I originally intended to just make a bonus section at the end of this blog post examining a couple of things I have learned while abroad, but before I knew it, I had written enough helpful hints to fill up two blog posts. With that in mind, bienvenidos (welcome) to my Helpful Hints Blog Post Part 1: Unexpected Lessons I’ve Learned.
Studying abroad is a journey, full of twists and turns, and no matter what, the ups far outweigh the downs. Whether you've got a case of traveler's diarrhea or homesickness, remember that you are living your best life right now, immersed in another culture. For me, studying abroad has been a dream for countless years, so the knowledge that I am actually here in Ecuador living out my dream is absolutely incredible. It's like galloping on a horse through the mountains (something I've had the privilege of doing numerous times given that my oldest host brother owns horses): breathtakingly beautiful and stunningly serene. You look around you at the people, the landscape, the culture and realize that living is the ultimate dream.
1. People generally wear shoes in the house.
2. My family has a maid who cooks and cleans for us, so I don't need to worry about buying or preparing my own food or cleaning the bathroom (!).
3. I obviously wrote an entire post about this already, but spending time with the family is a NECESSITY.
4. Never will a day pass without at least 10 people trying to sell you things on the street. Although odd at first, you get so used to it that it'll seem weird to go back home and not have street vendors.
5. If you live near a rooster, good luck sleeping. On my weekend trip to Mindo, our hostel was stationed right next to three roosters that crowed for over three hours in the morning. Needless to say, I got NO sleep. Luckily, roosters don't usually live within the city.
6. Everyone will want to practice English with you—kids, adults, even strangers.
7. Most people at first glance will assume you don't speak any Spanish, so be prepared for many questions to only be directed to you in English. If you respond in Spanish, however, not only will you surprise them, but you'll also work on improving your Spanish conversational skills—a big plus!
8. Even if you master the Ecuadorian accent, people will not mistake you for a native—at least not when you're six feet tall with blonde hair...
9. Americans are considered insanely attractive in South America—be aware. Catcalls are commonplace. It's your decision what to do about it, but to be on the safe side, I recommend simply not paying attention.
10. It's not the smartest idea to ride the bus after dark, especially if you're alone.
11. Parque La Carolina is beautiful and totally safe during the day, but after dusk, it's safer to just steer clear.
12. Uber is incredibly cheap in Ecuador! For the first month, my friend never paid more than $3 for a ride and he lives a 10-15-minute drive from the IES Abroad Center. Taxis are a smidge more expensive, but not by a lot.
13. You will ALWAYS get stares from every kind of person imaginable. Although certainly uncomfortable at times, it's better to just accept it than worry about it. You're basically an unusually attractive alien.
14. Layers are crucial! Weather in Quito changes quite frequently throughout the day, sometimes pouring rain for 5 minutes only to be followed up by the roasting sun seconds later. Having said that, the temperature is usually 50s in the morning, upper 70s to lower 80s in the afternoon and 50s to 60s again at night...basically a bell curve. I didn't expect so much heat living this high up in the mountains, so I wish I had brought a couple of extra t-shirts to wear. Note: sweatshirts or sweaters are perfect for the mornings because they can easily be sloughed off once the sun comes out in full force.
15. Sunscreen is a MUST, even when the sun isn't out. Because Quito is at such a high altitude, you can get a sunburn even under cloud cover. If you're only walking for five minutes, it's not a big deal, but for hiking or long walks in the park...it's definitely better with sunscreen (bloqueador del sol).
16. Buses, though cheap, are exhausting. After spending six hours in three different buses and a taxi on my way back from Quilotoa, I realized how privileged I am in the U.S. to be able to drive a car wherever and whenever I want. On the plus side, buses only cost $0.25!
17. Be aware of the air pollution in Quito. Because of the vast number of residents (over 2.5 million) and the diesel fumes spewing from buses, the air oftentimes smells like gasoline. In some cases, it's easier to wear a scarf or just put your shirt in front of your nose to smell something a little bit less rank.
18. Carnival (Mardi Gras) is fun, but messy...and although students only get three days off from school, the water fights and foam battles last a lot longer. I've only played with family and friends so far, but be vigilant because sometimes strangers will spray you just for fun.
Hopefully my experiences in Ecuador have been fruitful for easing your worries and keeping you excited about studying abroad. And don't forget to tune in next time to Helpful Hints Blog Post Part 2!