One aspect of studying abroad that is definitely similar to my time at UMass, and really probably life in general, is how natural and easy it is to fall into a routine. I was very focused at the beginning of my semester at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) to engage in any adventure presented to me and throw myself out there in order to make the most of my once in a lifetime experience here in Quito. However, the reality is that no matter how determined you believe you are, it’s nearly impossible to go on a trip every weekend, or do things during the week all the time, not only due to classes, but also considering your budget when abroad. So I find myself going to classes, getting lunch with friends, going to salsa club, and usually returning to my host family’s apartment or getting some work done in a café with friends, similar to what I might do during a semester at UMass. Personally, I don’t think there is any shame in routines, I think they help keep me sane and calm during stressful course loads, and especially now, since I’m surrounded by a completely new environment. While at the surface, things seem to be similar to my semesters in the U.S., there’s also this imbalance of nothing really being mine here, but having to make it mine so that I can enjoy my time here without missing home too much. Although having a planned out week and keeping things in a routine so that I know what to expect is how I normally like to live my life, I knew that this experience abroad would not have been what it has for me so far if I did what I normally would at UMass.
As a challenge for myself during my time abroad, I have been focusing on experiencing every day a little further out of my comfort zone. Not only by going on trips around Ecuador that may or may not be totally planned, but also by exploring Quito during the day on my own, reflecting and focusing on what I am experiencing in the moment instead of worrying about an assignment or whether or not I remembered to close my door so that the dog wouldn’t get in. Although spending time on my own and experiencing the area may not seem like something that exciting or challenging, as someone who is always looking for friends to spend time with and never wanting to do things on my own, I think this is a big step, and I have been enjoying my small doses of solitude and have been able to learn things about myself in a new country, which I think was a very important goal for me when I was thinking about studying abroad.
Unlike most weekends, where I spend time with groups of friends going out or going on weekend trips or going camping, a few weekends ago, I spent the Saturday in Quito on my own – and discovered the most amazing market, el Mercado Iñaquito, where I walked around and spoke with Ecuadorians who had stands there, bought and tried produce I had never heard of before, practiced my bartering skills, and had a delicious lunch. It was an amazing Saturday, and it was all on my own. Afterwards, I went to see a movie by an Ecuadorian director called Sin muertos no hay carnaval, which was an incredible story about life in Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, and was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Ecuadorian culture and life in Ecuador, as well as practice my Spanish (I’m pretty confident that I understood the majority of the film).
Although there is a lot of pressure to continuously go on adventures with other classmates or friends during your time abroad, I just want to stress the importance of taking time for yourself, while also exploring what is around you, especially if you find yourself spending a lot of time with others and not taking the time to think about the city you are living in and how it has been impacting you and you, it. On the other hand, finding balance is always essential, and I’ve also found that it helps to talk to others studying abroad about their experiences and also search for advice from those who are from the country you are studying in. Some of my Ecuadorian friends have given me advice on incredible places to visit and know in Quito and beyond, and this country never ceases to amaze me, whether I am by myself, reflecting on the space and what I hope to gain from my experience here, or with a group of friends, taking pictures and enjoying the natural beauty that is Ecuador. I will be doing just that this weekend in Quilotoa, a breathtaking crater lake in Ecuador that has trails to hike and unbelievable views.
Stay tuned for updates on the astounding beauty that is Ecuador, from this weekend’s trip to Quilotoa, next weekend’s trip to the coast, and a mid-semester break in the Galapagos! I feel an upcoming blog post about Ecuador’s flora y fauna coming your way.
As always, thanks for reading!