Videochat with mom. Eat breakfast and drink delicious cinnamon clove milk tea. Decide to go to the Parque Metropolitano for a run... Cause why not! It was beautiful. I kinda sorta didn't bring enough money so my run turned into an hour and a half run... Shower, delicious lunch with Wilma (papas rellena con verduras), walk to Dome's house. Then we ended up at her cousin, Andrea's house, and played monopoly with Luis and his friend (hehe I won). Then we played the hand game on the table and then heads up. You know when you laugh with your whole body and everything is funny? That's what it was like.
In the morning I took the bus downtown to el Parque el Ejido, where I had a lot of fun just walking around and reminiscing. The huge cup full of fruit cost $1... aka I'm in paradise. I went to la Casa de la Cultura to check out some art, and then bought a few gifts in the artisanal market.
At night, I went to a fashion show with Gaby and Juanse. What? Yep. It was put on by the Ministry for Justice and Human Rights, which is where Gaby works. Her job revolves around the prison system and ensuring integration back into society. The fashion show was to show off work created by women in jail who, through a ministry project, designed and created various pieces of clothing.
I had never been to a fashion show before, and when we got there I felt quite out of place. First of all, Gaby's name was on a special list, and we were allowed in because she was allowed in. El Museo de la Ciudad (The City Museum), which is located in the historical district, was transformed into a venue for the night. I was poured a glass of whisky and took part in small talk about fashion... But anybody who knows me knows that I know absolutely nothing about fashion! Juanse and I started talking about colonization (Damn you, Christopher Columbus), which is a conversation I am much more interested in having and can actually contribute to. It was an eclectic group of people, from men in expensive suits to 20-something-year-olds in modern funky clothing. The show was an experience. It was actually held in the old hospital's church, which turned out to be a really neat place to have a fashion show.
Two main observations: 1. The show was about female prisoners (who were not present) yet only men spoke about the project, and 2. I guarantee that the majority of the female models were underweight, and I would bet my right hand that at least half of them had eating disorders. Welcome to the fashion world, I suppose.
Centro Historico & Museo de la Ciudad
Side note: It's cool to run where I used to run all the time last year.
First run went well! Lazy day with Gaby and Juanse. Then we made delicious bread. YUM.
THEN the MOVIE. After a cafe in Plaza de las Americas.
Supposed to be there at 12, got there at 4. Classic.
Beautiful place in Tumbaco.. finished house is gorgeous. I saw Sarita, and Emi, and Luka, and Emi's mom, and Dome's parents, and Dome, and went with Juanse and Gaby. Poor Amelia... We all ate cuy. It was good, and the texture was good and taste too, but hard to eat well.
Cristain talked to me about the education system which was interesting. Sara's job-to-be sounds very cool.
Parties in Ecuador are different than ones I've been to in Canada, to say the least. Firstly, dancing. Secondly, there are these buses called "Chivas" that can be rented out for loud parties on wheels that go through all of centro historico with limitless supplies of canelazo.
I slept for the majority of the day, most likely recuperating from the trip and the altitude changes. After a brief breakfast, I actually slept from 10 AM to 6 PM which is crazy but I'm capable when it comes to sleep. Got ready, met Carol, Luis, and Cristian downstairs.
We left in the taxi and met friends near Plaza de las Americas, where the Chiva picked us up. I saw Dome! That was awesome. Her friends were there too, like Shirley. I saw friends of Carol's (like Gabriela "la Mona") who I hadn't seen in over a year as well. There were other faces there I knew too.
I got much too excited when I saw Carla and much much too excited when I saw Fran and Danny. We had a rocking time in the Chiva--I even broke out from my shell and danced because YOLO. Dome made it lots of fun too, and everyone--EVERYONE--wouldn't let me go without alcohol.
Carol and Andres came to pick me up from the airport. It was fantastic, like nothing had changed.
We got to the house and I gave a HUGE hug to Gaby and Wilma and met their new husky dog, Yana. It was a bit strange at first of course, because this was a new house and all, and I felt out of place... We chatted, shared maple cookies I brought, and I met Gaby's boyfriend Juanse. Gaby is pregnant 6 months! Crazy! I also met Luis, Carol's brother. He seems nice. The boys made the bed in the room I'll be sleeping in. Wilma made a fantastic "welcome" cake for me, so that was absolutely touching, and we all ate with tea.
Not going to lie, though. I forgot how much energy there is all the time. It's fantastic energy! And I feel welcome, of course. I just need a bit of time to adjust, I think. It's funny how being thrown into something all over again can feel so wonderful but confusing and loving yet strange at the same time.
I’m on a plane right now headed to Ecuador because I saw a pamphlet on a Professor’s desk that said “Trent-in-Ghana” during my first year of University in Queen’s commerce.
Let’s deconstruct that a little bit, shall we? First of all, the reason I’m going to Ecuador is because it’s been a whole year since I’ve seen my host family I lived with during the 2015-2016 Trent-in-Ecuador year abroad program. So naturally, I wanted to go back because they essentially adopted me. But if we dig further, we realize I was with Dome, a member of that host family, 6 days ago. She lived with me studying ESL for the entirety of my last year of University in Peterborough. But hold up! Why was I in Peterborough?
I went to Queen’s commerce because it was the best business school in Canada, and only because it was so selective did I enroll in that program. I knew I was more interested in human rights and development studies, but I rationalized that this way, I could get a guaranteed job and focus my energy in non-profit business. Silly in retrospect, but as a type-A overachiever student-body-president with a 94 GPA coming out of high school, the pressure was on. I largely put the pressure on myself, but still. I had a full tuition scholarship… How could I give that up?
It turns out the cutthroat environment of wall-street wannabes, cash-obsessed students, and teachers saying human rights abuses weren’t so bad if you got a bang-for-your-buck (profit margins! profit margins!) was absolutely the wrong place for me. After one god-awfully horrible semester, I made the tough decision to switch out of the program into global development. It might seem like a no-brainer, but in that environment, with students and professors alike saying “you’re going to regret this,” or “once you switch you can’t come back” it was quite challenging to pursue what I was passionate about. (One kid in my Economics group who aspired to be the Wolf of Wall Street told me switching would be the worst decision of my life because, and I quote, “we spit on the arts kids.”) I remember having a conversation with my Mom at Christmas break, and I even said, “I can put off happiness for four years if it means I’ll be successful.” Let me set the scene: I’d stay in the commerce building all night—like literally sleep in the study spaces—and still have homework the next day. It got ugly.
I switched. Best decision ever. To be clear, the first year was already underway, so I couldn’t technically join the Global Development program right away… but I’ve never been very impressed with technical barriers. I went to speak with the Global Development department head, Paritosh Kumar, and said I wanted his special permission to take the two second year courses during the rest of my first year at Queen’s. Long story short, he let me take the courses. On his desk that day I visited, I saw a pamphlet for a 3rd year abroad program called “Trent-in-Ghana” out of Trent University. I looked it up, and saw they also had a year abroad in Ecuador. I applied to both programs during the second semester of my first year. Like I said, technical barriers don’t impress me.
I didn’t think about it much because I knew I was only going into my second year, but figured applying two years in a row would better my chances to get in for my third year. I even signed a lease for the following year in Kingston because I assumed I was coming back! When I did the Ghana interview over Skype and met Paul, I was very surprised. Here was this awesome prof character telling me I could do the requirement first year course I hadn’t done over the summer, and head to Ghana or Ecuador in April. I had to find somebody to take over my lease.
The orientation was a blast. All the girls who were going had interests like mine, were super welcoming, and Charlotte even let me sleep at her apartment for the weekend. I decided to do the Trent in Ecuador abroad program… even though I’d never taken a Spanish class in my life. I took my first year international development course and a Spanish 1000 class online over the summer.
When I got to Ecuador, the only thing I could say was, “Hola.” By the end of the 8 months, I was fluent in Spanish and had made some of the best friends I had ever made. My host family was HUGE, and every single one of them made me feel like family. With my 11 Canadian friends from Trent and Guelph and Dalhousie, I went to the sierra, the beach, climbed volcanos, lived in the Amazon for a bit, ate dozens of new foods, experienced a new culture, surfed for the first time, and lived through a billion and a half “What is my life” moments.
The plan before had been to return to Queen’s after doing this year, but I fell in love with the Trent-in-Ecuador program so much (friendships, teaching style, school philosophy, etcetera.) that I decided to finish my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies in Peterborough at Trent University.
Over the summer I worked in Burlington biking around for VPIRG, which is basically an environmental organization that raises money for initiatives. I’ll have to write a whole other essay about that, because I had some crazy experiences there.
My year in Peterborough was awesome. First of all, the students in my program became immediate friends—we all think alike in so many ways. I learned about the real things that grind my gears, like gross inequalities, sustainable agriculture, indigenous resistance movements, economic alternatives, neoliberal violence, challenges in migration, the dark face of globalization, cultural genocide, climate change, gender issues, corporate assholes in 21st century capitalism, governance approaches, exploitation, power imbalances, global health, and structural change. My professors were not only extremely knowledgable, but kind and helpful. We drank coffee on Wednesdays in the IDS resource room, and ate dinner at Dana’s house once. I made pals outside my program too, and met as many international students as I could. I rode around my apple green bicycle, explored coffee shops downtown, went for runs through the forest, at at the Spoon, and just enjoyed being in the presence of people who genuinely accepted me for who I am.
The most important thing I learned at Queen’s was to follow your passions even when it’s a tough decision, and not to let money taint your idea of what success means. Even though we strangely equate being unhealthily busy and productive 24/7 to having more “value,” I learned that being stressed out can make unhappy, and that’s not worth it.
In Ecuador, I learned to live in the present moment. I learned that friends can be made anywhere. I learned that language is a key to opening your eyes to the world. I learned that it’s okay to lean on other people when you’re feeling lost, or unsure. I learned that surrounding yourself with real friends who love you for who you are is more important than friends with connections. I also learned I was bi… more on that another time. I learned every single person on the planet has a unique story and lesson to teach you. Most importantly, I learned that happiness is not an end goal that you’ll reach when you have the steady job or whatever else, but that happiness should be a constant state of mind.
In Peterborough, I realized that there are other people who think like I do, and even if Trent IDST is a bubble, I know I’ll find pals in other places who make me feel understood like this group does. This year I took time to do things I enjoyed by applying the “live in the moment” mantra I learned in Ecuador. I started drinking coffee. I lived with 3 people I didn’t know (and Dome!) and realized I can get along with just about anyone. I went on dates with girls. I learned that I have preconceived notions about certain kinds of people (ie business men with billion dollar suits), and I’m trying to dispel these judgements and overcome flaws I didn’t know I had. I learned that I’m probably going to be studying this stuff for the rest of my life, because I can’t imagine being personally fulfilled if I’m not learning more about international development or sustainable policy alternatives or everyday discrimination or preposterous levels of inequality. I learned I could write an absurd amount of papers in 8 months! I learned that there are good people everywhere. I learned to stop blaming society for the injustices happening around me and actively challenge them. I learned it’s okay to take time to re-charge. I learned that it’s okay to create your own path and somehow graduate in 3 years instead of 4. I learned that I will stay in touch with a lot of these friends for years and years. Finally, I learned that my Economics group-mate in my first semester was wrong, and that switching out of commerce, and then switching out of Queen’s were the best decisions I could have made for me.
I’m finishing my degree by doing an intensive french study program for a month in Quebec, and another one in France. I’m applying for an internship with the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. What even is life?
We’re descending. I’ll be in Ecuador soon!
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