Driving! Before I left for Ecuador, one could frequently catch me complaining about traffic. I love my car, I love driving, but I hate traffic. Little did I know how crazy traffic could be! Truth be told, I still complain about traffic now, but it’s with a slightly fonder appreciation. Really, I just missed not having to rely on someone else (i.e. Uber) or public transport in order to get where I needed to go. It’s very comforting to feel like I have control over that part of my life again.
After spending two and a half months immersed in a foreign language, I have enjoyed walking into public spaces and hearing conversations that I can understand. I’ve made a point to talk more with the people I interact with, even in passing. Having a nice, positive exchange of words without worrying about my grammar or pronunciation is truly a relief.
Of course, I can’t write this list without including all of the people I’ve missed. My friends, family, mentors, and even a few coworkers! Though the internship was the same length as a term, it was different than just being away at college. There was a whole new set of people I interacted with constantly: other interns, new teachers, medical professionals, and my host family. It was a nice support system, but it wasn’t the same as my tried and true support back home.
Even though it was difficult and at times (many times!) stressful, I miss being immersed in the Spanish language. The ability to learn Spanish was an important factor in my decision to participate in this internship, and the language classes I received each weekday were invaluable. In the Spanish lessons, I was able to cover a bit more in 10 weeks than I did in four years of Spanish in high school. What’s more, I was able to actually hold conversations by the end, with decent comprehension (depending on the context, of course). Since returning, I think I’ve heard Spanish spoken once, by a passerby. I have realized that I really need to go out of my way to practice if I want to maintain my knowledge and especially if I want to continue to improve.
I miss some of the freedoms of solely focusing on the internship and not having a laundry list of other things to worry about. My weekdays consisted of medical rotations, Spanish lessons, and homework. Beyond that, I could walk around and explore when I wanted to. I could relax. Now that I’m back, I’m jumping into the flurry of activity that I had before: work, volunteering, finishing up work for my degree, constantly seeking out more experiences for personal and professional improvement, etc. The internship provided a nice break in the routine.
Speaking of walking, I miss that too. Though I love my car (did I mention that?), I really enjoyed the ease with which I could walk to where I wanted to go in Quito. Though the town I live in is quite walkable, I have typically relied on my car. Now I’m excited to spend more time actually enjoying how pretty and pedestrian-friendly the streets around my apartment are.
Lastly, I miss the people I grew fond of during my internship. My professors were wonderful, friendly, funny, and so helpful. I would not have improved so much, and my medical experiences would not have been as rich as they were, without the help of the language school. I miss some of my favorite physicians, especially at SOLCA and Hospital Carlos Andrade Marin. They were professional, welcoming, eager to teach, and understanding about my Spanish level. I miss my host mother. She is an angel. I was worried about living with people I didn’t know and trying to communicate in a language I barely knew, but she made the transition so easy. These people were essential to both my success during the internship and my enjoyment of the entire intercultural experience. I am so grateful to have been able to spend time with them and learn from them.
I would describe myself as an introvert, and thus also a homebody. I can be extroverted when the need arises, but as most introverts know that can get a bit tiring. My family has not traveled
much. I’m from Oregon. I’ve been to Idaho a few times, and Washington, California, and Texas once each. Everything for me is very family-centered and home-centered. This means that participating in an internship in South America was a big move for me, and a big surprise for my family.
What I discovered is that I can still be content and still be who I am even when I’m very far away from what I’ve known and extremely out of my comfort zone. For avid travelers this might be a no-brainer, but we all experience things at different stages, don’t we? I handled some intense lifestyle changes – different country, different language, new people, new activities – as easily as I had handled moving to a different city for college. It made me realize that I don’t have to be home to feel at home.
Another important discovery I made, which relates to being an introvert, is how quiet I had become. Prior to leaving for Ecuador, I spent far too much time being worried about saying the wrong thing or saying it in the wrong way that I didn’t speak at all. Even when it was just casual conversation, with a coworker for example, I would psyche myself out of saying something just because I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. I only realized how much I was doing this when I went to Ecuador and faced many situations where I wanted to say something but did not have the words. Now that I’m back speaking with people in my native language, it is important to me to take the time to share my thoughts and have more enriching conversations with others. I think that being in Ecuador helped remove some of the underlying fear that I have dealt with as an introvert. At the very least it has increased the confidence I have in myself in regards to my ability to cope with changing conditions and potentially uncomfortable situations.