Thinking back on my time studying abroad in Spain, I know that it was one of the best times of my life, and I cherish most, if not all of the memories that I have from that period. Everything always looks better in retrospect, so I'm not foolish enough to believe that it was all gravy, but it's something I often attempt to compare with my current situation. Even though I was "immersed" in Spain, it was more of a plastic immersion, whereby I was living in another country, dealing with another language, but I had American friends and did American things.
And honestly, there was nothing wrong with it at the time, but after I left Spain I was wishing I'd spent more time meeting Spaniards. Unfortunately, I can't say that I have one Spanish friend. For a first time immersion, I suppose I did the best I could have. Living with two other Americans, however, meant that we always hung out together, traveled together, and went out to bars together. In addition, I took classes with Americans, therefore I didn't meet any of the Spanish students. They had their section in the university, and we had ours, with little mingling.
Now, however, I am totally immersed, and have actually made Ecuadorian friends, though it took some time for that to happen. By this point in Spain, 3 months in, I was already on the downward slope towards leaving, but now I feel like I'm just getting started in Ecuador. There are some challenges along the way, however.
Take for instance, yesterday I went over to my friend James' house. James is another gringo who's been in Ecuador about the same time as me, but only recently found work as an English teacher. Before that he was working at a bar and grill along the route I take to work. James would work 6 days a week for about 75 cents an hour, and because our schedules were so different, we didn't see each other except for when I walked by.
I went to his house yesterday, however, to discuss plans for a trip this week. I was extremely impressed by his living situation. Close to the center, he lives in a huge house with a number of other expats and an Ecuadorian family who rents out the rooms. With a huge indoor courtyard letting in sunlight, beautiful artwork and flowers all over the place, and hammocks to rest in, it was extremely welcoming. The roommates are from all over, some from Germany, Austria, France, or the United States.
The roommates all get along, eat, and go out together. Thinking about my living situation, where there isn't much to look at in the house and a dimly lit room with no window of the outside world, it made me a bit jealous. Sometimes it feels like I live alone, and it's suffocating not having anyone to talk to, especially in my own language. James told me that some people were moving out soon and that I could probably move in if I wanted to. The rent situation would even work out to be about the same as I currently pay.
It was extremely enticing, and I have to admit, I could really see myself living happily there. But I also thought about other things. If I moved in there, I would lose touch with a part of the culture. I'd wind up hanging out with other expats, which wasn't my goal here. I've had the plastic experience once before, and though it was great and I wouldn't trade it in, I came here to experience the harder, more authentic one.
Later that night I was invited by my friend Jenifer to go to a birthday party of a friend. Already a friend of the family since the birthday party last week, I was invited once again to another function. With her cousins Diana, Rene, and Monica, we headed over to the house, and once again I was surprised that there were only 9 people there at a close friends and family dinner. Again, I was treated like another friend or family member by everyone.
After dinner we gathered in the living room for some drinks and to come up with options on names for the wife, who was pregnant. All of a sudden Monica brought out a needle and thread and did some old superstitious practice where she dropped the pin through your left hand three times, then depending on how it swung, would tell you if you would have kids, how many, and whether they would be boys or girls. Apparently I'll have a boy and then a girl. Mark the date, so that some years in the future we can say they told me so.
Suddenly a keyboard was busted out and karaoke started. Though Rene did most of the singing, I was forced to do one song by Aerosmith. Everyone was laughing and having a great time, totally accepting me as one of the gang. It's an experience I wouldn't want to trade for another night of speaking English, which I can do whenever I go back home.
So how do I feel about it? As tempting as a change of scenery would be, I think I'm going to stay in place and make the most of it. When I look back on it, I'm sure I won't be too sorry, regardless of how it turns out. I do miss Spain and the friends I made while I was there, but I'm in Ecuador now, and this is just a whole different experience altogether. I'm OK with that.