My Top 4 Tips

I’m back, sadly. I’ve made it through The Study Abroad Experience in more or less one piece and, of course, infinitely wiser. Reflecting on my time abroad and all I wish I would have known preparing for the trip of a lifetime, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to keep in mind as you set out on your grand adventure:

  • Travel clinics are your friend!
    Seriously. Your regular doctor is great, but travel clinics are specifically equipped with all the vaccines and info you  need before heading abroad that most physicians won’t know off the top of their head. For instance, Ecuador doesn’t require any special vaccine and malaria medication is more or less optional, but if you travel outside of Ecuador and want to return – for instance, after a quick long weekend jaunt to Machu Picchu in Peru – it requires proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine to re-cross the border. It’s usually quicker and travel clinics keep the more offbeat vaccines regularly instock. Each county should have their own, so find the one closest to you!
  • Chips for all!
    Traveling to Latin America I just rather assumed my cell phone wouldn’t work except as a rather shiny music player. I’d rather forgotten that you can replace the chip in your phone so it functions on a pay-as-you-go basis in whatever country. I would have much rather used my regular phone I’m used to rather than the junky little thing I bought to contact my Ecuadorian friends and family.
  • Smiley face for FaceTime
    Not everyone has Apple products, but if you do, utilize the FaceTime! For whatever reason, FaceTime works so much better than Skype in Latin America. I got kicked off regardless, but maybe 1 time a call with FaceTime as opposed to 10 times a call with Skype.
  • Reading, rollerblading, and music
    Just a few of my hobbies. While you are trying to pack as much stuff into that suitcase and still keep it under the 50lb limit, don’t forget to throw in whatever it is you like to do in your free time. When you’re missing home or everything around you seems strange, having that consistent activity will keep your world from seeming too overwhelming. For me, it was my bracelet making kit. And then I was able to make bracelets for all my new friends and family, win-win. So pack those books, musical instruments, sketchbooks, knitting needles, bike gear – whatever!

Now I’m sure everyone has their own list of priorities, but for me these were the top 4. Health, communication, and free time. But regardless, you’ll figure it out when you get there. So you don’t have a raincoat or closed-toed shoes and it rains everyday. You’ll buy a raincoat. Or use a snazzy trash bag. So go with the flow and boldly go, adventurers! Have the time of your life.

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– Madeline Doering, DUSA Blogger

Let’s Go Home

I put off packing. Again.
The interminable blue hulk I casually drag behind me as my suitcase stood empty for days awaiting either all my clothing or Abril and Sol, my host hermanitas. Actually, Sol in my backpack, Abril, Pao and Alex – the rest of my host family – in the suitcase. ‘Tis perfect.

Am I leaving? I’ve heard mutterings of this thing they call “the final thesis presentation” and “going home”, but I’m sure that doesn’t apply to me. I have family here.

I’ve had a lot of time to think lately – as I sit and grapple with financial Spanish lingo at my internship, as I panic yet still don’t write my monografia, as I tune out during conversations because its 1am and my maximum Spanish time is 18  hours and how many more hours can we possibly hang out in Cielito Lindo, the bar/restaurant my host family owns – and I’ve most certainly come a long way.

I find myself being very happy as I walk to work or smooch Abril – probably because of all the vitamin D I’ve been getting 😉 I do have my own personal little Sol.

My own personal little Sol and Abril
My own personal little Sol and Abril

There’s something very beautiful about finding normalcy abroad. About accidentally saying “let’s go home” instead of “back to the house”. About a squeaky little voice calling for her Maddie-line to “ven aqui!”. I want very much to go home – but I don’t want to go home.

After living here for 5 months, I don’t really see how people can travel places for only two, three weeks at a time. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it in the future. There’s no time to build a routine, find the fastest way home because you’ve literally walked every possible route, find your ice cream shop where they start only charging you 75cents instead of the very steep 80 “because you’re so sweet”. Where is the living?

It hasn’t even been 4 full weeks, but I’ve again found a home while surviving abroad. When you think about how little time 1 1/2 months is in the grand scheme (my total time here in Ibarra) – barely over half a DU quarter – but somehow it has been enough. My name has been changed to Maddie-line Munoz (because I’m part of the family),

Abril insists I greet “Papito Alex” when he calls on the phone at night (while my host mom dies laughing in the background), and I’ve figured out how to make my bed in 21 seconds flat.

I haven’t jumped off any more bridges lately, but I’d prefer these weeks of princess dolls, slobbery kisses, and endless Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This weird little pentagonal room with the crisp white door, dark purple curtains, and my Crayola Halloween sheets will be missed. Most likely because of the two little girls who barge in demanding to snuggle and view Scooby Doo (well one demands, the other just shouts HOLA!).

The goodbyes are fast approaching. It’s nice when they ask me when I next have vacation or make plans for the 20th of June when all the city dances the night away with the indigenous communities for Inti Rymi and we just have to go. And when they ask me that, I don’t smile and nod because it’s polite. I plot and I plan and I try to think of some way to trick DU into sending me back “to study”. I think I can swing it. As my host mom says though, “It’s decided, you’re not leaving. We haven’t made pie yet.” Well, in that case.

I never expected to find a home while abroad, but it is this part of the experience I will forever treasure the most. This goodbye was the hardest I’ve ever experience – harder even than when I originally left my US family and friends back in August because this time there’s no ticket with a set date and time telling me when, to the minute, I will arrive home.

I never expected to have a reason to return. And now that I do, I am so grateful Ecuador chose me and I found the third half of my family. Voy a extrañarte, Ecuador.

The Muñoz Family 2014
The Muñoz Family 2014

– Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger
December, 2014