Discover what some of our Park Scholars abroad are doing.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
By: Moriah Petty, sophomore
Spanish is beautiful language. I love that musical Spanish words fill my ears all day as I live, study, and travel in Ecuador this semester. English just can’t compare. It is certainly a struggle to complete all my assignments in Spanish and keep up with Ecuadorian classmates but it is certainly worth it because my speaking skills have improved immensely over my short time here. I find some phrases or words come easier to mind in Spanish instead of English and I speak a Spanglish mix with my American friends.
One of the biggest shocks when first arriving in Ecuador was the altitude. You would think that the climb from the Park School up to the Terrace dorms would have prepared me but Ithaca hills have nothing on Ecuador hills. Quito is squeezed into a valley between two huge mountains and rests at 2600 meters (9200 ft) above sea level. During the first few weeks my body had to make a serious adjustment to the thin air and I still get winded climbing the hill to my house. I live with a kind older couple who patiently answer all my questions about Ecuadorian history, politics and social norms. Almost every week my host dad brings home a new fruit for me to try usually in exotic colors and odd textures but all delicious. My favorite snack here is the fresh sliced mango you can buy from carts on the street.
I have the bad habit of second guessing all my important decisions but I am completely confident that Quito was the right choice for me as the destination for my long anticipated study abroad semester. The city itself is full of life, art, and history. One day you can tour the bustling downtown, which retains the original Spanish colonial architecture, and the next hike the (still active) volcano that towers over the Western side of the city. The traffic is insane but public transportation can get you just about anywhere. The weather should be unbearably hot since Ecuador is obviously on the equator but the altitude of the Andes Mountains keeps the city cool and breezy. Not that everything is perfect. I encounter various incidents of culture shock and the crime rate is on the rise. You have to be very careful going out at night and over half the kids in my program have been robbed, including me. But still, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Ecuador is a small country but incredibly diverse both ecologically and ethnically. Short weekend trips outside the city have allowed me to experience the incredibly varied culture and landscape of the country. So far I have relaxed in hot springs, zip-lined through the rain forest, learned how to make bitter cacao beans into rich dark chocolate, battled cockroaches and giant spiders in the Amazon, and baked at the beach. In a few weeks I will be exploring the Galapagos Islands!
Some of these trips have provided unique experiences that I never could have imagined. For example, I never would have believed that I would fish for piranhas or eat ants off a stick in the Amazon. (For those who are curious, they tasted like lemon). One weekend I traveled with my anthropology class to a tiny town to participate in an indigenous festival. Community and sharing are central to indigenous life so even though we were clearly outsiders, the locals welcomed us into their homes and circles of joyful dancing. During a different weekend I got in way over my head by joining the outdoors club at my university on a hike up a volcano. The hike was beautiful but it may be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I considered turning back many times as I became convinced the mountain had no ending, just continued endlessly into the clouds. But the feeling of elation of standing on the snowy peak high is unforgettable.
Just like in Ithaca, I fill my free time with volunteering. Two days a week I work at a daycare at the edge of a landfill. The workers’ youngest children come there for care, food, and early education during the workday. Two other days I work in the communications department of Ciclópolis, an organization dedicated to promoting urban biking. As a bonus, I get to explore Quito by bike!
I am constantly fascinated by the political and social dynamics of Ecuadorian life. The indigenous community has a strong advocacy organization and just last week classes were cancelled as 11 thousand people marched into the capital to protest mining. Racism and sexism are a serious problem resulting in discrimination against women, citizens of African descent, and the mestizos of mixed indigenous and European descent that make up the majority of the population. The influence of the Spanish conquest is incredibly present today. The president, Rafael Correa, is both extremely popular and extremely hated. He has made many positive changes for the lower class but also shows some dictatorial tendencies. The communications students in me got very excited during a heated court case last month as Correa sued a journalist for writing a critical editorial on his regime. He is currently attempting to censor the press for the upcoming elections.
So much to learn and experience and so little time.
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