My time in Ecuador has come to an end and now I am able to reflect on my time there. As always when I leave a new country, I am surprised by what challenged and changed me the most. It is rarely what I think it will be, which also held true this time.
Although I anticipated some challenge in not speaking any Spanish, the degree to which it made me uncomfortable was surprising. I had never before been in a country where I barely even knew basic phrases of a language. In my previous travels, I had a basic grasp on the languages spoken there from high school coursework. Here, however, the native people knew no English and I knew no Spanish. This meant a lot of gesticulating and starting blankly at each other. The time this posed the most challenge was when a group of students and I went into the local town, Tena, together. We had to be able to communicate to the taxi driver where we wanted to go and then where we wanted to return to later that evening. We had been given a phrase to say by the trip chaperones, but I wasn’t able to answer any further questions by the driver. It was quite nerve wracking but ended up turning out okay.
I did succeed in my primary goal of keeping an open mind. As I anticipated, living in a developing country where I don’t speak the language proved to be challenging. I saw a lot of things that aren’t customary in the United States including an abundance of feral dogs, merchants and beggars approaching you in the street, children and toddlers playing alone or in the road, food dishes I wasn’t familiar with, and wild animals ranging from tarantulas to monkeys to black scorpions. Throughout all of it, however, I was able to keep an open mind and try to understand and embrace their culture rather than judging and dismissing it as “wrong” or “bad”. Although this was challenging at times, it helped to recognize that by asking questions and embracing what was different was the only way I could get the most growth possible out of this experience.
For someone who likes to be challenged internationally and pushed outside of their comfort zone, I would recommend this trip. For someone who prefers vacation-style travel more than becoming immersed in local culture, I would not recommend this trip. Since I fall into the latter category, I really enjoyed my time here. The challenges for me were outweighed by the positive aspects of the trip. The people are incredibly generous and kind, the food is wonderful, and the country is stunningly beautiful.