¡Bienvenido a Quito!

Hola mis amigos! Ahora, estoy en Puembo, Ecuador. I landed in the Quito International Airport yesterday, September 7, at around 1:15 with my good friend Hector Ortiz! The day itself was LONG, as I had to wake up around 3:30 to catch my 6 AM flight from Charleston to Miami, and then I had to catch a connecting flight from Miami to Quito, Ecuador. Honestly, the flights were SO SIMPLE and very amazing. I was able to see Cuba while flying, and honestly, it was amazing to just know I had left the United States and was heading somewhere so new and unknown. I had an entire row on the plane to myself, so I just slept, listened to some podcasts, and started the Netflix show “Money Heist.” 

This was my seat on the flight to Quito! It was so comfortable and I’d NEVER been on a plane that large before!

It was so insanely comforting to have someone I knew on the planes with me even though we did not sit together just because I knew that I’d have at least one friend to support me on this journey. Hey Hector, if you’re reading this blog, THANK YOU. Your presence was calming, and you definitely kept me sane during our layovers and time waiting to get through customs. 

When arriving, I took videos and pictures of all the amazing views of Quito simply because I was BLOWN AWAY by the beauty of the mountainous landscape. It’s amazing how such a large city is built around and on such large mountains.

While I walked off the plane and into the airport, I began getting oh so nervous due to the language barrier. Every sign was in Spanish, the airport and customs employees all spoke Spanish, and I was literally half awake trying to figure out what the heck was going on. When walking up to the customs counter, I began just blurting out all I could say in Spanish about my trip and why I was visiting, and the officer was genuinely so kind and offered to speak English with me, but I persevered with my Spanish. He marked my passport with its FIRST STAMP EVER, told me “felicidades y bienvenidos,” and I walked into Ecuador. WOW. It was exhilarating, honestly. Hector and I found our luggage and walked through the exit to find the staff member who was assigned to pick us up, and before I knew it we were on a bus driving through the landscape. The roads were windy, hilly, and suddenly all cobblestones. I knew we’d be to the hotel soon, and I was giddy to exit the van. 

We arrived at the “Hotel San Jose de Puembo” around 1:50 PM and were shown our rooms and then it was time for lunch. The hotel is almost like a compound in a way—there’s a giant fence around the entire property and within the grounds there is a spa, SO MUCH green space, an animal farm (with rabbits, chickens, roosters, ducks, and llamas), a ZIPLINE (!!!), and an amazing restaurant. Lunch by the way is the LARGEST meal of the day here, so I was served fresh limonada, corn, more corn as a “fritada,” and honestly the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Our SIT staff members were so kind, but they spoke tons of Spanish at lunch, which stressed me out a little. After, we were given about three hours of free time since many of our other cohort members hadn’t arrived yet, so I attempted to nap, but my nerves absolutely got the best of me. It just didn’t hit me that I was thousands of miles away from home until I lay in my bed in this hotel room alone, looking out at the landscape. So instead, I called my boyfriend, my parents, and my best friend, trying to distract myself. I think I’m still at the point where I’m just extremely excited for everything to come, but I know my homesickness will hit most while I’m alone. 

Generally, I am EVER SO EXCITED to try all the foods here, as the lunch and dinners on the first day were amazing. I even got to try some new fruits; one is called the “uvilla” (I think). It almost tasted like maple syrup. I cannot wait to leave Puembo, which is outside of the capital and much more rural, and transition into the city. As for now, I’ll just keep hanging out with the free-range llamas here. And no, I am not kidding about the llamas. They’re pretty darn cool. 

Just me and a ROGUE LLAMA. It’s so cool here.

Although it’s only been 24 hours, I know that Ecuador is already starting to grow on me. Thus far, everyone has been so kind, and I’ve been able to practice my Spanish without feeling too silly or out of place. I am really looking forward to the next 15 weeks! One thing I do hope for is some more consistent weather…it’s rained out of the blue at least thrice since I’ve been here.

Hasta la próxima vez,

Zoe Mullins 

Leaving Home

Hi everyone and welcome to my Ecuador blog! My name is Zoe Mullins, and I am a Senior this year at Wofford. I’m double majoring in Government with a concentration in American Politics and Spanish and I hope to enroll in law school following my graduation in May 2022. I’ve grown up in Rock Hill, South Carolina for 21 years of my life, with the last three years shared between Wofford and home. I’m the youngest of three children, and I am a first-generation college student, but I’m so lucky that I was able to watch my brother and sister go through the college application process and their subsequent academic endeavors. To be honest, my dream of going abroad began when I was 14 or so when my brother, Adam, went on a backpacking trip through Europe. Adam was gone for almost an entire month, trekking, catching trains, and sometimes even boats across France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. I missed my brother SO much during this time, but he would send us pictures of major landmarks, and he even dedicated a “Love Lock” to me and the rest of our family at the infamous Love Lock Bridge (Pont des Arts) in Paris. When he returned home, he had so many cool stories and trinkets that I figured I would do something as cool as my brother when I was 21. 

This is the “Love Lock” my brother left in Paris for me and my family!

So, here I am, a 21-year-old girl with dreams of abroad, and they’re FINALLY coming true. However, the process to getting HERE, writing from my childhood bedroom just two weeks before departure to Quito, has not been even slightly easy. With a pandemic swirling around my life and reminding me that things sometimes go awry uncontrollably, let me just tell y’all that I was originally going to study abroad in Valparaiso, Chile. As a Spanish major, I am required to study abroad for one semester in a Spanish speaking country, and I originally chose my SIT program in Chile, titled Cultural Identities, Social Justice, and Community Development as a result of my own interests in improving our world to become a more inclusive and equitable place for all. As a child, I knew I wanted to offer something positive to this world, and I have always wanted to make the planet somewhere I’d be content leaving to later generations. I have learned that the shared experience of many Latin American countries during colonization has caused these countries to develop at the negative costs of globalization and capitalism. I specifically elected to study in Chile because I have studied the history of Chile in the 20th and 21st centuries extensively, especially in regard to the Pinochet regime and the women’s rights movements of 2019, and I have grown to appreciate the legacy of democracy and the ability for individuals to mobilize successfully against the regime. 

This is Valparaiso, Chile! I was going to travel here 🙂 (Image from GettysImages)

So…there I was, ready to embark to a dream location in Valpo, with beaches to my west, and mountains to my east, studying all of my interests and combining all of my knowledge. I even went through the long and stressful process of applying for the Gilman Scholarship (US State Department travel grants and scholarships) and became a recipient! 

BUT THINGS CHANGED.

I got an email one morning during the middle of Summer from my SIT admissions counselor stating my Chile program would be moved to Quito, Ecuador. This also meant I could no longer be a Gilman scholar, as that it depended on traveling to a country that the US State Department deemed “safe” for students to travel to. Ecuador and Chile were no longer a part of the list of countries deemed worthy to the State Department. At first, I was TERRIFIED, and I was on the verge of just completely withdrawing from the abroad program. However, I’m a senior, and this is my LAST shot to go abroad to a Spanish-speaking country as a college student. During COVID, Spanish majors have not been required to travel abroad, obviously due to the pandemic and CDC requirements, but I simply did NOT want to miss out on this opportunity. I had been given grants and scholarships via Wofford and International Programs, and I figured it would be the most economical time to travel. 

So…here I am, travelling to Quito, Ecuador, with little knowledge of the city, the country, or much else. My program title hasn’t changed, nor has the general themes of content, but it’s all based on Ecuadorian politics, society, economics, and history rather than Chilean elements. During the last two months, I’ve subscribed to local Quito newspapers and have attempted to gather as much information as possible about the country via blog posts, Instagram posts, and even watching Snapchat stories in Ecuador on the SnapMap (I know, this sounds creepy, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do). 

Honestly, I’m extremely nervous for the culture change, as I’ve never even left the East coast before. By going abroad, I will be faced with challenges never before placed in my path, like language barriers and culture shock, but I am excited to face these challenges with rigor and zeal. As someone who particularly enjoys specificity and familiarity, an experience in a foreign country is terrifying but surely will develop confidence in myself and my abilities. I believe that life itself is not worth living if one is not constantly learning and growing, and this experience will push me to accept change and growth in my own life. I’m hoping to gain lifelong skills like confidence and perseverance to help me continue my studies into law school and beyond. Who knows, maybe I’ll be fluent by the time I return from abroad?! 

I’m ecstatic for the opportunity now, especially knowing I have at least three other Wofford students in the city with me, but we’ll all be learning different content in different programs. Something I’m even more giddy for is the FRUIT in Ecuador! I love a good smoothie, or any fruit really, so I hope to try some amazing fruit juices and fresh fruits. I cannot wait to try the Pitahaya, which is almost (?) like a dragon fruit.

This is the Pitahaya. It’s a relative to the Dragon Fruit! (Image from https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/17-tropical-fruits-you-need-to-try-in-ecuador/)

So, yes! I’m super excited for the cuisine, and I’m pumped to practice my Spanish and just to meet Ecuadorians. But with each item I begin to pack and place in my suitcases, I get more and more anxious about the 2,450 miles that will separate me and my loved ones. Although I’m apprehensive about leaving my parents, my siblings, my boyfriend, and all my best friends, I try to remind myself that they will be a phone call, text, FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype away. The distance might sound scary now, but I’m always reminded that no distance can diminish love, and my experiences abroad will help me to become the person I am destined to be. 

Until next time!