It is difficult to be thrust into a new life especially if you are in a new country with different customs and traditions. I had the advantage of speaking fluent Spanish and sharing many of the same customs that Ecuadorians have and yet adjusting was still a challenge. The type of Spanish spoken here varies from region to region and luckily for the first few months I didn’t have trouble understanding the serrano (highland) accent of Quito. Aside from some words that are used differently, often with inappropriate connotations or words that derive from Inca Kichwa rather than Aztec Nahuatl, the linguistic aspect was not initially challenging.
In Peace Corps Ecuador, volunteers are expected to stay with a host family during the 3 months of training in Quito and later another 6 months with a different family once placed in our permanent sites for work. I was prepared for the worst, believing the living conditions would be difficult but I was hoping that bonding with a family could ease that transition. What I got was a huge house, better and bigger in fact than my actual house in the U.S., with all the amenities of modern homes including a washer and dryer and wifi. Other volunteers weren’t so lucky with many having to hand wash clothes or not have ready access to internet.
The family itself was incredibly welcoming and they made a habit of including me in all sorts of family activities. My host mom Eli and her children were extremely passionate about sports and we would often spend the weekend at soccer or baseball games where city teams would compete against each other for the glory of first place. My host dad really enjoyed taking me to work since he is also an English teacher and wanted his students to get to meet a “gringo”.
Part of staying with a host family is getting to know the home culture and with my host family I really did learn a lot. By going to parties and leaving at 12am, which for me is already pretty late, I learned that it is pretty strange to do this in Ecuador where parties can often go on until the morning hours and special occasions can lead to parties that last days. Having a host family also helped me to gain some experience cooking Ecuadorian dishes like ceviche, encebollado and yapingachos all of which were accompanied by the ever ubiquitous mounds of white rice. I was even taught how to dance though I almost immediately forgot it all.
But the most important lesson of living with a host family was that Ecuador may be small but the people here have very big hearts and despite being thousands of miles away from home and family, my temporary family in Ecuador made me feel at home.