Friday, May 15, 2015

10 Things you'd experience as an exchange student in Ecuador

Here's to Momma goose who has been continuously not so subtly prodding me to start blogging again, I love you.

Hola ol' blank blog composing page and to everyone who's reading this, I'M HOME! I'm just going to start off where I had abandoned the whole blogging scene almost a year ago when I wrote about my pre-exchange nerves, which all seem so foreign now since I've been back in Malaysia for a little over a month now and instead of dealing with pre-exchange nerves I'm now struck with post-exchange syndrome. That's definitely a proper medical term.

It's as though you're experiencing a second exchange, life with your real family (During my exchange it was near impossible to refer to my family as simply "my family" when you've got at least two host families. After time even your subconscious labels them "real family", "host family #1" and "host family #2". So yeah, that's stuck now) seems almost foreign and daily routines aren't normal anymore but slightly odd. 

And left your average white 15 ft high fortress picket fence family with three kids and a dog to return to my slightly unsettled (We now spend half our week residing in our apartment in the highlands and the other half at our beach house), weird and proud family who unschools their six kids. I can assure you that it was an extremely drastic change.

It's fascinating how living in a routine of complete normality, by normality I mean living with a normal family and actually sitting down in a classroom with teachers that drones on and on with a painfully monotonous voice (Okay, I'll have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed chemistry.) from 8 am - 2 pm from Monday to Friday with a class of eighteen Ecuadorian teens that blast reggaeton through portable speakers box during recess, just living the average Ecuadorian teenager's life. Okay, schooled in Ecuador vs being unschooled post needs to be written. As I was saying it does fascinate me how those meagre eight months away from home made me capable of viewing the life I have here from a more or less complete outsider's point of view. I left Malaysia last year as a sixteen year old unschooler who was driven by caking and art and came home as a seventeen year old Ecuadorian schoolgirl who wanted to book another plane ticket the moment she step foot in the Malaysian airport because there are just so many places see and new people to meet. 

Yes, it was a complete waste of luggage space to bring my caking toolbox and art supplies along since finding ingredients to make gum paste was impossible and art is a pretty solitary activity recreational activity which wasn't my highest priority since I was in a new country with a completely foreign language to hopefully become fluent in, locals to befriend, places to be astonished by and wacky cultures to absorb.     

The last month of mine was spent painstakingly trying to merge these two sides of the same person together, despite the Father's advice about leaving who I was back in Ecuador behind and being my somewhat pre-exchange self again. 

I'd like to think that I've gotten my old habits back and made room for a few new ones, I feel that my happy music would remain reggaeton for the foreseeable future, El perdon by Nicky Jam por siempre. It's been hilarious attempting to switch from Spanish back to Malay and Chinese, I have come to believe that the section of my brain that controls the second language I speak has become undeniably faulty. 

So here's a pretty list of incidences:

  1. I bumped into a middle aged Malay woman when I stepped into the lift of the KLIA airport and said "Perdon, estas bien?"
  2. My Dad dropped me off to buy a loaf of bread and after handing the cashier a RM5 bill he said "Adakah dua puluh lima sen?" (Do you have twenty five cents?) and I replied with "No, yo no tengo vienticinco centavos, solo tengo diez." (No, I don't have twenty five cents, I only have ten.). His face of utter confusion was hilarious.
  3. Those countless times when I had realized mid word that I'm using the wrong language "Hol- err hi!" or "Graci- no wait, terima kasih!".
  4. Since I've forgotten a large chunk of my Malay vocabulary, and it wasn't even that impressive before, I now insert Spanish words in place of the Malay words I had forgotten and speak extremely fast hoping no one would catch it. I might just have a foreign accent or something ya know. How did I ever think this was a good idea.
  5. Then there was the day right after I had gotten back home and went to the local mamak stall for breakfast and ordered "Una agua sejuk y maggi goreng".  

Anyway I'm a caking fanatic once again, my nights are spent leafing through my slightly dusty collection of baking and cake decorating books, during my exchange I had taken an immense liking towards tiramisu and cheesecakes (I used to dislike them with a passion.) and earlier this week I stumbled across a recipe for the perfectly delectable baked cheesecake. Score. 

Also Cake Challenge Malaysia 2015 is coming up, and the excitement is slowly rising because how could I possibly not be ecstatic about investing long hours cooped up in my cake room and creating the most extravagant wedding cake these hands are capable of? And I've finally gotten myself an account on pinterest, on the first night I was literally up till 4am scrolling through magnificently inspiring baroque art pieces that could be turned into sugar goodies. I'm feeling very much like middle aged woman who has just gotten introduced to the magical powers of the internet.

 My wanderlust prayers were answered too, I was accepted into this ahem, "exclusive" (They probably just wanted to make us all feel special and loved. Hoorah.) sustainability camp in Langkawi I'll be flying off sometime next week and since it was more affordable to fly a day before and a few days after, I'm readying myself for more solo adventures. 

Okay, I'll save the current adventures for another time and it's truly amazing to be back home but without further adieu, here's my response to the ten things I had envisioned to experience during my exchange.   

1. Sometimes your host family's house doesn't have an address and getting yourself home can be tricky.

Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to visit a nameless street, both my host families had a nice green signboard nailed on the wall of the first house on the street though I did happen to be in numerous cabs who's drivers had no idea whatsoever where the house was so I definitely learnt how to direct them to my host family's place quick.

2. You wouldn't understand a single word uttered in class no matter how many years you've              been studying the Spanish language. 

When I arrived in Ecuador I had only been familiar with the language for about two months and I was confident that I'd be able to converse with the people around me, I mean I did pass every level in the DuoLingo app, I didn't go through all that memorizing for nothing right? 
The moment I landed in Ecuador that confidence I had prior to my exchange vanished completely, I could understand every other word and being able to tell my host sister's boyfriend "yo tengo tres hermanos menores, yo soy la mayor." was such a massive accomplishment that I went to bed that night with a grin plastered on my face. And it was pretty much the same situation once school started a week after, needless to say there was a lot of dozing off and writing endless diary entries during the first two months.

3. There's going to be a language camp in a 5 star resort in Mompiche, where you're apparently going to speak more English than Spanish. Also Germans make up half the exchange students and the Taiwanese are the only Asian exchange students, not that it matters.

There were a total of exactly five asians, including myself in Ecuador (The other Taiwanese exchange student lived by the coast and the language camp was separated into two groups, those that live in the highlands and those by the coast.) and there were around maybe.. Fifty Germans, at every meet up there was a definite 100% chance that you'll be hearing the German language. 

Language camp was an incredible experience in a stunning resort with a free flow of food, it was the first time that I had ever met such a huge bunch of exchange students and I don't believe much Spanish was learnt at all despite the three Spanish classes we had scheduled daily. 

4. Concerts are realllly affordable. 

Well, we had James Blunt in Quito in March and KISS shortly afterwards but I'm not fans of either of them in any way and $50 is just way too much for an exchange student with a monthly allowance of $80 so concerts are definitely out of the question.

5. Ecuadoreans throw parties every weekend.

Oh this one is as true as it gets, if you like partying South America is the place for you. A house isn't a house unless it's equip with 4 ft tall floorstanding speakers that blast reggaeton so loud even your heart dances perreo and lots and lots of zhumir. And that photo above was taken in an open air party bus during Halloween where I cross dressed, what a beautiful first Halloween experience. 

6. You're probably going to be a Latino dance expert by the end of your exchange. 

No, not really. I'm still as awkward of a dancer as I always was, I enjoy dancing, always have but the sight of me dancing probably looks like a disorientated giraffe flailing it's limbs all over the place. 

I did however attend zumba classes twice a week and it was the absolute best.

7. Football is a thing. Duh.


8. Anything that isn't manufactured or grown locally is priced sky high. (Side note: I may return  draped in llama wool, topped a woven straw hat and requesting for cuy.)

Clothes in general was unreasonably expensive due to the taxes the government places on imported apparel, alpaca wool sweaters and straw hats weren't any cheaper since they are kept at tourist price. But who needs new tshirts anyway when you can wear the same six tshirts under that new Ecuadorian leather jacket you had bought for only $25? 
Oh and fret not if you want to shop on a budget, there are some pretty chevere thrift stores in Quito.

9. Don't expect high speed wifi and the connection has got some major mood swings.

I guess this is one of the perks of living in the capital where it's slightly more developed, so the connection you've got to the internet is great, just as long as you're at the specific spot right above the stairs, sitting on the chequered couch.

10. Sometimes there's no hot water to shower with.

See that tank of gas right there? That's what's supplying you with hot water and somehow electrical heaters aren't all that popular in Ecuador so every time you step into the shower knowing that it's been some time since the tank has last been refilled there's always that feeling of dread that you'd be in the midst of getting the suds out and poof, you're left with freezing cold water while showering on a chilly night. Again.



  1. Karen! I'm so glad you went back to blogging again! I had so much fun reading this post! :D

    1. Aww glad you had fun reading my post! And I have to mention that I'm in utter awe of your blog, its stunning and your posts are such pick-me-ups <3

    2. Omg i'm so glad you liked it!! Thank you so much ♥ I'm excited as well to read your next post! :D