Friday, January 9, 2009

Then and Now

I'm nearing the 5 month and a half-ish point of being in Ecuador now, which means that I'm starting to eclipse the time I spent as a student studying in Spain. It's weird to think about that, because not only does it feel like a lifetime ago, but it was also an experience that I could bring up so many memories from that it feels like it lasted for years, even though it flew by. And now I'm around the same time in Ecuador and I'm wondering how they both compare thus far.

By the 4th month of living in Spain I had already traveled to a number of other countries. It seemed as though every long weekend or vacation was used to visit a different country, and with two spring breaks, I was able to hit up a lot of countries. My travels through Europe got me all the more into international travel and writing about my experiences, fueling the desire within me to get out there.

Over the Christmas and New Years break just a couple of weeks ago I left for Chile to visit some friends, and it was the first time I'd left Ecuador since arriving in August. It felt weird in a way to leave the country, but I was still excited to visit a new place. I've spent the time I've had thus far really getting to know Cuenca and other parts of the Sierra in Ecuador. I'm glad I've gotten to know the country better, rather than running of every time I get the chance. That doesn't mean that I wish I hadn't traveled outside of Spain as much, but rather that I could have known Spain better.

In Spain I made some great friends, given that they were all essentially Americans or other foreign students. I'm sad to say I don't have one Spanish friend. In Ecuador, however, I've made many local friends. I still have American friends from my program or other expats I've met, but for the most part I try to socialize with the Ecuadorians, in a hope so that I may better my Spanish and understanding of the culture.

As my first living abroad experience was a plastic immersion, I lived with two other Americans from my program, among other Europeans who came and went. We had a "host family" which was really just a woman who cooked and cleaned for us, driving us nuts at times. It was a good time, but not very authentic. Now I'm living with a host family again, but without other Americans around as roommates. So I have no one to vent to on an hourly basis if need be. It doesn't get any more immersed than this.

And as for the language aspect. I went to Spain with only a rudimentary level of Spanish after one course. The first two months were extremely difficult, but by the time I left I was able to have fluid conversations and felt like I was well on my way, part of the reason I wanted to live abroad again. Before arriving in Ecuador I'd already had two years of Spanish, plus the semester abroad under my belt. I was rusty for a month or so, but since then I've been on a roll. If I felt comfortable after 4 months in Spain, I'm excited to see how I'll do when my contract ends in Ecuador, or whenever it is that I go home.

But there are other things to consider too. I remember getting homesick once or twice in Spain and feeling lonely without the support of family or friends from back home. There were some tough times that I got through, but not without a day or two of doldrums. I honestly can't say that I've felt homesick in Ecuador thus far, mainly because I try not to think about it. If I did, it would only make me miss it, and I don't want that to be in my mind as I try to embrace my current situation.

There are the extremely frustrating times and when they come I wish I was back home or somewhere else, but I'm still putting all I have into this experience. Once in a while, however, something will suddenly make me think of a scene from home and the longing can start. I can picture perfectly every room in my house down to the little details of pictures on the wall or a crack in the tile in the kitchen. So when I start to walk through the house in my head it makes me want to actually be there.

Or sometimes during my night class when I get a minute to just look out the window, the lights play a trick on me and make me think I'm back at UMass. With the orange glow weaving through the branches it appears to be the New England campus in late November, and when the light catches the rain just right, it's actually snowing on my old college campus. And then I feel it. It's so eerily similar that I need to do a quick check to make sure I'm not day dreaming that I've been in Ecuador the whole time while actually sitting, bored, through a class at school.

But otherwise, there is the routine that I have fallen into and continue, probably out of necessity to have some regularity in my life here. And for the most part I just don't think about it. I know I'm from Boston and lived there most of my life, and though I carry around the humor and insight of a Bostonian, I just don't bring it up unless I'm talking to another gringo about back home.

So we're still looking upwards. We could do half empty or half full, depending on how I'm feeling that day. I'm 5 months in or 5 months out. It really doesn't matter much to me. I'm still here and will continue the way I've been until I'm back home. And what will become of me when that happens, I can't say for sure. But a change has definitely occurred. Much in the same way that I wasn't the same person before I left for Spain, I'm not the same as before I left for Ecuador. But that's to be expected, and desired for the most part. Into the unknown we go.

Above: My host and roommates in Spain, my host family in Quito for the first 3 weeks in country

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