Rule number one to traveling: Study the native language for more than a week.
That was something I had not taken into serious consideration as I hopped onto my plane. My destination was Ecuador, a predominantly Spanish speaking country.
Good thing I took three years of French!
This was not the vacation I was anticipating. In fact, before finding my way into Ecuador, my school promised a trip to France. J’étais heureuse aller là! But, terrorist attacks left my school in the position to cancel the trip.
I was given the proposition to go to either Quebec or Ecuador. As I sat there, deeply depressed, I chose the latter. My love for science and nature were the push that brought me to that decision.
In a nutshell, I was filled with anxiety over the whole experience. But I would be lying if I said that I was not extremely excited.
Yet, as I sat there on my first international flight, I was met with my first taste of inadequacy in the Spanish language.
A kind old woman sat next to me for those five long hours, speaking only Spanish. I understood a pequeno (a little), but the intensity and speed at which she spoke often left me dumbfounded.
Was this a mistake?
However, I was not alone. Though the majority of students on the EF trip were in Spanish, there were four of us who spoke mainly French. Out of us, I was the only one who studied basic Spanish. So, that was promising.
Despite the barrier, I soon grew to love the simple life of the Ecuadorians. Instead of feeling out of place in the city of Quito and in the Galapagos, I finally felt at home.
I mean, it didn’t miraculously hit me. But over the nine days, as my group and I surveyed Quito and island hopped the Galapagos, I couldn’t help but feel happy. There was something about the atmosphere that took my breath away.
I quickly immersed myself in the culture, something that was really enjoyable for me. I remember, as I sat there in the various restaurants, I would try and act as though I was a native. (Although my Spanish skills said otherwise.) In fact, the first time talking, I remarked, “Mi comida es… Es… Nevermind!” before quickly walking away from the restaurant staff who made my meal.
Over time however, I became more confident. I spoke with locals and I even studied Spanish more frequently. As I casually walked through the dirt paved streets, I let my fears and anxiety melt away. Ecuador was the first place that taught me there’s no reason to stress over the unknown. You can always learn and figure it out.
But that isn’t to say I had given up on French either. As we walked through the crowded streets of Quito, to our hotels in the Galapagos, and even as we examined the Charles Darwin Museum, my friends and I giggled and spoke in the best French that we could. It was an interesting experience for all of us, especially since my friends and I were not the most able French speakers.
No, I was not the average tourist and there was no reason to be. As I marched along those down trodden roads I realized that I had a whole world open to me, a whole lifetime worth of discoveries, and even a whole future dedicated to understanding it. But more importantly, as I walked silently with the herd, I realized that even a French speaking girl could find her place in Ecuador.
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