Friday, December 9, 2011

Getting over the holiday slump

                 So due to some technical difficulties with my host family's wireless I haven't been able to post in some time. However being a cunning exchange student I learned the password for my school internet and can now use my laptop during English class when I am banned to the library. School is going pretty good, though having already graduated I find myself with a bad case of senioritis and procrastination. Usually class time is sleep time for us with the occasional assignment of telling the class about our favorite book or sporadically participating in class. One thing this school has really taught me to appreciate is the amount of freedom I was given back in high school at home. At NHS you could walk around for an hour, practically leave when you wanted with no questions asked and unless you abused it, there was a fair amount of trust. Here you go to the bathroom and are immediately hounded by a teacher about why you are out of class. The only door out is locked and you must be escorted out by the principle herself but only with a parent present. The ten foot high walls keeping us in are lined with a pleasant layer of broken glass sticking straight up so no one can climb over. Although my school feels a little bit more like a teen delinquent center than an actual high school I still like it, the kids are always so inviting and energetic.
                With Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday and the fact that I had yet to skype my family once or my friends in forever (thanks to the whole no wireless thing and my fams lack of a camera for their computer) I had low expectations for the holiday season. It’s the time of year that we all knew was coming and all the exchange students are feeling it, we refer to it as the holiday slump. But as it turns out I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Thanksgiving Day at school everyone in my English class had to dress up and bring in food. I was a turkey and part of the apple crisp group. So there in class during the middle of the day, dorkely dressed up like a turkey, I explained to my class why we celebrated thanksgiving and had my very own thanksgiving dinner. It was the most dysfunctional dinner I had ever seen but it was amazing anyway because I got to share it with all my friends there. That night I went home with my friend Anne who is also from the states to make pumpkin pie and skype my family for the very first time. Seeing fifteen of them squished in a tiny room, all shouting at the same time made the day that much better. That weekend Anne and I cooked an entire thanksgiving dinner for her whole family. Now, I'm not the worlds best cook. Or even a good cook. My abilities started and stopped with out-of-the-box brownies. So I was a little nervous about making this huge meal but everything turned out perfect (plus my stuffing was quite the hit).
                The activities here in Ecuador are never ending. We just finished a four day long celebration for the independence of Quito. Every day there were parades, concerts in the park and Chivas everywhere. Chivas are basically these big wooden buses with the seats removed that you dance in while they drive around the city at night. It seems as if this city is in constant party mode. No matter where you are, you hear a song you like and the scene is transformed into a dance party. One of the best things about all the things to do here is that most of them are really cheap. You can have an amazing time without clearing out your wallet, which is nice considering were all poor exchange students. Last month me and some other exchange students were able to go to an Areosmith concert. I’ve never been a die hard fan but it was only 15 bucks and watching a thousand ecuadorians shout “Dream on” at the top of their lungs was definitely a high point. One of my favorite things that we’ve done is going to the Pro soccer games. Latin American soccer is like nothing I’ve seen before. Not only is the playing amazing but the atmosphere and the fans are insane. People are yelling, jumping, and singing while streamers and confetti are flying through the air. Everyone thinks us gringos are hilarious, especially when we yell things in spanish and try and cheer on Ecuador, we were even on tv once!. Living here has messed up my sense of what’s cheap and what’s not. Suddenly I can actually get a lot out of that dollar fifty I found in the bottom of my bag, or how ten dollars is now way too expensive for that really nice scarf in the market. I even had my first haggling experience in a taxi when the driver tried to charge me more than what the meter said, I felt so Ecuadorian. I count down the days to when we get to go on more trips. So far we have had two, Mompiche which I talked about in my last post and Manabi. Manabi, is a town on the coast where alllllll 140+ exchange students in Ecuador gathered for five days of jam packed activities. Never in my life have I had so much fun at and seen so many burnt gringos at once. We walked in a parade with our flags raised high and the streets were crowded with people who would cheer and clap and yell “Estados Unidos!” (united states) when we passed. We laid out on the beach casually sipping out of coconuts after tubing on the ocean. Then went back to the resort to dance the night away, stopping only when the boys finally caught you and you were pushed into the pool fully clothed. On the last night we squished into 3 chivas and rode around the city while cars followed us for blocks trying to get pictures and waving and shouting out their windows.

                One surprising (and seriously annoying) thing here in Quito is the weather. Now that we are in their “winter” season days usually go by like this: you go to school in a scarf and two jackets, by lunch time you’ve shed as much as is allowed and you feel like your skin might just fall off, around the time school ends the clouds roll in and it starts to pour for about 3 hours, and the day raps up with a freezing temperature from 6 o’ clock on. Because of the weather I’ve learned two important things. One, always always always bring a good jacket no matter how hot it is at the moment and two, leaving your clothes out to dry in the afternoon just cause it looks sunny usually ends up with you sprinting around on the top of your roof in the rain trying to save them.
                It’s come to the point in my stay that living here feels like real life and not some crazy dream. The adrenaline rush has worn off and it no longer feels like I’m just on a vacation. No matter how double alias it seems sometimes I’m creating my own life here and everyday it feels more and more like home. I have the most amazing friends, exchange and non-exchange, and I can’t imagine what I could possibly be doing in my life right now other than being here with them. Sometimes when I’m with my friends, on a trip, or even on the bus ride to school as a look out the window at the gorgeous mountains covered with a fine mist, it hits me that I’m actually here in Ecuador. Experiencing things that most people will never get to, and having the best time of my life. Time now seems to be flying by faster and the days are coming together into one.
The parade we walked in
Intercambios de Estados Unidos!!
My school held a carnival where the exchange students had to dance in front of everyone!
My host family and I went ziplining through the rain forest
whent to my first bull fight for the festivals of Quito, so horrible!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vive La Vida Loca!

          I have been here in Ecuador for over a month now so I figured it was about time I made another post. Bear with me through this as I am bursting with news and information that may take more then a few short paragraphs to explain.

          The first couple weeks here were more like a surreal blur. I spent my days going to museums and meeting countless family friends. Because both of my host parents work, I usually rode the bus places with the Rocio, the women who helps out around the house. This way I saw the real Quito early on and not just the commercial stores and tourists friendly streetways.

a view of Quito, from on top of a mountain

          Living in the capital city is a teenagers dream come true. After feeling like a caged bird in the small town of Northfield for 18 years, life here in Quito is exhilarating and adventurous. In this city there is always something new going on and it is certainly a place for the young and restless. The night life is bright, busy, and loud as it gives off its own electric feel. However, with the big city perks there are also some downsides. The biggest one of all would be how dangerous it can be. Its already dangerous for locals to walk around by themselves or after dark. But it just so happens that my bright hair, green eyes, and lack of spanish make me target numero uno for theives, lonely men, and taxi drivers looking for pay day. Here there are two vital rules you must follow if you want to keep your personal space and belongings. The first is that you never ever go out by yourself (even with others its dangerous) past 6:30 unless your going down a very crowded street. Rule of thumb, if the street your about to go down looks like it belongs in a slasher sequel and your internal creep-o-meter is going off, its best to just walk the other direction and fast. Rule #2, never help/trust anybody you dont know on the street. You may think that you are being a good sameritan by helping a man who looks like he's just been beaten, but two minutes later he'll probably be walking away with your purse and the contents of your back pocket. It's a hard truth to except, but here people will literally do anything they can to get what they need to survive. Its weird to go from usually forgetting to lock the back door to always being on gaurd for my safety even in my home (ours was very close to being broken into). Something that I have yet to get used to here is the poverty. Here you can have a super nice building and then sitting right next to it will be a rotting shack used as a home. In a way the poor and the rich intermingle. Because I live in heart of quito I don't see as much of this, but as soon as you go towards the southern edge of town things start to look worse and worse; and the nice houses placed between the shabby ones dissappear. There is a legend in Quito that the northern part of town is richer because the statue of mary that sits on a large hill is facing and smiling down at them. But the southern part is poorer because the same statue has her back turned on them. No matter how many homeless children or begging mothers I pass on the street the heartbreak is no less. My host mother says that I will get used to it with time but this may be one of those things I never get over. Another, but very random, thing that I have noticed is that here in the city you can never see the stars. I didn't realize how much I took looking up at a beautiful night sky full of stars for granted untill now.

the statue of the virgin mary that sits on a hill a "watches over us"

           The next big thing in my life right now is school. I attend a small private school close to my home called "Colegio Bacqueral". Here I take normal classes like math and history; all while wearing our super classy uniforms of course. But while the other kids take english I go into the elementary school and help out with the first and second graders. I promise I am not being self obsessed when I say that they kids here absalutely adore me. from the second I walk into the door I am immediatly swarmed with teeny arms wrapping themselves around my legs and little voices yelling "raquel raquel, hug me first!!". Besides that my school day is relatively long and boring. The teachers usually ignore the exchange students because they know we dont really understand them so I am not included in the assignments. Though I do try to participate in class when I can. For the most part I can get the idea of what the teacher and other people are saying when they talk in spanish but I still get lost all the time. The main problem is that people here talk at super sonic speeds. America's best rappers can't touch the speed they talk at here. So even when I do know what the words mean, I have a hard time telling what they are actually saying because most of their words just jumble together.
          I was told before coming here that  people would always want to speak english so that they could practice but for me it has been the complete opposite. None of the kids want to speak english with me and even though it will help me in the long run, it doesn't make for a long conversation. If it weren't for the other exchange students in my school I might have gone crazy the first few weeks from not talking. Which brings me to my final subject of this post, the other exchange students. I'm not sure how to even start with these guys. They are the craziest and most outgoing group of over energetic teenagers I have ever met. Put us all in the same room and prepare for the consequences. About a week and a half ago I went to my first camp in Mompiche, a resort right along the ocean and the most beautifull place I have ever been. Here all of the exchange students in Quito and two of the surrounding valleys swam in the ocean waves, danced, laughed, and stayed up to our hearts content. From the moment we were all squished onto the bus at six thirty in the morning we became fast friends. Being with people who knew exactly what you were going through had a way of lifting everyones spirits. I know that I am going to make some lifetime friends and cannot wait untill our next trip together.
          Though time here travels at its own quickened pace its hard to imagine myself here for another nine months. But I know that these nine months will be filled with plenty more amazing experiences that I can share with you all! Adios untill then!
The exchange students, doing our thing on stage

the view from my hotel room in Mompiche, where we had our first camp

Monday, August 22, 2011

Change of flight

          Well, after a crazy couple of days due a missed flight I am finally here in Quito! Allow me to explain a series of unfortunate events that ended up to be a somewhat comical adventure for me. My original flight plans were to fly to chicago and then to miami with Irene, and then we would part our separate ways to different cities in Ecuador. I would fly into quito at about ten o´clock where my host parents would pick me up. however, once we got to chicago at 8:45 it started to storm. I thought I was in the clear because my flight to miami was not untill twelve. but I was mistaken. My flight ended up not leaving untill 3.05 which ment that I had missed my connection and only other flight to Quito for the night. So here are Irene and I, stuck in the miami airport at about seven with nowhere to go or stay. Thankfully, Irene was considered a minor, so she would be given a free room at the airport hotel. I on the other hand am 18, so I was told that I would have to go out and get a hotel room by myself because the airlines were not respnsible for me. After waiting about 2 and a half hours we managed to convince them that I had to stay with irene (I also said that I was only 17). So after waiting another 2 hours in a small room where they put minors we were finally given some food and a room to sleep in. The next day we had to go back to the room fot minors where I waited almost 4 hours untill my flight. In the room I met a girl who was from Quito and she told me all about the city. at last I boarded my flight and landed in Quito where I met my host parents.
          Right away they took me to an outside mall to get some freshly squeezed orange juice. Here, the fruit is always fresh and let me tell you, that was the best orange juice I have ever had. I thought to myself, I could get used to this. Quito is an amazing city. It is completely surrounded by mountains and countless numbers of buildings go up and down with them. Every house is fenced in with tall brick walls, becuase there is a lot of theft. There is also graffiti everywhere, even on the nicer buildings. they say things like ¨libertad and, yo quiro vivir¨, which means liberty and I want to live. I have also seen a lot of bob marley posters though I am not sure why. The driving in Quito is CRAZY. People ignore the lane lines and swerve every which way. They go from 0 to 60 mph in like 4 seconds even though the street is packed. There are people crossing the street everywhere and vendors walk down the middle of the streets through the lines of cars knocking on windows and selling things like magazines and gum. My host mom Maria took me to a goods market where they sold things like jewelry, bags, hats, and shirts. In that market, everything is hand made, its incredible to see what these people can make with just their hands. Seeing as I am american and blonde, I got a lot of stares but it was actually kinda fun. I saw my school and was told that it was taught in spanish. my host parents also told me that after this week, they would only speak to me in spanish.... yikes!
          My house is very nice. it has a ladder up to the roof where you can see all of Quito and the mountains, its beautifull. My room is very cozy and I have already unpacked. The woman who helps around the house hold laughed at me and told me in spanish (she does not speak english) that here they hang there jeans up instead of folding them up in a drawer. they ahve a dog Rania who is so cute! but we are not allowed in the same room together because she tries to attack me. Hopefully I will have plenty more stories to tell. unitll then, adios!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tik Tok

          3 days. that is all i have left to kiss my american life goodbye along with my friends and family and head off to Ecuador! It seems like just yesterday I was learning about the possibility of even going to Ecuador. To me, through the countless hours of waiting and preparing myself this whole trip seemed like a far away dream. Something I planned to do, but never thought about it actually happening (I know it doesn't make much sense to me either). I always was able to reassure myself that I had plenty of time before i had to start packing and say goodbye. But as I can now count the days left with just one hand, it is becoming more of a reality.
          These past few days have been fairly busy. I'm trying to squeeze in more time with my friends, and to my mom's dissaproval, less time for packing. There are so many people I have to say goodbye to that there isnt enough time in the day for everybody. But I try to look at this not so much as a goodbye but a "see you in ten months!" sort of deal. I've been told countless times that even though it seems like a long time, not a whole lot changes. I also know that as I leave my friends and family here behind I will be greated with new ones in ecuador.
           As far as placement goes, I consider myself lucky already. My year will be spent in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. From what I have heard it is a city full of life with millions of things to do, which should be interesting because I have always thought of myself as a small town kinda gal. My host family, the Agusto's, appear to be extremely heart warming and excited for me to come. My host father Jose, is the most interesting to me. He is the head of the United Nations in Ecuador. I can tell that I will be able to learn a lot from him and his job. My host mother Maria Antonietta is the one I have had most contact with and seems like a very nice woman. I have 2 host siblings; my brother andres who is in Oslo Norway for the year with Rotary so I will not me able to meet him, and my sister Andrea Carolina who is nineteen years old and lives at home.
          At the end of the day I am left with mixed emotions. Although I am sad to leave all the ones I love I am so excited to FINALLY get out of here and start my adventure! I know this is going to be a life changing experience. Well thats it for now, hopefully I can post about my first few days and my flight. untill then, adios!