Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekend Update


First weekend - survived. No taxicab kidnappings, robberies, muggings, etc. etc. Overall it was pretty chill - Friday night, we hung out at Tom's house for a birthday party for his host sister's boyfriend (did I get that right?), and then went to our favorite British pub for some late-night hilarity. Saturday we spent in Old Town (El Centro), more or less the historic part of Quito, and followed it up with a movie - Agente Sal, con Angelina Jolie. Nothing too crazy, which was fine by me. Plenty of time for salsa dancing in sketchy parts of town and weekend trips to the beach (hint, hint). Instead of a boring play-by-play, how 'bout some pictures:

Game of AWKARD - Amanda and random Ecuadorian


Plaza in Old Town

Me, Amanda, and Madison in Old Town

omg SHOES.

Catedral de San Francisco

'El plato fuerte' in the restaurant below the Cathedral - kind of amazing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Overachiever´s Hell

Well. Yesterday (first day of classes) was interesting. Of the six classes for which I originally registered, one of which being a zero-credit sports class, two have been cancelled and one more will probably fall by the wayside. My dream of taking only classes that fulfill Georgetown credits and thus returning to campus liberated from the SFS core curriculum died pretty hard when I tried taking Philosophy, History, Theology, and two STIA classes in Spanish. The International Students advisors told me, pretty directly, that it was not a good idea. I won´t bore you with the details, since it involves a lot of railing against the ridiculously strict requirements of the SFS Deans and self-pity. Here´s the latest update:

- Environmental Economics is a go. Tom is also in that class, and happens to be an International Political Economy major, and is ergo the built-in tutor. (Hi Tom!)

- Soil and Soil Conservation is three hours long. Somehow this escaped my initial observations. We started classes on a Wednesday, and it only happens on Mondays, so I haven´t actually been to this class yet. Soils are AWESOME, so fingers crossed.

Soil.

- Scuba Diving. Not for Georgetown credits, only life credits. There was a tense moment when I thought I´d have to drop it to take an alternate Theology, but the professor was completely unintelligible and so that was thankfully nipped in the bud. Haven´t been to this class either.

- Latin American Thought (Pensamiento Latinoamericano) is like the freshman Pro-Seminar I took (taught by former Ambassador Chris Dodd, brilliant yet soul crushing) only in rapid-fire Spanish. The professor makes a lot of pop culture references that I just can´t follow. I´m loathe to drop it though, since it is the one remaining class that will for-sure fulfill a Georgetown philosophy requirement.

- Security in the Middle East is quite legit. I´ve been told by a very, very patient USFQ student that the professor is great and most of the readings are in English (though that doesn´t help the fact that the four essays, debate, and class presentation will be in Spanish). If I can´t count is as a History requirement, however, it will be very hard to justify keeping this class. But I want to.

- And finally, the runt of the litter, Áreas Protegidas (protected areas), from what I can tell a pretty chill ecology class with a lot of class trips. (Whoo, class trips!) It focuses on Ecuador, and would potentially count as something related to STIA. Although at this point, I´ve come to terms with the fact that I really won´t be able to fulfill five who classes of credits. If the class is good, I´ll keep it; if not, Basics of Pastries, here we come!


...Of course, none of these courses will count towards the overall GPA. But they will all show up, grades included, on the final transcript. I.e., not enough incentive to kill oneself for an A, but consequences enough to feel really bad about yourself if you do horribly. Gahhhh....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Orientation

Today, for the first time, I actually felt relatively acclimated. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was surrounded by American exchange students, many of whom had less experience with Spanish than me. Or maybe seeing the campus for the first time, and learning where my classes would take place. Probably, it had more to do with the fact that I’m more adjusted to the altitude and had successfully eaten fruit without getting sick. Either way – it feels good to be here.

Tomorrow morning, my first class starts at 11:00 am. I’ll wake up around 7:00 in order to get ready and walk to the bus by 8:00. It only takes about 25 minutes to drive to campus, but the buses make frequent stops and will probably take longer. Then I’ll have a good two hours to get on the internet, write some emails that I’ve been meaning to send, and add photos to the blog (as well as this post, even though I’ll probably make it say I posted it the previous night. Mwahaha…). If there’s time, I’d like to meet with the International Programs staff – they were incredibly welcoming and friendly at orientation, and even if I didn’t have a few questions about classes I would probably drop by anyway.

The 'Pagoda', where my Philosophy and Religion in India class will be held

This morning started super early (okay, at 6:40 am) so that my host mom could drive me to USFQ’s campus by 7:45 for orientation. It was good to see Tom and a lot of the other kids we met on the plane on the way in. There are a ton of girls from North Carolina – UNC, NC State, High Point, UNC Wilmington… the list goes on. They are, of course, being North Carolinians, incredibly nice. We all hung out and sat through a few quite entertaining lectures over the course of the morning, and broke for a campus tour. USFQ students who had studied in the United States guided it, and they were incredibly welcoming. If they are anything like the rest of the student body, I really don’t think getting to know local students will be a problem.

After the tour and a coffee break, we got a very serious talk from a representative from the US Embassy here in Quito. Let’s just say there will be a post later on entitled, “Not Doing Dumb Things in Quito.” Preview – my favorite quote of the lecture: “In Ecuador, sometimes bad things happen to good people. But usually, bad things happen to stupid people.” Let’s just say I’ve registered with the US Embassy online so I can get emails telling me which field to head towards with my passport in order to be airlifted out in the event of an earthquake or (apparently, relatively frequent) government overthrow. [Sidenote – okay, the last one was a bit of a joke, not in that it won’t happen while we’re here – not likely in the next few months I’m told, though more or less an eventuality – but that if it does, it really isn’t that big of a deal.]

We finished around 1:30, but even though a group of kids were heading out to eat, my host mom had already arranged to meet me at the front gates and I still lacked a cell phone to call her. So, after returning home for lunch, we went to the Movistar store at Quicentro, from what I gather one of the nicest malls in Quito and within walking distance from the apartment. For $60, I got a Nokia phone and nine dollars worth of minutes and texts that won’t expire for 30 days. I think it’s 8 cents per minute, but since the whole conversation with the representative was in Spanish that’s a little fuzzy. I think it’s 8 cents to other Movistar users, and 19 cents per minute with other phones. Texts come in there somewhere, I’m pretty sure they’re cheaper, but this is cell-phone math that defies normal laws of calculation.

El Parque Carolina, about four blocks from my apartment

With the newfound freedom included with the phone, I headed out soon after to meet Tom in front of the Stadium across from Quicentro. We walked around Quito for a while (don’t worry Mom, it was still light out) which, okay, not the most exciting thing in the world, but fun to explore.

And since no one is probably still reading after this ridiculously long post, I’ll wrap it up. ¡Hasta luego!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

La Primera Día

First of all, it feels so wrong to be writing in English. Hopefully that’s a good thing.
This morning I woke up around 8:30 and kept unpacking. Janette, my host Mom, had laid out breakfast – a choice of cereal, yogurt, pastries and fruit – normal enough – and then fixings for ham and cheese sandwiches. Hmm. I chose yogurt and a roll. My host sister, Diana, woke up a bit later and we chatted in the kitchen. She’s 22 years old and studying business here in Quito. She’s very, very nice and helps me with my Spanish when necessary (which is often).


My host mom, on the right, with her sister-in-law

The main event of the day was a birthday party for Janette’s 14-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew, who celebrate birthdays only a few days apart. It was more like an extended family reunion at her sister’s house, down the valley from Quito. It was such a pleasant time, and I was so grateful for how everyone included me in a very intimate gathering. Janette introduced me as her “hija” or daughter to everyone present. I wish I could recount everyone’s name and relation, but unfortunately most of it escaped me. There were six or seven young cousins running around, and two my age – Diana and another girl who seemed a bit older. Then, there were four couples to whom the young kids mostly belonged, and then a bit of an age gap to my Mom, her sister, and another grandmotherly figure.

The neighborhood where we were for the afternoon was very beautiful. It was in a more rural area, gated at the entrance and again for each house, with high concrete fences surrounding the spacious grounds. Shards of glass were embedded along the top of the walls – a sign that, despite the well-off appearance of the neighborhood, this was still a city in a developing country with enough crime to make two gates necessary, apparently. Once inside, however, the compound was stunning. The main house was a rambling hacienda-style building, with whitewashed stucco walls and dark wood beams topped by red tiles. Flowers and outbuildings dotted the yard and garden, including an aviary of parakeets. Even though the house was outfitted with modern appliances, the rustic feel gave the impression that it must be decades old.

And the food! We started with “choclo” or corn, served roasted on a stick with shredded cheese and butter. Absolutely delicious. With lunch, there was some kind of sausage (chicken, I think) with soft, white French-style bread (but without the hard crust), fresh cheese, and a spicy salsa. I gathered that these were all meant to be eaten together. Janette’s brother then served thick slices of beef tenderloin and roast chicken, and we passed various other dishes around the table.

After lunch, the adults sat outside on the lawn talking while the kids amused themselves, mostly with the four-wheeler or “cuadro” – yes, I accepted a ride from the birthday girl, and yes, I almost died. The family also had a few dogs, including the CUTEST pug, reminiscent of Franny’s “Betty la Fea”. Later, around 5 o’clock, we gathered to sing Happy Birthday (first in English, strangely enough, followed by the Spanish version I was familiar with from grade school). There were two delicious, homemade gooey chocolate cakes, one for each child, and – I guess this is a tradition here – at the conclusion of making a wish and blowing out the candles, each child went to take a small bite of the cake only to have their siblings and cousins push their faces into the cake!

We left soon after the cake. So far, no headaches from the altitude, but I am incredibly tired. I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow yet. I know I have to get my visa registered, but Janette mentioned something about taking tomorrow to rest – sounds good to me!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Just Arrived!

We just got in to Quito, an hour or so delayed out of Miami because of weather. My host Mom is incredibly nice, and we carried on a conversation in Spanish all the way home - didn´t think I could do that! I´m exhausted and headed to bed, but overall very, very excited and happy to be here :)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rain and Packing

The last few days in DC have been stormy and very, very wet. On Thursday, a good family friend (read: saint) is coming by to take boxes of all the stuff I won't need until January. The rest is coming with me. It's quite a struggle, trying to sort out the things important enough to drag with you to another continent and those that you won't need for five months. Not a lot of compromise area. From what I understand, the weather in Quito is pretty much the same year-round: cool in the evenings and mornings, but warmer during the day, especially in the valley of Cumbayá. And, since the USFQ student body is typically wealthier than average, students dress nicely going to class. It sounds like I can wear pretty much anything I would wear at Georgetown, but with lots of layers to account for the frequent changes in temperature.

In between packing, I've been playing around on google maps with the address given for my host family - Cochapata y Abascal, Quito, Ecuador. Quito is a very long and narrow city that runs through a valley; according to the map, my home is maybe two-thirds of the way up on the eastern half. USFQ is located almost directly to the east. Hopefully that means a shorter commute - apparently they can be up to an hour and a quarter in length. Orientation starts on the 23rd, two days after arriving.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Greetings from DC

Final preparations have begun, as I'm packing up all earthly belongings yet again before jetting off to Quito at the end of the week. While I won't be sad to leave DC's heat and mosquitos behind, I'm still admittedly apprehensive about the coming four months. Leaving everything behind seems a bit harder to stomach now that everyone is on their way back to campus and gearing up for the fall semester. I have no idea what my fall semester will hold - a full schedule, that's for sure, but the rest is still unknown.

So far, here's what I know:

I'll be living with a family in Quito and commuting daily to the University (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) in the valley of Cumbayá. By all accounts, the valley and campus are beautiful. My host mother's name is Jeanette Illingworth. She is a widow with an 18 year-old daughter, Diana, and one dog. (Excellent!) Having a sibling that is close to my age is very lucky, since it means I have a good chance of making Ecuadorian friends through her. I hope she likes me!

I've registered for classes already, and though these are subject to change, they are currently as follows:

- Suelos y Conservación de Suelos (Soil and Soil Conservation, a STIA core)
- Buceo (Diving, a sports class for no credit hours)
- Filosofía y Religión de la India (Philosophy and Religion of India, hopefully a Theology class for the SFS core)
- Filosofía Latinoamericana (Latin American Philosophy, hopefully an SFS core for Philosophy)
- Cultura y Civilización Iberoamericana (Iberic-American Culture and Civilization, hopefully an SFS history core)
- Economía Ambiental (Environmental Economics, WOOHOO! More STIA)

The schedule is nicely balanced. Wednesdays are easy days (only two classes) but most other days have three classes spread out between 11 or 10 am and 5 pm. Since the commute to and from campus is pretty long, students are expected to stay in the area during the day. Apparently that shouldn't be tough, since friends of mine who have been before describe it, literally, as paradise.

More to come later!