In the last three weeks, I have been on more airplanes than I can count. After wrapping up my internship and finishing my classes, I embarked on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and then finally to the coast of Ecuador. Three days later I traveled through four cities in less than 24 hours to finally land in Des Moines, IA for Christmas with my parents.
I have experienced so many extremes in such a short time that it’s been hard to notice the culture shock that I feel. There are so many things I didn’t realize I would miss from Ecuador that now seem so far away and out of reach.
When I first arrived in Des Moines, I felt the glances of people in the airport. I quickly realized that my tan skin was a giveaway that I hadn’t been living in Iowa for the last four months. The next day I went to church with my parents and felt the need to hug EVERYONE as I would have done in Quito. After a few awkward hugs, I remembered that this wasn’t the norm here in the U.S.
Going from warm and sunny Quito to frigid and snowy eastern Iowa creates a stark contrast. I miss speaking Spanish with my friends and coworkers. I miss the affordable and accessible fruit market down the street from my apartment. I really miss my homestay parents and being able to see them on a regular basis. I miss being able to walk everywhere and see so much of the city through public transportation. These are all things that filled my daily life and are now replaced by completely different things. This isn’t all bad, I love being able to drive my car again, seeing my parents and reconnecting with my college friends. I love the holiday festivities and the snow that arrived just in time for Christmas.
I’ve noticed that certain things stick out to me more than they used to, and sometimes this makes me feel frustrated or upset. Consumerism is so prevalent in the U.S., and it seems that the things we think make us happy really make us more stressed out and anxious. I’ve been looking up and around me a lot more in grocery stores and malls, and so many people look worn out. Feeling the need to buy a certain amount of Christmas presents can get overwhelming. I’ve also noticed how much I miss the collective culture of Ecuador. I miss besitos and the expectation to greet everyone in a room. It feels that people are more easily overlooked here in the U.S. and I hope that I can bring some of the hospitality I learned in Ecuador back to my college campus.
Ecuador was easily one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I hope to go back to my last three semesters of college and bring some new energy to my university study abroad department. I will be an ambassador for my program and share my incredible experience with incoming students. I also hope to make more connections with the Spanish speaking students on campus and continue to practice and my speaking abilities. Ecuador has given me more confidence in myself and newfound friendships that I know I will have for the rest of my life.