1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

As some or none of you may know, the Peace Corps’ mission consists of these three goals. While all are equally important, I am especially excited about the third goal. This blog is my outlet and hopefully I can present and interpret my experiences in a meaningful way. Leave me comments and suggestions. 🙂

I’m currently a Peace Corps Trainee (not quite a Volunteer) meaning that my life until the first week of April consists of 40 hours/week of lengthy lectures. Everything from how long to boil water before its drinkable to how to look like a bad ass gringa who no one wants to rob to how to adapt my Spanish to express myself in the indirect Ecuadorian way.

Although we had a crash course in culture before jumping into the abyss that is living with a host family, today we had our first real session on culture and what it means. The usual valleys/mountains of culture shock and the surface/below surface iceberg model were covered. We also went over a method called ‘DIE’ (Description, Interpretation, Evaluation). Through all my college courses on culture, language, anthropology, and my few times abroad, no one has ever formally presented this to me. Basically the point is that we interpret and evaluate behaviors based on our own values and culture, the whole concept of looking at another culture through your own cultural lense. The challenge to those who wish to learn and adapt to a foreign culture is to simply describe the differences without attempting to interpret and evaluate.

Example: In U.S. culture it is considered rude to begin eating until everyone is seated and has their meal. In Ecuadorian culture, once your plate is in front of you, you are expected to begin eating regardless of who has food or who is seated. It would be easy for an American to consider the Ecuadorian way rude simply because it is rude in our own culture. However, it is unfair to do so because we don’t understand the why. Why don’t Ecuadorians wait for everyone to have food and be seated? As an American, its very difficult to understand this and that’s ok. The best thing to do is simply describe the difference and leave the interpretation and evaluation up to those who understand why the best, Ecuadorians.

I feel that although I’ve never actually thought about it, I have tried to change the way I look at foreign cultures. Going abroad has helped me see U.S. culture in a different light and this in turn has helped me look at foreign cultures as an observer and not an evaluator.

In an attempt to promote the third goal and simply describe the culture, here is my Ecua-culture 101. Maybe I’m dwelling on this but it’s important to note that I came here with almost no knowledge of Ecuadorian culture and these are my surface observations after 12 days, they may or may not be specific to my host family or my region (the Sierra/highlands) and some are definitely over-generalizations. I hope to understand these more as time goes by.

Food/Table Manners

  • popcorn is eaten in soup
  • aji is the spice of life and is used instead of pepper
  • juice is freshly squeezed everyday from fruits grown locally (meaning backyard locally)
  • everyone drinks instant coffee because “all the good stuff has been exported”
  • at least one starch is served at every meal (plantains, yucca, rice, potatoes, etc.)
  • meat is served in small portions
  • no one drinks water
  • milk comes in a carton and is non-refrigerated
  • vegetables consist of tomatoes, lettuce, onions
  • you eat as soon as your plate is in front of you without waiting for everyone else
  • knives and forks are rarely used
  • both hands are on the table when eating

Household

  • shoes are worn at all times inside the house
  • clothes are line-dried outside…rain or shine
  • all dishes are washed by hand
  • normal weeknight bedtime is 8-9 pm
  • the Ecuadorian concept of pets is different than the American concept
  • dogs are everywhere on every street…stray dogs, family dogs, wild dogs, etc.
  • most men do not help with household chores…cooking, cleaning, taking their dishes to the kitchen after a meal
  • women are expected to clean, clear the table, etc.
  • women stay near or inside the house all day
  • most women don’t drive
  • things are collective…grocery shopping with the family, meals, businesses, etc.

Family

  • children live at home until they are married
  • once married they live in the same compound/close by
  • large family gatherings happen almost weekly
  • brothers/sisters live close by/in the same compound even after they’re married and have families
  • religious celebrations (baptisms, funerals, confirmations) are family gatherings and parties
  • women link arms when walking together

Transportation

  • buses are privately owned by the driver
  • the driver’s pay depends on how many passengers he transports
  • official bus stops are suggestions, the driver will stop anywhere a passenger raises his hand to get on
  • a young boy takes your fare and gives you change…maybe right after you get on or 23 minutes later…whenever he makes it to you
  • doors remain open…even on bumpy roads
  • there are no speed limits
  • there are no limits for # of passengers
  • buses are sometimes moving when you get on/off
  • talking on a cell phone/pulling out your wallet/listening to an ipod makes you a very easy and probable target for robbery

Money

  • only the amount of money you need for the day/specific task are carried with you
  • the U.S. dollar is the currency with a few Ecuadorian adaptations to some coins
  • Sacagawea coins are commonly used
  • change can be nearly impossible to get

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