Saturday, June 26, 2010

Airport Now, Homeward Bound!

Sorry for not posting in a while. My family's internet plug broke, so I didn't have internet access for the last couple of days. And the internet at the church was too slow to load any pictures, but I'll probably post them to Facebook when I get internet access at home in Chicagoland. Right now we're in the airport in Guayaquil, a large urban city on the coast of Ecuador. Our flight was delayed for about an hour and a half, so we're just chilling, waiting for the plane to come.

It was really sad saying goodbye to my family. My host-mom was crying pretty hard when we left, and I'll definitely miss them. They had a dinner and everything to send me on my way. They also gave me a lot of gifts, including jewelry, some Ecuadorian hats, and a hand-painted jewelry box. But right now I'm just happy to be on my way. We're flying al night, so I'm going to be exhausted when we get in. I'll probably sleep for a very long time.

Today we spent in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. It's very different from Cuenca, much more urban and liberal. We even ended up in the middle of a gay pride parade, something that is hardly even talked about in Cuenca. It's pretty interesting to see the huge cultural differences between even two different cities in the same exact country. Although I'm excited to finally be speaking English again, I know I'm going to miss being able to use my spanish on a regular basis. One of the things I loved most about living in Cuenca was how natural it became to communicate completely in Spanish.

It was also sad to see the US get booted out of the World Cup today. I was really hoping that they'd make it at least past the first round. Oh well, it'll be good to watch the games from home now that I'm out of school during the day when they play. I'm going to finish off this post for now because my thoughts are kind of disjointed. I'm pretty tired and out of it. I'll be even more out of it tomorrow when I fly in! Chao.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last Day of Tests!

Whew! Lots of tests this week. Today, we have three different tests, one for grammar class (just finished that one) one for conversation class, and another for culture class. The grammar test went well, though it was a lot simpler than I had expected. I studied a lot of the more difficult concepts and ignored some of the simpler stuff. Still, I think it went well. I'm just ready to be done with school. It's incredible how difficult it is to just do one extra months of school!

I spent most of yesterday studying (or trying to study). My house is so noisy and active with a 13 year old, a 16 year old, and a 2 1/2 year old that it is pretty difficult to concentrate for long periods of time at home. For example, yesterday, my 2 1/2 year old brother locked the door to his sister's room and shut it. Thankfully, he was outside, but they couldn't find the key for the room all day. We spent a lot of time trying to pick the lock, but since it is a new door that didn't work very well. Then my uncle, a jeweler, came over that night to try and open the door. Finally, they just ended up breaking the door to get into their room! Quite funny, but it meant that people were coming in and out of the house all day!

In the next couple days, I'm just planning on packing up and enjoying my last couple of days in Cuenca. I'll definitely miss my host family the most. They've welcomed me into their lives and their homes, making me a part of their family. On a more shallow level, I'll definitely miss the ice cream here. If you've never tried Ecuadorian ice cream, you're definitely missing out. It's a lot creamier here, and my favorite flavor is the passion fruit flavor. It's almost like sherbet, and it's absolutely delicious.

Well, that's all I have for now. I'll try and post some pictures, but the internet is pretty slow here at the church and the internet at home is broken.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Monday!

For those of you who were wondering, the chocolate chip cookies turned out okay. They weren't perfect, but the high altitude definitely messed with the dough. That plus, some of the ingredients were a little different (aka baking soda from a pharmacy that comes wrapped in a little plastic bag with no real packaging). But my family really liked them. They ate almost all of them, probably because they only have store-bought chocolate chip cookies here. But I did teach them one essential part of cookie-making: eat the dough! I'm pretty sure my sisters ate more cookie dough than actual cookies. It was a lot of fun though. Several cousins came over to help make the cookies, so there were about 7 kids in the kitchen attempting to bake at once.

The weekend went very well. On Saturday, we went to a National Park called Cajas. It was beautiful in a rather stark, rainy way. There were lots of mountains, mountain streams, lakes, and marshes. Very wet, rather sparse vegetation, but still very majestic. There was an entire forest of these trees called paper trees, very twisted, with red, flaky bark and mossy leaves. I think that was my favorite. It was a pretty muddy hike. It rained the entire time, and sometimes hiking seemed more like a controlled slide down a muddy, narrow path than actual walking. But I really enjoyed being able to be outside. Afterward, we ate some trout fresh from the nearby lakes and headed back down to Cuenca to warm up.

Then, yesterday after church, my family took me to a nearby city to see the cathedral there. We got some fresh coconut to eat from a street-vendor, and then we went to a restaurant to eat lunch around 2:00 (lunch is pretty late here). The food was delicious, and we got to watch the end of the Brazil, Ivory Coast game. My little sister almost started to cry when Brazil's best played, Kaka, got red-carded unfairly by the ref. He'll have to sit out the next game. Too bad for Brazil.

Another interesting experience was watching the movie Remember Me with my family. If you don't want to know what happens in the movie, SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. But anyway, it's a pretty depressing movie, and it ends with the main character waiting in one of the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11, one of the surprise, twist endings that just makes you gasp or feel sick to your stomach. It was interesting to see how much the movie affected me as opposed to my sisters. I had to explain to my little sister that I still remember where I was on Sept. 11, even though I was pretty young. Just another interesting intercultural experience.

We only have a few more days of class left. I'm very excited to be done with school. I love learning Spanish, but having an entire extra semester after a difficult semester of classes at Taylor is just wearing me down. Looks like my prof is coming to start class. Chao!

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Test Down!

Whew! I just finished one test. Dr. Treber flew in for a few days to give us the AP spanish exam. It's about 250 questions, and I just finished it. It's relief to have it over, though I still have my speaking portion to do later this afternoon. Then, next week we'll be taking some more tests from our Ecuadorian professors about grammar and some culture as well. I've definitely been working hard this week studying, so the weekend will be a welcome break.

This weekend, we're heading up to one of the national parks here, a place called Cajas to do some hiking. I'm excited to be able to be outside for a whole day. Latin America seems to have to extremes: the urban and the rural. You either live in the city with no yard, lots of cars, and lots of people (like we do here in Cuenca), or you live out in the middle of nowhere, in farming towns in the mountains. There aren't really any suburbs, or even a lot of parks, so I definitely miss seeing green and having open space. Still, living in the city has its benefits. Food here is really cheap. We were at a pretty nice Sports Bar & Grill the other night, and the filet mignon cost, oh... about $6.50.

I'm really enjoying the World Cup. Unfortunately, during the week, I'm in school for most of the games, but on the weekend, I love watching them. This morning the US played Slovenia and tied 2-2. They should have one, but the refs called back a goal we scored toward the end of the second half. I was up in the classroom when I heard shouting and yelling from the downstairs. I ran down to see my group shouting at the refs on the TV. It was pretty funny!

Surprisingly, I only have about a week left in Ecuador. Time has definitely flown! Next Thursday we'll leave our host families and dive four hours to the coastal city of Guayaquil. From there we'll fly overnight into Atlanta, Georgia, leaving around 10:00 at night and arriving in the States at 5:00 AM. That's really going to kill. Then we have a few hour delay and the flight to Indy airport. So I'll probably get home the night of the 27th.

Well, I better go prepare myself to speak in Spanish to Dr. Treber! Chao!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Testing Week and Chocolate Chip Cookies

This week we're preparing in class for our big tests at the end of this week. We have a culture test and then we're taking the AP Spanish Grammar test. So this week has a bit heavier of a work load for me, though a lot of the grammar is review. I really do enjoy my classes though. I'm in a class with only one other person, so we get a lot of attention from the teachers. One teacher is named Patricia, and the other is named Grace. They are a lot of fun, and I really enjoy the way they teach.

Today, I'm hoping to make chocolate chip cookies with my two sisters, Karen and Maria Paula. I have a recipe from the US, but it might be a bit difficult to get all the ingredients and translate the amounts. It should be interesting. Hopefully it will work out well. Maybe I'll even bring some to class tomorrow if they work out well.

It's been pretty normal here, just class and time with family. Although we did go to a place called Banos, a volcano-fed pool type thing. It was pretty relaxing. I got to talk for a while with a veteran of the Peruvian-Ecuadorian War who now works as a cowboy. He was a pretty interesting guy : ) Then on Saturday we watched the England v. US soccer game at Jon's house. We even ordered pizza from Pizza Hut to complete the very American afternoon.

That's really all I have for now! Chao!

Friday, June 11, 2010

We've Moved!

Well we officially moved as of Wednesday night. My host dad is works at the military high school in Cuenca, so the Ecuadorian Army actually moved us. They had told me that we were going to move on Thursday, but then Wednesday afternoon, I came home to see a whole bunch of soldiers in camo and boots carrying furniture down the apartment stairs to a huge military truck parked out on the street. The move has been rather stressful, but it definitely helped to have them do all the heavy lifting.

Ever since then, we've been working on the house, unpacking and finishing up some details. My family actually built the house instead of buying one, so there's still work to be done.

We had today off of school to go to a natural, volcano-fed hot springs this morning. The water was wonderfully hot, and it was nice to just relax for a couple hours in the pool after the move and a long week of class. This afternoon, I went with my host parents to all sorts of hardware and appliance stores looking for things for the house. And right now, there are about fifteen aunts, uncles and cousins in the house for the night cafecito.

I really like my new room. It has a gorgeous view of the entire city. They also have a new tv to watch the World Cup. Tomorrow, my group is having a party for the England v. US game. It should be a lot of fun. We're probably going to order pizza, which I'm very exicted about. Anyway, hope things are going well back in the States. I'll try to post againt soon!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Normal Day in Ecuador

Well, life's settled down to a rather normal routine. Sorry for the long delay in blog updates, but things have been a little crazy around here with the moving and getting used to being in classes all day again. One a normal day, I wake up at 6:20, get ready, eat breakfast, and catch the buseta at 7:10 with the rest of the group. We head to the church, and I'm in speaking and reading class from 8-10 and then grammar class from about 10:30-12. After that, the buseta takes us all home for lunch. I head back to school for culture class at 3:00, and we either head downtown Cuenca to see some cultural sight, have lecture, or have dancing class. Around 6:00 I head home.

Activities in the evening depend on the day. Sometimes the group of Taylor students goes out, sometimes I go to home church (basically small group), and sometimes we head to a relative's house for a cafecito (little coffee). The thing with meals is that lunch and dinner are reversed. Lunch is the large meal of the day and dinner might just be coffee with a roll of bread or eggs and rice. A lot of my family will get together each night to have cafecito, and it's a lot of fun. I get a lot of Spanish practice in there, too.

This Friday begins the World Cup! I'm super excited to be down in Ecuador for the cup. My family already has all the parties planned out for the coming games. Each family will host one of the parties in a sort of rotation for each game that we are able to watch. My family is rooting pretty much for Brazil, and it's going to be a blast. Lots of food, lots of family, and lots of soccer!

Some of the things I enjoy most down here is the family. They are a lot of fun to be around and to get to know. Things I miss the most include American food (food down here is great, but they don't eat a diet I am accustomed to), having a yard (most families don't have one in Cuenca), and being able to go outside whenever I want. My family is pretty protective of me, and they don't like me wandering outside by myself, which is understandable. Still, I miss being able to head outside for a walk or enjoy the sunshine whenever I want. But still, I'm learning a lot about Spanish and the culture. I think that's all for now! Chao!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Start of School

This past weekend, our culture teacher took us to a nearby town where they grow these beautiful, exotic orchids, another leather/shoes town, and a town for mining silver and jewelry. The greenhouse was definitely my favorite, and I got some amazing pictures of the strange flowers. The next day, I went to church with my family for the first time, which was a lot of fun. It's very loud, and people are constantly walking in and out of the service with their kids. But I enjoyed the service a lot. Oddly enough, I could understand the pastor pretty well because he's an American and speaks spanish with a pretty strong American accent.

Today, classes and homework started for real. We have four hours of classes from 8:00-12:00, with two hours of discussion/vocabulary practice and two hours of grammar. It went surprisingly fast for a four hour class, and I really enjoyed getting more practical vocabulary. We'll probably be reading some short stories in Spanish in the morning, along with newspapers, magazine articles, and other forms of literature. They were impressed that my classmate and I had already read Cien AƱos de Soledad, one of the foundational texts in Latin American literature.

Tonight, we're going on a tour of the city center with our culture teacher, which should be interesting. The central plaza is very pretty, with lots of trees, fountains, and a beautiful cathedral, definitely a good place to hang out. That's really all I have to tell for now. Chao!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Apparently, there was a volcano... but don't worry

Well, apparently there was a volcano eruption in the north, but I didn't hear much about it until I got on Facebook today! We're fine, about 8 hours from the eruption by bus. The ash cloud might get in the way of flights, but we won't be flying out anytime soon, so all's good in Ecuador.

I've stayed the past couple of nights with my host family, the Delgados. They are absolutely amazing and take great care of me. I have three host siblings, two "sisters" who are 16 and 13, and then one little "brother" who is 2 and a half. It's been great getting to know them and the extended family. The very first night I was with them, they took me to meet a whole bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I'm learning a ton of Spanish through the homestay too.

I'm still adjusting to the food here, though. They eat a lot more meat and eggs down here than I am accustomed to, so I constantly feel stuffed. But their juices are amazing, defintely my favorite part of the cuisine down here so far. The juices are all fresh, made without concentrates or anything added. So far, rasberry (jugo de mora) is my favorite.

Yesterday, we began classes, starting lectures in culture class and taking our placement exam for spanish grammar class. My friend and I are the only ones in level three, so we'll get a lot of one on one attention. Well, more relatives just came to meet me, so I have to run.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Estoy en Cuenca

Well, we flew into Ecuador around 11:00 two nights ago and made it to our hotel. It’s a beautiful old building, with all sorts of hidden corners and twisting hallways. The next day we woke up pretty early, ate a breakfast of bread, eggs, and watermelon juice (that was delicious) before heading out for a day of touring the capital of Ecuador, Quito.

In the city we saw several of the main plazas, I ate a Magnum bar (definitely a highlight), and toured a beautiful church. Then we headed out to the equator line as well as the point of 0’0’0 where we watched all the cool demonstrations about things you can do on the equator. Some members of our group were even able to balance an egg on a nail. Afterward, we headed back, saw several more sites in Quito.

Today, we did some more touring outside of Quito, seeing the gorgeous mountains, valleys, and volcanoes along the way. Later in the afternoon we went to a market in the middle of the mountains and did some bartering for all the goods they sell there. I’m pretty terrible at bartering, I decided. I just give in too easily. But I did get a beautiful scarf, a bag, and a couple of other gifts. We ate lunch in another town that produces leather before heading back to Quito to catch an indigenous ballet. That was very interesting on a cultural level; there was a definite mixture of Spanish and indigenous influences in their costumes and dances.

Right now we’re getting ready for bed because we leave for Cuenca at 7:30 tomorrow morning. It will be a 7-8 hour bus ride through the mountains, and then, at the end, we’ll meet our host families. I’m still pretty tired from traveling, but I’m very excited to be here surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, the Ecuadorian culture, and SPANISH!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Packing = Stress

Well, I got home from school last Thursday evening and I am leaving tomorrow morning at 5:00 in the morning. Kind of stressful to pack everything at school, unpack it here only to pack again for Ecuador. But so far, I've been doing well. Still have a lot of last minute errands to run and random threads to tie up.

I can't believe I'm leaving tomorrow. I really haven't had time to think about it yet, between finals and packing. But I'm very excited. We'll fly out tomorrow from Indy airport, catch a connecting flight in Atlanta and fly into Quito that evening. Thankfully, Ecuador is still in the same time zone as Indiana (not Chicago), so there won't be a huge time adjustment. From there, we'll spend some time exploring the capital before heading to our final destination in Cuenca, Ecuador. There, I'll meet my host family and jump into Spanish classes.

Some things you could pray for are
- safe, smooth travel
- smooth adjustment to the food and culture
- that I would have enough energy for another short semester of classes right after two tough semesters