Buenos días amigos!
I have officially been abroad for six weeks! I know it's a cliché, but they exist for a reason...Time doesn't just fly when you're enjoying the thrills of life, it soars. In one of my Spanish classes this semester, my professor asks us to start off every day by explaining something new that we have experienced since arriving in Ecuador. Then we proceed to talk about the challenges and/or blessings that come out of these experiences. I personally have found this to be a brilliant way of reflecting on my semester in Ecuador thus far, so I will be using this approach for my blog post about Ecuadorian family life.
Something new: Living with a host family
The first obvious difference I have noticed between living in the US and living in Ecuador is that for this program, it is required to live with a host family. Although this may not seem like a big deal, living with a parent(s) means having to follow house rules - something I must say I have not missed about living with friends at college. Just like everywhere else in the world, each family you encounter in Ecuador has different house rules, some being stricter than others. For example, the rules I have to follow in my host mom's house include:
1) Always having my phone on me in case of emergencies
2) Telling my mom where I'm going if I'm hanging out with friends or exploring nearby towns
3) Keeping my room relatively clean (although we do have a maid, Lily, who comes Monday-Friday)
4) Coming home sober (no chumado) at a decent hour
5) Washing my dishes when Lily isn't around
Truth be told, these rules are not that difficult to follow. Having said that, it can feel a little stifling at times to recognize that if I want to hang out with friends, I still have to tell my mom where I'm going and approximately when I'll be back. It's a little bit like reliving high school in that sense, but on the whole, house rules have not been abrasive or limiting.
Another unique aspect (of many) of my host family is that although I have three hermanos mayores (older brothers) here and two nietos (one nephew and one niece), I only live with my host mom. Since my brothers are all grown up and married with kids, my host mom is more akin to a grandmother than a mother. That takes a little getting used to because she is more traditional than I am accustomed to: she enjoys watching TV during dinner and our house is filled with breakable china dishes and crystal goblets. Because of this, it sometimes feels like I'm living in a hotel rather than in a house. Nevertheless, it is starting to feel like home.
Something new: Religious devotion
Another intriguing aspect of family life in Ecuador is the type of religious zeal (or lack thereof) each host family has. Although I have met other students whose host parents are not religious in any way, my family is devoutly Catholic. By this, I mean that my mom goes to mass every day of the week at 7am. My eldest brother, Johnny, admits he is not as devoutly Catholic, only going on average three times a week... I, on the other hand, usually don't go to mass when I'm at school, so living in such a religious environment has been very different. While I've been in Ecuador, however, I've realized that going to mass on Sundays is an easy (and honestly enjoyable) way to connect with my host mom. In addition, since the masses are entirely in Spanish, it's a great opportunity to practice my Spanish listening skills while learning certain prayers in Spanish, including the Padre Nuestro, Ave María and el Credo.
Praying before meals (with prayer cards) is important in my home as well, so my mom uses that as a way to make me practice my Spanish oration. Although it's a little nerve-wracking at first because I don't want to butcher the prayers, I've realized that everybody knows I am here to improve my Spanish skills, so nobody really cares when I inevitably misspeak. As the saying goes, "If you never fail, you can never learn."
Something new: Emphasis on family
Spending time with the family is of the utmost importance in Ecuador. Never does a week pass when I do not eat lunch or dinner or run errands with each of my brothers, their families, and my mom. Most weekends, Sunday is a family day spent going to the park or the mall together after mass. In reality, however, every day is spent cherishing our relationships with each other. Extroverts will absolutely love the constant energy and closeness of family life they will experience in Ecuador. For those of us who are introverts, on the other hand, this extreme emphasis on family can go from being enjoyable to ridiculously tiring within a few seconds, so be aware of your limits. It is completely acceptable to let your host family know when you have not had time to finish your homework, when you already made plans with friends or when you really just need a breather. They understand there are cultural differences, but you may have to continuously remind them that you need time for yourself.
Keeping all of this in mind, I have appreciated how effusively I have been welcomed into the family. My brother calls me “ñaña,” a term of endearment meaning “sister,” and my host mom has started calling me “mi hija,” which means “my daughter.” Having a strong support system while abroad makes it easier to adjust to potential challenges while also easing the pain of homesickness. And one day, out of the blue, you’ll wake up and realize that Ecuador is home.
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<p>I love writing, specifically about the relationship between humans and the environment. Not only have I written a number of self-help articles, but I have also written (and plan to write many more) poems about this crucial topic. Because the environment is very important to me and creative writing is one of my passions, I find that putting the two together keeps me happy, satisfied, and feeling both empowered and capable of changing other people's opinions about their relationship to the world around them.</p>