Friday, May 14, 2010

A Day in the Life

I wrote this entry about a month ago, but I keep forgetting to publish it. So here it is, at long last!

As I read over my former entries, I realize that most of them are about trips and fun things and the exciting parts of life. They are all true and they were all fun, but life in Ecuador hasn’t been one big party. I truly have had a lot more homework here than I expected, and conflicts with my host family have made the semester interesting. In this entry, I want to give you a picture of daily life, minus the thrills of beach trips and backpacking and zip lining. This is a normal day in Ecuador:

My alarm goes off between 6:30 and 7 am. Sometimes, if my early classes are cancelled, I can sleep later, but my host sister Lisette usually comes over around 7:30 with her two daughters, Greta (4) and Ariel (7 months), because my host mom babysits Ariel during the day while Lisette is a work and Greta at school. If any of you have experience with 4-year-olds, you know that they make sleeping in very difficult! So, with one thing and another, I’m usually up by 7ish. It was worse though; I used to have a class at 7 am on Thursdays, so I had to be up by 5:15 at the latest to get there on time! Luckily, that class ended after spring break.

My host mom usually has breakfast waiting for me. I’ve offered many times to get my own breakfast, particularly on the days when I have class at 8:30 and am leaving the house by 7. She resisted at first, but now she generally sleeps in and lets me find my own food. Breakfast for most of the family consists of coffee/hot chocolate and a piece of delicious Ecuadorian bread. I don’t drink coffee or hot chocolate, so I usually have bread, sometimes with melted cheese on top or a small omelet, and some fruit. Pack a lunch (usually just an apple and a pear or something, but sometimes with some chifles (banana chips) or bread or something), brush my teeth, and I’m off by 7:30 at the latest.

I used to take three buses to get to and from school, but that was adding up quickly, so about a month ago, I started walking part way to save money. Now, I walk to the Rio Coca Bus Station and catch a big green bus. This bus goes to Cumbaya, the town where my university is. I spend an hour a day on the green bus, but it’s not too bad. Most of the international students ride the bus, so I spend time chatting with friends while we travel. Or I do homework or look out the window at the amazing views. After I discovered Harry Potter in Spanish in the library, my hour bus ride became my reading time and I looked forward to it every day!

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my classes start at 9 am with Italian. I added this class later than my others, so I’ve been a little behind all semester. But, I’m not taking it for credit, just for fun, so it’s not a big deal. Plus, Italian is super similar to Spanish, which makes it a lot easier to learn. The pronunciation is the hardest part for me. Some sounds are like English and others like Spanish and other like neither, which just confuses my tongue. But it’s a cool language and I like the teacher a lot.

My next class is Temas de América Latina, a political science class about Latin America. It’s very interesting and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s probably my most difficult class and the one I think I’ll probably end up with a B in. The information isn’t too difficult, but the professor, Jose Julio Cisneros, goes off on tangents a lot, which makes it hard to take notes or follow the main thread of the class. But I’ve learned a lot about relations among countries in Latin America and relations with the US.

On Fridays, I’m done after Temas, but on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have three more classes. Conversation is first, with Claudia Gutierrez. Claudia is an interesting professor- you either love her or hate her. She’s very good about correcting our grammar when we speak in class, which is good, but she sometimes makes you feel rather stupid for making a mistake. It doesn’t bother me too much, mostly because I’m in an intermediate class instead of advanced, so I’m one of the best speakers in the class and don’t get a lot of corrections from her. My favorite part about this class is that half of our tests are creative writing, using our vocabulary words in stories. For a creative writing major, that’s perfect! My next class is Español Avanzada, a grammar class. This class is really good for me, because my grammar was lagging behind my speaking and understanding abilities, but it’s really boring and I often have a hard time sitting through it. The professor, Lidice, is nice and she’s really good about having open office hours and being willing to read over an essay or something if we want her to.

My last class of the day, Capoeira, ends at 4 pm. I liked this class a lot at the beginning- learning kicks and blocks and tricks and music. It’s a blast! But I hurt my shoulder over spring break, and it still doesn’t feel completely healed. In Capoeira, we are working on back handsprings, but it hurts too much for me to do them. So I spend a lot of time sitting out in this class now, which sucks because I’d really like to learn and get better at this sport. We had a really fun class the other day, though, in which I got to participate: the professor taught us to play the cool Capoeira instruments. There’s a tambourine and another instrument with a funny name that keeps the beat and an instrument that looks kind of like a bow with a gourd on the bottom that plays the melody. We learned them all. Super fun, but SO hard!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I start class at 8:30 am with my Bilingual Education class. I absolutely love this class! It’s super interesting, and the professor, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, really knows her stuff. She speaks four languages and has raised her children to speak all four of them. If any of you come to Ecuador, I totally recommend taking this class! My next class is soccer, which is fun but disappointing sometimes because nobody shows up. As the semester has worn on, our class has basically trickled down to nothing. Luckily, I’m also playing on a club team, so I still have some soccer. My last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays used to be Volcanology, but that class ended after spring break as well. It was an interesting class, as long as you got along with the professor. Theo Toulkeridis is very smart, but a lot of people had trouble relating with him. I didn’t, so I enjoyed the class a lot. If you want to travel, this class is a good one because you have four weekend trips in which you see some really cool stuff.

My afternoons are all different. On some days, I hurry back to Quito to work in a soup kitchen called Pan de Vida (I do this on Sundays as well, and I love it!) Other days, I go to a friend’s house to use the Internet or to bake cookies. Others, I have a soccer game in the afternoon, so I stick around at school to play in that. There is a school league that runs from February to April in which teams of 6 play on little fields. My team (me, international students Jill, Laura, and Shawna, and Ecuadorians Caro, Isa, Valeria, and two others) is doing really well. We just won our semi-final game against a team that has beat my teammates for the last two years, and we’re going to the finals next week. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s been a really good chance to meet Ecuadorians and get to know them.

Most days, I stay at school for a few hours to use the Internet. I don’t have Internet in my house, so I download a lot of information onto my flash drive and take it with me to do at home. I do my work at home, as much as I can, and just carry the completed work back to school to check sources or do last minute translations on the Internet. This entry, for example, I’m writing at home, but I’ll send it from school. It’s a pain to not have Internet, but it has made me more productive because I don’t have Facebook or email to distract me at home. So of course, I use Solitaire, Hearts, and Chess to distract me instead…

When I get home, between 5 and 7 pm, dinner is waiting for me. My host parents eat around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, but they save a plate for me to heat up when I get home. Almuerzo (lunch, or in my case, dinner) usually consists of a bowl of soup, juice, some sort of vegetable, and a plato fuerte that has meat (usually chicken, but sometimes fish or beef. Never pork), rice or potatoes or both, and some sort of sauce. We don’t have dessert every day, but when we do it is usually cake, some sort of bread, or a fruit salad with cream. Most of my conflicts with my host family have centered on food. They got upset with me for eating too much fruit, which they claim is really expensive here. (I think it’s super cheap. $1 for 10 apples? Two pounds of strawberries for $2? But I’m looking at it from a U.S. perspective, and I shouldn’t do that.) Plus, my family, unlike most of the host families, is not rich and they really have to watch what they spend. I feel like I’m paying them more than they are giving me, but I guess my payments also include my host mom making all my meals and the cost of my room and such.

At first, I had trouble because they always gave me vegetables that were smothered in mayonnaise or butter or something, which doesn’t seem particularly healthy to me. It took me a long time to work up the courage to say something because I’m not the most confrontational person with people I don’t know well, but I’m glad we finally talked. Now, my host mom sets my vegetables aside before putting sauce on everyone else’s and I get to eat healthy veggies.

In the evenings, I usually do homework, watch a movie, read, or go out. I’m not a huge partier, so I don’t tend to go out every night like some people I know. But I do spend nights at friends’ houses or in the Mariscal, the section of Quito with all of the bars and restaurants and everything geared toward gringo tourists. We do a lot of movie nights, either at someone’s house or at the theater, because it is cheap, and I generally go to the theater once a month or so. I have a Bible study every Tuesday night at the English Fellowship Church, and I really enjoy that. I wanted to find a Catholic youth group, but I haven’t had any luck so far and it’s getting kind of late in the semester to be worth it. But the EFC group, Twenty Somethings, is really fun and has helped me make lots of friends. We generally go out for ice cream or to study together afterward.

But I don’t have a lot of time on weekdays to go out, because I have a lot of homework. I have 6 academic classes in all, and although most of them don’t give a lot of homework, it adds up. I’ve had at least one test and one essay every week for the last three months, and it’s only getting worse. A lot of international students treat their semester abroad as a party, but their grades don’t transfer back to their schools, so as long as they get a C or better, they don’t have to worry. My grades transfer, and I’m enough of a nerd to want straight A’s. So I work a lot harder than most people, but that’s okay. I enjoy all of my classes, and I don’t enjoy getting drunk in the Mariscal. So I don’t mind.

I don’t spend a lot of time with my host family on a day-to-day basis, and I’m not entirely sure why. We eat dinner together if I’m home- I eat my big lunch meal and they eat coffee/hot chocolate, bread, and cheese again. But after we eat and I help clean the kitchen, my host dad goes off to his room to watch TV, my host sister goes to her room to watch TV, and my host mom either watches with my sister or goes in the study to watch TV in there. I’ve never like the television much, especially when the only shows available are the late night soap operas. Sometimes I’ll watch movies with my host family, and I spend a good amount of time playing with Greta, my niece, or talking with the adults. But we don’t go traveling together and they don’t usually invite me to do things. It’s kind of a shame; our relationship is more that of landlord and guest than parent and child. But they aren’t mean to me and they give me lots of space to be independent, which I’d prefer to having an overprotective or needy family.

All in all, daily life here is not too exciting but it’s fine with me. I find little things to enjoy every day- a movie with a friend, playing with bubbles with Greta, playing in a soccer game. There are lots of wonderful little moments, little cultural or linguistic surprises that I delight in, and they make daily life great.

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