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

How to Get Sick: A User’s Guide

The stomach of steel is a myth.

Sorry to break it to ya, especially you “tough as nails” folk, but ABROAD WILL TAKE YOU DOWN. It’s really a question of when rather than if.

But I – No.  I haven’t – No.  I’m tougher – Still no.

They lay it right out there during orientation – you will get sick. It’s far better to accept it, acknowledge it, and move on. Chalk it up to just another study abroad experience. Strange food, strange cooking, stress – your immune system just ain’t up for it for 4 months. So take heed of a few tips from those of us who have already lost the battle:


Give it a week before you go all “Bizarre Foods Study Abroad Edition”

I’m all for being adventurous – it’s study abroad after all – but let your system become accustomed a bit before you eat the worms.

No matter what country you travel to, there’s going to be something awesome and ethnic and cultural to eat. It might be cuy (guinea pig), it might be alpaca, it might be real live octopus, but chances are day two isn’t going to be the only time or the best time to try it. And farther down the line, it might not make you want to throw up, either. 😉

Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad - even learning to eat worms!
The audacious Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad – even learning to eat worms
The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back - one worm that is - while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back – one worm that is – while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon


Gettin’ Some Air

 While we come from a mile high, that sneaky altitude can still get ya. Some cities – such as Quito in Ecuador and La Paz in Bolivia – lie high up in the mountains (in the case of Quito and La Paz, in the Andes) where the altitude is almost double that of Denver. It certainly is an advantage to come from Rocky Mountain High where the sky is clear and the air is thin, but be prepared. My new friend Brenna had a horrible stomach ache the entire first week we were in Quito, which she attributed to nerves and new food. After taking every type of medication she had brought with her and several our host families had recommended, it finally occurred to her that going from Minnesota land of the flat to Quito at over 9,000 ft might have had some affect. After taking her altitude meds and drinking a lake full of water, no sign of the stomach ache since.

Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren't enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan - MSID Ecuador 2014)
Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren’t enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan – MSID Ecuador 2014)
Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi
Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi

The Thirst for Adventure

 Water. To drink or not to drink, that is the question.

In this case, do as the locals do. If they’re not drinking tap water, odds are you probably shouldn’t be either. If you’re really worried, however, or just don’t want to constantly be buying bottles of water, definitely look into safe water techniques. Chlorine tablets, iodine drops, and even UV lights that kill bacteria in water are all great options.

Look how refreshing that water looks! - MSID Ecuador 2014
Look how refreshing that water looks! – MSID Ecuador 2014

Going Native

Getting sick is all part of the experience, as is getting better. So as you want to heave your cookies, just think about what a wonderful experience this is to discover more about the local culture. When I got sick, my host mom made more tea than I thought I could possibly contain. I practically floated for two days. But I got to see how she made it all directly from the actual plant (no tea bags here!) and I did end up feeling better. I also got to experience “limpio de huevo” – the egg cleaning – technique to get rid of all my bad energy. She essentially rubbed an egg all over me then cracked it in water. Where the white floated to the surface was where my “energia negativa” was contained. So really, I’m just holistically a more well person right now.

egg doctor


So friends. Get sick and get some culture. Hopefully these tips will help you so that while you may lose the battle, you can win the war. Happy travels!

-Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger