As shocking as it may seem, there are quite a few differences between my life in the United States and my life here in Ecuador so far. Even though I have tried to welcome these changes as readily as possible, before the semester I had no idea how exactly my life would be different. For your reading pleasure, I have compiled a list of the five biggest ways I have had to adjust within the week and a half that I have been here.
The Altitude: For the majority of my life, I have lived around 600 feet above sea level, and even on the few occasions I have traversed above 10,000 feet, I have not had nearly any effects from the elevation, and so I didn’t think much of anything would happen to me this trip. However, I knew my reckoning had come the moment I put my head on my pillow the very first night. Quito has an elevation of just under 9,500 feet, and the valley of Cumbayá, where my host family lives and the university resides, lies just below. Ultimately, besides some minor inconveniences like headaches and a loss of appetite I was thankfully almost back to normal within the first week.
Eating: I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have eaten here. The food is not unlike typical food that is found in the United States, consisting mostly of a type of meat, potatoes, rice, and fruits, and I do have to say that food is seasoned to a higher level here than most places I have been in the United States. My host family even showed me how to make delicious Ecuadorian Ceviche (although the combination of ketchup, orange juice, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pepper, and shrimp doesn’t exactly sound appetizing, I promise that it is). However, the eating schedule is what I have needed to adjust to. Most mornings, my host mother will make me breakfast around 7:30. Originally, she would make me a ham and cheese sandwich, but we switched to just toast and homemade juice, which is perfect. Many of the juices she makes come from fruits I had never heard of, and each is better than the next. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day in Ecuador. It starts around noonish and can last several hours. A typical lunch will consist of juice, soup, a typical dish with the works, a salad, and then usually a fruit based dessert. Just today I was able to find all of this for $3.00, unimaginable back home. Because of this type of lunch, dinner is usually around 8:30 or 9:00 and is much smaller, which I was not used to before this trip at all but is becoming easier every day.
Transportation: Coming from a place as conservative in its mannerisms as the Midwest of the United States, I am always surprised when I see driving in a place like Quito or even Boston if we’re being honest. I firmly believe that Ecuadorians have more spatial awareness than every person from the United States combined. Their driving is truly a piece of performance art, and I am always in awe of how they can squeeze their cars in such tight spaces at such fast speeds. Another marvel is the public bus system here. I often have to take it before and after class since being a pedestrian isn’t always an option here. There isn’t a real schedule, it’s always packed, and I have had to jump off while it was still moving, but I think the United States can learn a lot from it. We have a habit, especially if you’re from a suburb like me, of demonizing public transportation, but here it’s easy enough to use, costs only a quarter per ride, and is accessible to many more people.
Kissing: In Ecuador, there is generally an expectation to kiss a woman on the cheek every time you greet them or say goodbye. Even though I was warned of this, it apparently didn’t sink in fast enough. On the very first full day I was here, I was introduced to the wife of the best horse breeder in Ecuador (it’s a long story). When she went in for the obligatory kiss, with all my cultural tact, I foolishly grabbed her hand and fervently shook it as if we had just made a deal to fix the Kentucky Derby. I could see the unamused disappointment in her eyes, and I had not felt that much shame in quite a while. I still didn’t learn my lesson however, as in the next few days as I tried to repair my pride I whacked my head into several other women. I’ll figure it out, someday.
Natural Beauty: When asked where I am from, I have often responded with “a place much flatter than here.” I will never fully understand how I ended up in a beautiful area of the world like this. The Andes mountains are unlike any other chain in the world, and I cannot be more grateful to be planted inside them for this short month. I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to go back to Cleveland after the summer, but I’m just trying not to think about that now.
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<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:.4pt; margin-right:21.05pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.5pt"><span style="line-height:103%">Hello! My name is Thomas, and I’m from St. Louis, Missouri and currently am a second year at Case Western Reserve University. I like to think of myself as an avid outdoorsman, and you can often find me backpacking or just having fun outside, and I’m even a summer camp nature counselor. I'm currently studying environmental geology because rocks are the absolute coolest, and if you don't believe me I'd be happy to share my opinions with you.</span></p>