Introspection and Retrospection

This is probably going to be my final official post about Ecuador.  I’ll begin with some lists that encapsulate my feelings and reflections about returning to the U.S.

Things I’m happy to have again…

  1. microwave – nothing like being able to thaw butter at the touch of a button
  2. car
  3. Colorado/American landscapes
  4. cheese
  5. the possibility of getting in my car and driving to Taco Bell and 11pm if I’m hungry and don’t have anything appetizing to eat in my house
  6. men who don’t hiss at me on the street
  7. summer weather/wearing shorts and dresses
  8. family and friends
  9. more wide-spread fashion consciousness
  10. dishwashers
  11. dryers
  12. all the shoes and clothes that I left here
  13. being able to text my friends whenever I want
  14. cell phone plans and unlimited texting
  15. talking in English on the phone
  16. good soft serve ice cream
  17. the average walking pace of Americans
  18. American courtesy and friendliness toward complete strangers
  19. not sticking out like a sore thumb/celebrity

Things I miss…

  1. street vendors
  2. coconut
  3. granadilla and mangoes
  4. walking everywhere
  5. my own apartment
  6. funny English mistakes my students made – best one of all time ‘Fristable’  instead of ‘first of all.’  Ha!
  7. speaking Spanish with native speakers
  8. $0.25 bus fare
  9. complete strangers who tell me I’m beautiful
  10. talking about family and relationships as part of introductory conversation
  11. Ecuadorian prices and living comfortably on $700/month
  12. having a job
  13. being called ‘teacher’
  14. ice cold water out of the tap
  15. Ecua friends and family
  16. being able to text my Ecua friends whenever I want
  17. pet names
  18. carefreeness and adventurousness of expats

And a little bit more reflection….  I know I’ve changed over the past year, in some very obvious ways, and in some not so apparent ways.  I also know that there are ways that I’ve changed that I don’t even realize because I there is, of course, a limit to how objectively I can see myself.

So let me start with the obvious ways.  Physically, I have a new haircut (duh!), but I also weigh less than I did when I left.  And, despite having done hardly any exercise the whole year in Ecuador apart from walking to work every day, I can effortlessly run over a mile at 5, 280 ft. as a result of living at 9,300 ft. for all that time.  Woohoo!  Not surprisingly, I’ve gained some more self-confidence, and I think I am also more outgoing than I used to be.  I remember a conversation once with a friend and former student of mine.  We were at my house and I’d been quietly singing along to the music that was playing – he’d also heard me sing similarly during class when I would put on music while the students were working – and he asked me to sing something for him.  I bashfully refused, and his retort was simply to ask, “You just traveled to Peru by yourself and you can’t even sing a song for your friend in your own house?”  Well, touché.  So my confidence isn’t universal.  And I often forget that it actually is a pretty big deal that I traveled to Colombia and Peru alone.  I also noted that my manners have diminished significantly.  Those table manners that are so important here in the U.S. – like putting your elbows on the table – are pretty inconsequential in Ecuador.  However, it seems that those have come back to be without much consideration.  I was genuinely worried about that….

One thing that’s been interesting to me, though not surprising is how easily I’ve fallen back into my own cultural norms.  Over the year I was able to adapt to and adopt the culture of Ecuador, but it is somewhat shocking to me how quickly all of that has fallen away.  People talk about reverse culture shock, and I suppose I can relate, but it’s certainly not as extreme as culture shock.  It takes a great deal more to assimilate a new culture than to return to your own.  That said, even now three and a half weeks after returning, there are still thought patterns that I can’t shake.  For example, it still catches me by surprise sometimes that strangers around me are speaking English.  I don’t think about or care whether they can understand me, I just forget that the general population here speaks English all the time.  Also, I’m still getting used to having a cell phone plan with unlimited texting and a great deal more value in talk time.  In Ecuador we just prepaid a balance and recharged it whenever it ran out, and that is what just about everyone does.  This means that everyone is very thoughtful and frugal about their cell phone use.  Phone conversations are short, and texts are as long as possible in order to make your balance last as long as possible.  I still find myself feeling as though I’m wasting money if I haven’t written a complete 160-character text, or if my text runs onto a second message.  In spite of that, I am still very relieved to be able to have leisurely phone conversations.  Talking on the phone was always so stressful in Ecuador because of the combine factors of feeling pressured by the prepaid balance draining as I tried to speak in a language that I have still not totally mastered.  Eeek!  Que estresante!

My dad will be the first to confirm that I’ve become a lot more laidback and casual, especially with regard to planning things.  This was something that started to change the first time I came to Ecuador.  On that trip, I realized that I didn’t have to have every moment of every day planned for the whole two months.  My travel companion and I were pretty relaxed about our itinerary for the two weeks that we traveled together.  And even when we once got on the wrong bus and were forced to get off and wait for another one in a tiny little village, it didn’t really freak me out too much.  So that trend has only continued, to the point that when I went to Peru, I didn’t even buy my ticket to Cuzco until two days beforehand while I was in Lima.  Admittedly, I probably will not choose to wait that long next time.  So, all in all, I’ve become significantly more comfortable with uncertainty than I ever thought possible.  And that is so liberating and refreshing!

Now is where this blog becomes interactive.  Many of you readers have been reading and commenting along the way, and I’m so grateful that you did.  It was lovely to read your comments and to know that you were reading and enjoying the things that I shared.  So now, I’m going to ask for your participation again.  As I said, I can’t know all of the ways in which I’ve changed, and so I’m curious what you’ve noticed.  So, particularly for those who have seen me and spent time with me since I came back, what do you see that is different?  It can be good or bad, or neutral.   I’m not fishing for compliments here (though as you saw in the list above, I do miss strangers on the street telling me that I’m beautiful 😉 ).  Share your observations!

One final note:  You all remember that I started this blog to share my experience in Ecuador.  That’s been fun, and I thank you all for reading.  Obviously, that can no longer be the purpose of this blog, but I do intent to keep writing.  I chose the name ‘Watching For Wisdom’ because I like observing, thinking critically about the things around me, and sharing wisdom.  So, that will remain the overarching purpose of this blog, though the specifics of that theme may be variable for some time as I refocus and choose a new direction.  So if you’ve enjoyed my writing, I invite you to keep reading.  But remember that you are welcome to unsubscribe at any time, if in the future you get bored with my new direction.  Thanks!

5 comments

  1. jill sare · · Reply

    Well dear Rachel, since I’ve only known you here in Ecuador, my observations may be different that those of old friends frm the US!
    I’ve only known the self-confident Rachel who sings beautifully on Sunday mornings, goes to Salsa dancing classes & gatherings, enjoys teaching her adult students who are eternally fascinated by her style & beauty which are so distinct from typical Ecuadorian looks. So glad I was able to spend time with you in Malingua Pamba, Quito & Banos. Sending best wishes on the next exciting chapter in your life. I’ll read on eagerly!! Jill

    1. Thanks for your sweet comments along the way, Jill. It was such a pleasure knowing you and sharing my Ecuador experience with you. Keep in touch, and I hope we cross paths again some day!

  2. Nancyruth Mack · · Reply

    I have enjoyed all your observations in your life in Ecuador and in your travels. You are an excellent writer and make your blogs real, entertaining, and informative. Have you changed? You’re bound to — that’s what we all do as we walk through life and learn and grow. I have only seen you briefly in church, You look great, and you are beautiful. Keep me on your list. I want to stay connected with you and all the good which will be unfolding in your life! Love, Nancyruth

  3. Janet Greiner · · Reply

    Those words were a lovely conclusion to your Ecuador trip. I love it the you miss being called “teacher”. “Teacher” expresses that you have knowledge that others can benefit by, that you have earned the respect of others, that you have an ability to express concepts to others. Your time in Ecuador, teaching, making friends, cooking, having roommates and going out (on your own) around Quito, and to Peru and Columbia are huge demonstrations of your sense of freedom and confidence.

    Setting out on this year as a teacher in Ecuador your goals were to prove to your self that you could live in another country for a year and to become fluent in Spanish. Those were worthy goals and you fulfilled them and they gave back in growth of confidence.

    I love your style, you are beautiful – in appearance, in voice, in your works and words, and in your love of others. Your openness is a quality that will serve you well in work relationships and friendships.
    Love, Mom

  4. Christa · · Reply

    I think you’re more affectionate now. 🙂

    Love you, lady!

    Also, I agree with your papa… you’re definitely more relaxed about time now. I can tell because before you went to Ecuador, I always worried about being the one who would be a couple minutes late to our Skype dates. Now I don’t worry anymore. 😉

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