Transitioning Back Into Ecuadorian Culture

Yesterday marked three weeks back in Ecuador, and it’s been spent well. I’ve done some quick trips with friends and my host family while also starting classes at USFQ. I have been quickly reminded of why I fell in love with this country last year: it’s gorgeous.

The biggest cultural transition for me has been living with my host family. Elizabeth and Victor have been amazing and their children have treated me like I’m their brother. I’m grateful to be so comfortable at home here in Cumbayá, a suburb in the “valley,” a large area around 5 miles away from Quito but 3000ft. lower in elevation.

Termas de Papallacta

As I settled into my new housing, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at how much I missed out the last time I studied abroad in Quito. We lived in hotels or apartments the entire semester, and it was a lot harder to integrate myself into the local culture. However, staying with my host family, I’ve gone out with one of their daughters, Leslie, and her friends. Additionally, this past weekend, we went down the Andes into the Amazon region to spend time with my host dad’s sister and to check on my host brother’s dragonfruit farms. It feels so good to be incorporated into Ecuadorian culture through people who care for me.

Dragonfruit Farm in Sangay, Morona-Santiago Province
Palora, Morona-Santiago Province

I want to focus on two aspects of Ecuadorian culture that greatly differ from my own: the language and the culinary scene. For starters, obviously, Spanish is the official language. It’s why I came back to Ecuador as a Spanish major! While I feel very comfortable in Spanish, I will admit that I arrive at home absolutely exhausted every night after sitting through my classes, which are all taught in Spanish. Naturally, as Spanish isn’t my first language, it uses a bit more brain power to sit through classes, take notes, and submit assignments (hence why I sleep like an absolute baby nightly). However, with this, I will say that I’m quickly becoming used to everything being conducted in Spanish as my control of the language in an academic setting continues to grow.

As for the culinary scene, Ecuadorian food is very different, in my opinion, from food in the United States. Admittedly, I have lost a few pounds since being here. It’s absolutely not that I haven’t eaten my fair share of food, but the food here is generally healthier than the food I find at home. Sitting in my third week, I am starting to get a bit tired of white rice. Don’t get me wrong, I love rice, and my host mom’s rice is delicious; however, I try to go out and get dinner with friends at least twice a week to give myself a bit of a rice-break. Furthermore, the food here in Ecuador is so good, but I have been reminded that it’s a bit repetitive in nature. Soup, chicken, beef, rice, and salad are staple items. At least two of them will be part of each meal. Again, I’m not trying to complain whatsoever; however, it does become a bit repetitive (still delicious, though!). Of note, yesterday, I had cuy (Guinea Pig) for the first time in three years. I forgot how similar it was to rotisserie chicken! I will admit, though, that I had to dismiss the idea of a PetSmart Guinea Pig out of my mind while eating it.

Cuy, or Guinea Pig in Puyo, Pastaza Province

Lastly, I wanted to add that, after being robbed last semester on public transport, I have had a heightened awareness of pickpockets while out and about on the streets. I understand that pickpockets are also common in the US, but cases in Ecuador are the highest of any country in the Americas. Moreover, as Ecuador is a developing country who’s economy has also been heavily impacted by the Russia/Ukraine situation this year, cases of theft have risen by 29% since February. I have not let this ruin my experience; however, I do have to remind myself to be vigilant about my things when I’m out in town. Again, this is not to deter anyone from studying abroad or traveling in general, but some of my friends that I have met at USFQ have been robbed since being here (mainly for being in the wrong place at the wrong time), so it never hurts to bring up safety while abroad!

Laguna de Cuicocha, Imababura Province

The past three weeks have been full of big transitions, but I believe I’m getting to a point where I’ve got my routine established and have set down some “roots,” if you will. As the semester picks up speed and I solidify my routine as a local student, I’ll post another update. Until then, I’m simply enjoying the ride.