They say if you make it to the 6-month mark, you’re good to go. I’m sitting here at 2 and I’ve only had one major meltdown/crying session. I’ll consider that a success.

I ask myself almost daily why I’m here and if it’s worth it. Some days I just can’t come up with a good answer for either question. Yet I’m still here, constantly reminding myself of what everyone has told me and blindly hoping that it will in fact get better. And then there are moments when I say to myself, dude you’re in Ecuador, you better take advantage of this crazy opportunity you have!

I sometimes think being abroad gets idealized. And yes, I’m guilty of this myself. Traveling abroad is often idyllic, exotic, exhilarating, and all of those things. However, its often hard to distinguish between traveling abroad and living abroad. Living abroad involves more than passing through to see the beauty, its like moving to a new place in your own country. Establishing a routine, building relationships, communicating in the local language, and adapting to new norms are all part of the game. Establishing routines is often the easiest part, depending on your line of work. We’re humans after all and everything becomes routine eventually no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Building relationships, well that requires at least being able to communicate in the local language. The whole adapting to new norms thing, that mostly just takes time and some flexibility.

I’ve pretty much mastered the routine. Working in the high school, it only took me about a week to have it figured out. Although, I still get thrown for a loop when, despite asking as many questions I think of to as many people as I can, entire days of classes are canceled and I don’t realize it until I get to school.

Building relationships would be difficult no matter what. I’m thankful for the Spanish skills I do have but I definitely can’t communicate as easily as I want to. There are probably 1,000 people that actually live in Saquisili. Of those, it’s safe to say that anyone my age is probably married or at least has a baby. I’m the youngest person at school who’s not a student by at least 5 years and most of the teachers live in Latacunga. So I do the best I can, going to lunch with my host mom and her crew (I’m the youngest by about 40 years), hanging out in the teacher’s lounge after classes and listening to music with the teachers, and generally just trying to get to know anyone who is patient enough to listen to my Spanish. Adjusting to new norms? I feel like I’m constantly adapting and trying to figure out a situation. It’s exhausting but I can tell how far I’m come since I arrived in January.

The things that I actually do at school aren’t hard, albeit frustrating, annoying, and disappointing at times. Simply existing here, in a foreign culture, is the hard part. How do you explain to someone that just living your life day to day can be exhausting? I’ll always be the gringa walking around town no matter how many people I explain my work to, I’ll always struggle at least a little bit with my Spanish, I’ll always have to ignore the guys who feel the need to yell cat calls and inappropriate things.

For all the times I walk to the back of the classroom and curse under my breath at how ridiculous and frustrating the English classes can be or when I can’t handle any more Ecuadorian culture when ANOTHER class is canceled or a teacher doesn’t show up, there are moments that genuinely make me smile. Raul, my little Noveno buddy, buying me a hamburger and sitting with me during recess. Today, listening to a room full of 40 Ecuadorian 13-year-olds belt out the lyrics to “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 completely off key. One of the English teachers thanking me for an activity I did with the Decimos and saying she was going to do the same thing with her other classes or, my favorite, the kids always greeting me with a “Good Morning, Catherine” when we’re well into the afternoon.

I always remind myself that it is completely my decision to be here and when all is said and done, I’ll be proud of myself for accomplishing a goal. Here’s to another 22 months! 🙂

scene from the latest campo walking adventure, Chantilín – population: (according to google) “very small”