took a tour of the community today and saw everything that we´d be working on for the next two weeks. Getting to see life through these people´s eyes is absolutely incredible and really puts things into perspective as to what we have back home in the states. I can´t wait to start working to make a difference in the community. Seeing the works of previous ISV groups just makes it that much more motivating because it shows that anything is possible in any circumstances with the right people and the right attitudes.
So day six is coming to a close here in Quito. I must say that this past week has been absolutely incredible and coming to Ecuador has been an amazing way to get my first taste of South America. This is an amazing city and I can honestly say that it’s been a good while since I’ve had this much fun. Here, I fit in seamlessly with everyone else and I couldn’t be any happier about it! This first week has given me unforgettable experience and I cannot wait for more. However, there is a time for work just as there is a time for play. It’s been all fun and games here since last Friday but tomorrow things get serious! We will leave Quito and head to Guayaquil, where I’ll meet up with another group leader who will take me to my project site for the next two weeks. Can’t wait to meet my second host family and all of the wonderful people I’ll come in contact with over the next two weeks! The volunteering will certainly be a life changing experience that I shall never forget!
So technically today is my third full day here and I just wanted to make a note about one of the cultural differences that has stood out to me the most since my arrival…..FOOD!!!!!! I feel like I could go on for days about this. These people really know how to eat; Or at least my host mother does. She is an incredible cook and there has not been a single meal that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed thus far. Typically Ecuadorians have three meals per day with an optional snack in between lunch and dinner. We usually start off with breakfast at seven, have lunch at around noon and dinner at about six or seven in the evening. Lunch is definitely the biggest meal of the day, and it’s typically started off with some sort of soup and bread, followed by the main course and then a small pastry or other dessert. Quito has been so good to me so far. I have another salsa class to go to in a bit and I’m so excited for it! I think that’s all for now, though. It’s been much easier to connect to the internet now that I found out my host family has wifi so i’ll be back later to right more! :)
Saying that this has been an amazing journey thus far would be an absolute understatement. Day two is coming to a close and I can honestly say that it has been the best possible first impression of any destination I have been to. We were greeted at the airport by an ISV staff member who is such a lively character to say the least and has been nothing but helpful to all of us. My host mom, Lorena, is such a sweet lady with a big heart! So far we’ve been all over Quito, to the equator, and up one of the highest points to get an incredible view of the city…4100 meters…as if i know how much that is in feet haha!…. This is seriously an experience that words cannot even begin to describe. Everything from the food to salsa lessons has been totally awesome. Oh and the best part is that my friends in my group have officially established me as the translator of the group ;) Going to try and write as often as possible when I have internet access! Can’t wait for all of the fun that lies ahead! :)
One thing that I’ve learned since coming to the University is that there is a large population of international students. Many come to the states for a number of reasons; international business, global economics, or even just to learn English. The most important factor in learning any language is immersion. There is only so much you can learn in a classroom. Your proficiency is highly dependent on how much you surround yourself with the language. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to travel…..YET. However people often confuse me for a native and, if not, they assume that I’ve lived in a Spanish-speaking country for quite some time. However, that is not the case. I believe that anyone can become fluent in a language without traveling to a country that speaks the target language. In fact, I know that anyone can become fluent in another language without traveling to a country that speaks the target language. After studying Spanish formally for four years in high school, I practiced when and where I could; soccer fields, restaurants, jobs, etc. After a while I decided it wasn’t enough so for a period of about a year I did nothing but listen to music in Spanish, watch TV in Spanish, and speak even more often than I had been speaking. It takes a lot of drive and persistence, and most people aren’t willing to do all of that. As a language student at my university, I pick up on a lot of everyday linguistic features that usually go unnoticed by business or chem majors. Here at ASU, there is a high middle-eastern population. It’s easy to pick up on because these students always hang out with each other. Sadly, only a few of them will actually master English. Why? Because these students are a prime example of those students who go to another country and fail to immerse themselves because, rather than interacting with the locals, they only interact with people who speak their language. Sure, they take beginner English classes. However, their ability to effectively communicate in English will be sub-par. The same principle applies for Americans going to Europe to study for a semester or year and coming back and not having made any progress in Italian, Spanish, French or whatever language it was they were studying. This is because they only spent their time with Americans or speakers of English. In my opinion, it’s a comfort thing. Getting out of your box and interacting with the natives will be the most effective thing you can do. Whether you’re in your home country or abroad, immersion is key. Surround yourself with something unfamiliar and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.