“You hug like a Latina,” and other reasons I’ve cried about Ecuador this semester

The longer I’ve gone into the semester, the more I’ve missed Ecuador. Maybe it’s because the semester here got progressively harder and I was looking for an escape. Maybe it’s just part of the reverse culture shock, as the newness of the U.S. wears off again and I am once again feeling like I belong in at least three different places in this world. Whatever it is, I’ve been increasingly homesick for the place I knew and loved last semester. Here’s a small list of moments that brought it all flooding back:

  • When my roommate made ceviche and patacones and I tasted it for the first time since I was at the coast in November
  • When I tried to take the bus in Norman and it was soooo much worse than the buses in Quito
  • Every time I would accidentally speak Spanish
  • When my new friend Pabel told me I hugged like a Latina and it may have been the highest compliment I’ve ever received
  • When finals week was actually hard this semester (okay, maybe those tears were for more than just missing Ecuador…)
  • When the 7-year-old I babysat asked me if I knew where Ecuador was on the map pf South America and was astonished when I told him I went there
  • When ordering pizza was so much easier in my first language when I knew my address and how to describe my home well
  • When anyone would ask, “How was Ecuador?” and I’d have to spit something out in a socially acceptable amount of time that kind of covered the nearly five months I spent there
  • When I got to spend a couple days in Barcelona and was once again surrounded by Spanish-speakers
  • Now, as I’ve had Ecuadorian Christmas carols stuck in my head for an entire week for no apparent reason

It’s been a weird semester, with a lot more reverse culture shock than I ever anticipated, in spite of countless warnings. The first three weeks home with my family for Christmas were fine, but starting a new semester almost right away was tough, academically and personally. The best pieces of advice I have for dealing with it is just take it slow and talk it out. It takes time– there are still hard days for me after nearly five months. Talk to people who have come home before. They’ll get it, in a lot of ways, and it will make you feel less crazy. Hugs were also super helpful for me, though that’s as much my personality as it is an actual adjustment strategy. Overall, just be easy on yourself, as the process looks and feels different for everyone.

If you’re the friend of someone coming home from a long trip away, remember to go easy on them, too. Asking them one time how their extended trip was probably will feel kind of insulting. Instead, give them actual space to talk about their trip. It’s important. Listen when they tell stories. Ask questions. Ask them how they’re doing with the readjustment. For me, it was the biggest change I’d ever had to go through, and that took time and space to process. It’s 100% worth it to go, and I highly recommend it to everyone I talk to. Still, I wish I (and my friends) had known better how to  help me readjust before I got to Norman and spent a couple solid weeks being a lot more sad and anxious than I needed to be.

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Adventures in Iowa

I knew study abroad would have an impact on me in unimaginable ways. One of the most unexpected results, though, was the increase in empathy and understanding that I now feel I have with exchange students at OU. In Ecuador, it always meant the world to me when someone would go out of their way to speak to me, give me a ride, or ask me if I needed help in my classes. Just having friends was so meaningful to me, and I could not have gotten through my semester as well as I did without those friends. Because of that, I tried to make a point to befriend international and exchange students in my classes this semester.

I got to meet Jorge right away this semester because we initially had two classes together, both in the evenings. He’s from Colombia, which is a country that has been on my bucket list for a while. It also has a very similar culture to Ecuador, from where I had just returned, so we bonded over similar experiences. We got to do some fun things in Norman, like making ceviche and going to an open mic night at Second Wind. One of the highlights of the semester, though, was Jorge coming home with me for Easter!

We got to go roller skating, shoot a LOT of guns, hang out with my family, including lots of little cousins, at Easter, and go fishing, though pretty unsuccessfully. It was an awesome time, and I am so glad it worked out to have Jorge along! He’s going back to Colombia soon, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him again someday, in the States, Colombia, or somewhere in between.

If you’ve met an international student, I would highly recommend being a friend to them while they’re here! It meant the world to me, and I know so many are looking for friends here in the States. Just offering to take them to Walmart, having them over to study together, or taking them home for a weekend can have a huge impact on both of your lives.

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It’s Tea Time in Oklahoma

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I got to be part of Tea Time once again this semester! This photo was taken after many already had to leave, so you can imagine how full this apartment was about 20 minutes before! Tea Time is a weekly hangout at an apartment near campus where international students and OU students gather together for chai, bonding, and lots of good laughs. We also do dinner and discussion events weekly and take students on trips like a weekend-long spring retreat, a spring break trip, and occasional day trips as well!

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Favela Tourism in Brazil – A Latin Americanist Lunch

In order to gain a better understanding of the diverse experiences of Latin Americans and the OU organizations that serve them, I went to one of the Latin Americanist Lunches hosted by the Center for the Americas in the College of International Studies. Many students and professors in attendance were native Spanish speakers and were speaking Spanish before and after the presentation, which was both exciting and discouraging, because I feel I have not had very many chances to use my Spanish since returning from Ecuador just a few months ago.

This lunch was incredibly interesting to me, as it merged my interests in Latin America and international economic development. The speaker brought in was Dr. Bianca Freire-Medeiros, a native of Rio de Janeiro and currently a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The title of her program was “25 Years of Favela Tourism.” At the event, I learned that a favela is the Brazilian equivalent of what we in the United States would think of as slums. These are the areas with high crime rates, vast gaps in socioeconomic status, and, unfortunately, a higher percentage of black residents. Since approximately the Rio Summit in 1992, favela tourism has become increasingly popular and profitable. Throughout this UN Earth Summit, two cannons were pointed at the Rocinha favela as a flex of power over a region of the city deemed unsafe. Local government called this an act of racism and decried the event. Environmental activist organization Greenpeace at this time offered free trips to the Rocinha favela to show Summit attendees that much of the fear was unfounded. The popularity of these trips led others to begin offering them for a fee, and they continue to this day.

These favela tours in Brazil are only a small picture of the many ways that the first world glamorizes and profits off the lives of the poor in the third world. Latino students from tourist-heavy countries like México, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica already know this all too well. American tourists head to the white sand playas of their nations to stay in relatively cheap five-star resorts, while those who work in the hotel often stay in much more humble accommodations in a sector of the city kept out of sight from the tourists. For those families looking for better opportunities elsewhere, though, the situation does not get easier when they arrive to the United States.

This event was very interesting to me as it describes a phenomenon with which I am somewhat familiar (socioeconomic discrimination and segregation) in a country which I know honestly too little about. Unfortunately, this discrimination is all too prevalent in all corners of the world. This event reinforced in me the desire to work in some way in economic development as an adult. I’m still trying to figure out how that will look and where life will take me, but it’s something I know I want to do.

She is Safe – Loose Change to Loosen Chains 2017

I’ve said it before, but it still stands true: I am so grateful to be part of a Christian community here on campus that puts love into action and works for social justice, both locally and abroad. Being in a community that not only prays for people (which is still super valuable), but also gets their hands dirty and invests in improving their life now– that’s invaluable. This semester, we once again had the opportunity to raise money during a week we call “Loose Change to Loosen Chains.” Throughout the week, we table in the Union and outside Dale Hall, collecting change for and spreading the word about an organization working to fight human trafficking. This week culminates with a speaker from the organization coming in place of our Thursday night large group Bible study and sharing about their work. It’s always a really powerful event, and we draw people from across walks of life on campus to unite around one common philosophy: you can’t put a price tag on a person, and everyone deserves freedom.

This year we partnered with the organization She is Safe. This non-profit works in eight countries or regions around the world to prevent and stop human trafficking. They do so through a four-step approach: first, identify the vulnerable and determine what makes them vulnerable. Is it lack of employment, education, extreme poverty, or a combination? Second, partner with local women, churches, and non-profits. With the support of these groups, She is Safe is able to cross cultural boundaries and garner support from local governments and other powerful decision-makers. Additionally, these groups are empowered by the training and support they receive, which is powerful since many women were victims of trafficking themselves. Third, She is Safe equips both Country Directors and local partners with the resources to see the success of the work so far and to share it with others to build a community of support. Finally, She is Safe works to evaluate the measures taken in an innovative and effective way to ensure progress that will last for many generations.

It was an honor to get to learn firsthand about their work around the globe from a leader who was herself a victim of trafficking. Too many times, there is a disconnect between those who want to help and the victims themselves. It was powerful to hear how Michele Rickett’s personal experiences moved her to action on behalf of girls everywhere. She is working not only to “save” them, but to empower them to become leaders and change agents themselves.

Becoming a Bainie (from really far away)

One of my biggest concerns when I joined the Global Engagement program was how I was going to spend a semester abroad without missing really important things at home, namely opportunities to advance my career and OU football. I can’t say that I’ve been able to watch a lot of football this semester due to traveling most weekends, but I am happy to report that advancing my career from abroad ended up working out quite well.

I knew when I came here that I would be seeking an internship for next summer, but I honestly hadn’t put much thought into where until after I arrived. I knew management consulting was an option, and the more I looked into the different firms, the more I fell absolutely in love with Bain & Company, AKA one of the most selective firms. And I had just opted to spend all of their recruiting time 3,600 miles away from everyone else I knew applying who could help me prep for case interviews. If you aren’t familiar with case interviews, they basically give you a real-life consulting challenge that their team worked on for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, simplify it a bit, and tell you to solve it in 25 minutes. Cool. Challenge accepted.

I spent the month of September polishing up my resume and cover letters and sending them a few different directions within the management consulting world, which in hindsight seems kind of silly because of the firms, Bain was far and away the one I had the most interest in. I might have gone a different direction altogether without an offer there. I heard back pretty quickly from a couple of current consultants at Bain who offered to call and run practice case interviews with me. A few YouTube tutorials later, I was about as ready as I could be for my first practice cases. They were… not good. But hey, that’s what practice is for, right?

Within the week, I found out I had gotten a first-round interview, which came with more offers from Bainies to run cases with me. I got a little more familiar and comfortable with the process each time until my big day came. Quiet places and WiFi zones on my campus here are nearly mutually exclusive, but thankfully the study abroad coordinator here let me lock myself into a classroom by her office for the interview. Two cases later, I felt pretty good about my performance and was ready to take my fall break to relax in Galapagos. Come what may of the interview, I was going to have a good time.

When I landed in Galapagos a few days later and turned my phone on, I had a missed call and a voicemail from a Texas number. One of my interviewers had called back while I was on the plane and told me to give him a call when I could. That ended up being the best start to the vacation as I found out I would have a second round interview the next week! What normally would include traveling to the office for an in-person interview would have to be Skype for me again. I did my best to put it all out of my mind so I could snorkel with sea turtles in peace for the next couple days. I got home Monday night, had one more practice case on Tuesday, then interviewed Wednesday, this time from the comfort of my host family’s in-home office area. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I really felt I nailed the final interviews. The interviewers each told me that I would hear back really soon, but I didn’t realize “really soon” meant four hours later with great news.

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Needless to say, I was incredibly excited. I will be in the Houston office next summer working and learning alongside the best of the best. I did have to miss an offeree meetup weekend (in which I heard they went to Top Golf… sigh) but other than that, I missed absolutely nothing with regards to the recruitment and hiring process. I am so grateful for all of the Bainies who reached out to me along the way to help me through cases, answer my questions, and interview me for this position. I am so grateful for those who encouraged me to study abroad and assured me I wouldn’t regret it. I am SO SO SO grateful for this opportunity. Coming at ya, Houston, in summer 2017!

 

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Just another Wednesday in Quito!

Hi friends!

I’m still surviving and thriving here in Ecuador! A lot of people have asked my what a typical school day looks like here, so I actually tried to document it today with some photos. Here we go!

  1. I wake up (probably late because mornings are hard) and get ready for school as usual.
  2. I cross the street and wait for the big green bus. El cobrador is usually leaning out the door saying “Suba, suba, a Quito, a Rio Coca” (Come up, come up, to Quito, to Rio Coca, etc.) by the time they stop for me. I wait for him to come by to pay him 25 cents while I enjoy this amazing view:

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3. I go to class! On M/W/F, I have Conversacion Intermedia from 10-10:50 and Ecologia from 2-2:50. On T/Th, I have Lengua y Cine (Language and Cinema) from 10-11:20 and Creatividad Empresarial (Entrepreneurial Creativity) from 11:30-12:50. Here are some pictures of my school!

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4. I eat food! There are tons of awesome restaurants around campus, most of them pretty cheap. The cheapest almuerzos (lunches) I’ve found are $2.25 for a full meal. Today I splurged a little ($3.75, ha!) and tried out a vegetarian restaurant across the street from the university! It’s super good and definitely will be a favorite for my time here.

5. This is where my days vary a bit. Sometimes I stick around campus to hammock or go to the mall or somewhere with friends, but today I am going home with my pal Hannah so we can cook American food for her family!

That’s a pretty typical day for me! I’m enjoying so many wonderful things here and haven’t been too homesick yet (thanks, adventures, friends, and busy schedules), but I will have a full heart when I get to go home and see my family at Christmas! Thanks to everyone who has been praying for me and encouraging me throughout this time. I love you all so much!

Holly

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Just Jump!

Hi friends!

This weekend I went on an adventure that wasn’t entirely planned out for me, and no gringos were harmed in the process. Basically feeling like a celebration is in order!

Welcome to Mindo, a tiny town with a lot of adventure!mindo-hike mindo-butterfly snake mindo-pals jump

After some complications meeting up to catch the bus (and missing the bus that actually goes into Mindo), my new pals Jill, Loren and I arrived *almost* to Mindo, which means the bus dropped us off at the top of the hill. Four kilometers from Mindo. At night. Alone. So naturally, we start hiking through the warm drizzle, enjoying the strange bird and animal noises coming from both sides of the road, until a kind stranger with a pickup truck offers us a lift to the town.

Our next two days would be full of new friendships, good food, rafting, ziplining (videos to come, but I’m out of space on my computer), and jumping off of increasingly high structures into fast-moving water. See photos for my biggest jump.

The air was thick, traffic didn’t exist, and the warmth of the day held on through the night, making walking around after dark a pleasant change from the chill of Quito.

I’m so glad I took a big leap and did some almost-independent travel this weekend!

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Viaje a Papallacta

Hace una semana, fuimos a la hermosa ciudad de Papallacta para una aventura ? aqui es un video!

One week ago, we went to the beautiful city of Papallacta for an adventure! Here is a video!

P.S. those are hot-spring-fed pools at the end. Effectively giant hot tubs. Really helped me melt off the stress of a heartbreaking Sooner football loss.

 

 

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Quick Updates from Quito!

Hola amigos!

Sorry in advance that this is short and not very eloquent. I’m pretty tired from travel and altitude still. ?

I’m writing from my new bedroom in Quito, Ecuador, which so far is much cleaner than my bedroom in Oklahoma or in Iowa. Fingers crossed I can keep that up for a semester!

I have a stash of snacks on my desk (fruit snacks, peanut butter, and Nutella) and 22 pictures of the people and places I love taped up on my wall above.

My family lives on the second floor of an apartment building, but the entire second floor is our home, with neighbors above and below. It took some practice, but I can use my keys without help now, and I count that as a win.

Everyone and their mom and especially my mom has asked about safety, so here it is: the streets here are safe during the day, save for the crazy traffic, and a bit more dangerous at night, much like any big city. I will carry my backpack on my front when I ride the bus because pickpocketing does happen some.

All in all, things are much the same here: we use the US dollar, we dial 911 in an emergency, and I even get to keep using Sprint. Looking outside, I might think Pichincha, the giant mountain outside my window, was just another one of the Rockies.

But it’s not. Today I went to International Student Orientation. I walked around campus in a large group of gringos, led by an Ecuadorian student whose Spanish was significantly better than mine. I will soon be on the other end of a program similar to OU Cousins– Ecuabuddies. I’m 3,000 miles from my family and 6,200 miles (and seven time zones) from my boyfriend.

Everything is the same, and nothing is the same, and so far I’m okay with that. I’m sleeping a lot to adjust to the altitude, which has kind of kicked my booty thus far. I’m sure there will be moments of culture shock to come, but for now, I’m settling in to life with my family! School starts Monday, and I’m excited and also very nervous to see if I can keep up with the professors’ Spanish. PTL my classes here are pass/fail… that should about counter my limited language skills!

More updates to come!!

Holly