Dear Ecuador Fellows

By Audrey Carver

Dear Ecuador fellows,

During last week’s trip to Manta, in the 15 hours crammed into a busetta, I had lots of time to think about you all. We slept, sang, and ate ridiculous amounts of animal crackers. We talked about the moral obligations of warfare and social hierarchy, and somehow devolved into deliriously playing the triangle game in a guayacil mall.
The day ended hugging at the top of a mountain, watching the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. Sad music gave soundtrack to the clouds lapping at the foothills, the orange-streaked sky, and the endless horizon. We stood there looking into a bigger moment, of feeling alone and connected and sad and happy, experiencing a simple moment of beauty and youth, far from home, together.
When I decided to come to Ecuador, I was most scared of being alone. I had known my friends at home longer than my own sister, lived at their houses, and called their parents ‘mom and dad’. The idea of meeting new people, being given a new set of people to spend time with, terrified me. Coming from such a small and isolated town, I had never had to be myself in front of someone new. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.
Three months in, though, I have been met with only love and kindness, and I am writing this to repay with some love of my own.

I love that Kelsey will walk to my house with pan or manicho or matching tears when she hears that I am having a bad day
I love that Henry always has the right music, and will play it loudly.
I love that on Wednesdays, Maxwell and I meet in Amauta and discuss our non-existent love lives
I love that Chastity doesn’t complain that I ask her to translate literally everything, and that we bonded over the 27 bus the first week here
I love that Jen always has it together when nobody else does
I love that Stephanie always makes plans so that I do not have to, always picks up her ecuaphone when nobody else does, and always has a terrible chick-flick recommendation
I love that Elizabeth embodies “laugh so that you do not cry”, and will meet me at the river at lunch to do just that
I love that Maxine pretends to hate us, but that we catch him laughing along
I love that Maxito uses the sus kind of California slang, and is hella good at dancing.

I love our Sunday movies, our half-hearted Halloween celebrations, and how it takes an hour of wandering to figure out what we are going to do. I love that we always listen to early 2000s emo music together, and sing every word. I love that you will help keep men from shamelessly harassing me on the street, and that we can laugh instead of cry. I love that I can wear my glasses without feeling self-conscious.

I love having a community to count on, because my biggest fear in coming here turned out to be one of the best parts.

Thank you for taking such good care of me,
Audrey

Strengthening My Independence

By Leonardo Ruiz

Before coming to Brazil, I never really walked anywhere. Being from rural Tennessee, I was always forced to drive to places. The only times I actually went out and walked was on my way to my car. For this reason, one of the biggest changes I have faced here is the amount of walking I do. Until recently, it never occurred to me that it would be smart to start using a bike to get around my neighborhood. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bicycle. Fortunately for me, my host father has a brand-new bike he never got around to use. It had definitely been a long time since I had mounted a bicycle but once I got on, it was as easy as riding a bike. I did not expect that something as simple as riding a bike could be as exciting and freeing as it was. I could not help but to smile ear to ear as I sped up and felt the wind on my face. As I biked, I saw parts of my community that I didn’t realize were so close to me—cafés, stores, and even the Florianopolis botanical garden. It was at this time that I also noticed that there was so many people on bicycles. I realized then that I was part of this community, except that unlike everyone else I was actually wearing a helmet—and a slightly over sized one at that. I gained a new sense of independence at that moment.

I am used to being independent. Growing up with parents who did not speak English, I was forced to grow up. I realized that I, in some way, had to be my own parent. I would fill out and sign parent forms, field trip forms, doctor forms. Senior year of high school, when college loomed, I dove headfirst into the college application process mostly alone. I scheduled and took standardized tests, filled out FAFSA, poured my heart out on essays, and everything else that is required in the pursuit of a higher education. Although this independence has certainly been beneficial here, living in foreign country requires another type of independence—another kind. The kind of independence that allows for one to go out into a foreign world with minimal language skills. An independence that permits one to realize that sometimes it is necessary to reach out for help—that facing something alone is not always the best way.

So, as I pedaled faster and faster, I made a decision. A decision that for the longest time, I knew I had to make. I had been avoiding the issue for weeks, but that bike ride finally convinced me to move forward. It involved my host family. I won’t get into specifics, but I realized that we were not a good fit. I realized that I was not improving the way I wanted to because of this mismatch. I realized I needed a change.

All the Amazing Conversations

By Sophie von Muench

The other day, my host father asked me what I talked about all day. I could only laugh, because I had no idea how to begin explaining the conversations I have most days. After thinking about it, however, I realized that the conversations I have had here in Brazil have been the most formative part of my experience. So, here is a taste of some conversations I’ve had within the last couple months. 

  • How to firmly tell a whining, crying 8 year old to stop it, and why it is important
    • While one part of this is very easy for me to understand, the other is extremely difficult for me to do without feeling like a terrible person. 
  • The importance of alone time
    • The previous conversation led directly to this one. My host sister wants to stay with me at all times, including when one of us is in the bathroom. Also when I am working, or trying to sleep, or even when she’s playing with her cousin. She also doesn’t appreciate it when I stay out too late (i.e. 7:30 pm), because I miss three whole hours of playtime, and asks me to hurry home after work next time. However, we are making progress, as she now generally complains about me leaving without screaming and crying.

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Saturday Morning

By Katherine Wang

This post started out as a “day-in-the-life” but ended up taking a turn after I was inspired by Adam Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life  (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/17/missing-out-adam-phillips/) and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These are recent thoughts and photos. Interestingly enough, I took these pictures to test out my grandfather’s camera (left to me after he passed away), not intending to overlay text onto them. 

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Familial Introductions

By Savion Sample

I sat alone in the living room, laptop in front of me, watching my hands do their little “dance” in place on my keyboard – a new hand-fidget I’ve unconsciously started to do ever since arriving to Brazil, and seems to happen only when I get too nervous. I’ve come to call it the quick-fidgety-tapping-on-the-keyboard-keys-so-that-it-produces-a-somewhat-audible-noise-without-actually-pressing-down-on-the-keys sound. It’s hard to pinpoint why this has started happening, but I think it’s because I no longer have my friends, my family, and the comfort of my home at the end of the day to fall back on when I get anxious, so these odd little habits spawn as a way to cope instead.

So, why was I so nervous? Because it was the day that I was finally supposed to introduce both my families to one another, my Brazilian one and my American one. I’m a person who likes to keep different parts of my life very separate from each other. I act very different around my friends, as I do with my family. The way I act depending on the social groups in my life is very different, so the fact that two very important pieces of my life were about to come together was a very strange feeling for me. What would they think of each other? What would they say? What would they say about me? What if they don’t get along? All these questions were hurtling through my head, which only made my hand fidgeting intensify. Continue reading