Week 1: Preparación para la Escuela, Pan y el Panecillo

Hola a todos!

Updates

I made it to Quito with few slip-ups. At the Chicago airport, my carryon bag had to be inspected because of some suspicious item. The culprit—my MCAT books. Luckily, I got the books back once the security knew that they were indeed books. When I arrived at the airport, my host mom and sister greeted me. After we got home, my whole host family— María and Javier along with their children María Laura and Mateo (both in their 20’s)— ate some delicious soup. The rest of the night I unpacked and slept.

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Welcome to Quito!

The next day was all about rest. Quito is the highest capital in the world, and altitude sickness is quite common here, especially if you jump right into sight seeing. Besides relaxing, my host mom did take me on a short walk so that I could see some of the popular cafes students like to hang out in after school.

On Thursday, all the international students at USFQ had orientation. In order to get to school, I have to take two buses. While they are not that complicated, Quito is a busy place; the buses are even more hectic. That being said, even though you have to be aware of your surroundings, most of the people in Ecuador are genuinely nice. On the way back from school, I sat by this old man who I think told me his life story. To be honest, I don’t know what he said because the bus was loud and he was soft spoken. Anyways, he was so sweet, and he was excited that I could come to Ecuador for the semester. Back to orientation. We learned a lot about health and safety while in Quito, we got a tour from the Ecuabuddies team—a student organization that helps plan events and trips for the international students so that we can learn more about Ecuador and the culture—and ate some delicious lunch. More on food later. The campus is lovely and the people who help make the international program possible are so kind and helpful. I start classes on Monday, and I’ll make sure to take some pictures of the school soon.

On Friday, I actually had a chance to see some of Quito. In the afternoon, a group of us went to Quicentro Shopping, which is a really nice mall in town. After that, we took a taxi to el Centro de Quito and drove down El Calle de Siete Cruces, a street with seven churches that are all lit up at night. I can’t wait to come back to el Centro de Quito during the day, so that I can tour these break-taking churches. Our main destination was El Pancillo, an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary with wings conquering a serpent—a representation of a scene in Revelation. This statue and all of Quito is lit up at night, and all of it is unbelievably beautiful.

A Detour on Food

I was very interested to see what the food would be like in Ecuador, so I thought I would share what I have been eating most days. So far, breakfast consists of coffee, some kind of croissant-like bread with cream cheese or jam, and fruit. They have a ton of fruit in Ecuador, so I have a lot of tasting to do. Lunch and dinner have been pretty similar. Normally it is meat with rice and a side of vegetables. The diet here in Ecuador is pretty much the complete opposite of what I normally eat at home. Typically, I eat tons of vegetables and fruit. Here we eat tons of bread and other starches. I can’t really complain, though. While it probably is not the healthiest diet in the world, all of the food here has been delicious. And if we are honest with ourselves, I think we all can agree that fresh, buttery bread tastes better than spinach.

Family Life

My family has been very nice and welcoming. At first I felt a little out of place because I didn’t know the level of interaction I should have with them, but now I am getting the hang of it. If I want alone time, I can have it. If I want to explore the city, I can do that. Also, if I am bored and want to just watch tv in my host parent’s room with my host mom and sister, I am welcome to do that as well. It is definitely a process trying to adjust to a new family, but I am learning.

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The view from my house

Fun Ecuadorian Facts

Some things I have learned so far: greetings and traffic. It is very common for people in Ecuador to greet you with a hug and a kiss on the right cheek. I was prepared for that, but I am still getting used to it. Then for traffic, drivers—not pedestrians—have the right of way. Needless to say, I have to be very aware of cars here. I can’t just walk in the street like I do at school and expect that people will stop.

 

So far I am really enjoying Quito. It is quite different than Wisconsin, but it is a very vibrant place to live. I can’t wait to explore Ecuador more!

Esto es todo para ahora. Hasta pronto!

Hannah

¡Voy a Ecuador!

¡Hola a todos!

In four short days, I will be boarding a plane to Quito, Ecuador! For four months, I will be studying at the University San Francisco de Quito, taking classes (most of which will occur in Spanish) ranging from Spanish literature to research with a professor about various public health problems. To be completely honest, I feel mostly excitement and peace about the situation…maybe that will change once I actually land, we will see. I am extremely grateful that I know all three of the girls from my school who are also studying abroad in Ecuador. We are all flying together, so even if the flights give us trouble, I will not be alone. Furthermore, I have been in some contact with my host family that I will be living with. While I have not personally met them yet, they seem like wonderful people, and I am thankful that they have so graciously offered to take me in for the semester.

Even though, I feel positive about this experience, I am trying to brace myself for the challenges that will inevitably come my way. First, my Spanish reading comprehension and writing capabilities are relatively strong. However, I know very well that my listening and speaking skills are lagging. I know that once I am faced with all Spanish, all the time, I will be overwhelmed and exhausted. Also, for those you know me, I love my routine and consistency. For example, I would be perfectly content eating oatmeal with peanut butter and banana every day of my life given the opportunity 😉 . Once I step off that plane, though, my old routine will be gone—I will have to adjust to different food and mealtimes, school dynamics, and family interactions.

I think all of these challenges that could present themselves are the reasons driving me to go Ecuador. I want to be pushed with my Spanish skills so that I can come back fluent. I want to disrupt my routine so that one, I can work on becoming more flexible, and two, I can better embrace a new culture. Finally, I am really interested in seeing how I adjust to the challenge of living in a third world country, especially since I’ve been privileged to live in a very nice part of Wisconsin my whole life. Also, since I am fascinated my medicine, nutrition, and public health, I am excited to learn more about the health disparities in Ecuador, especially through the research program that I am doing.

So that is a little preview of what is going through my mind right now as I prepare to leave. I will do my best to post on a regular basis, for those who are interested in hearing about my life in Quito. I do not know what my communication situation will look like once I am in Ecuador, but anything with wifi should work: Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, etc.

¡Hablamos luego!

Hannah

I’m Leaving the Country in 3 Weeks

Someone please tell me how we are already at the end of July? How? My summer has been a mash-up of work, studying for the MCAT, volunteering as an interpreter for a free medical clinic near my house, along with boring other errands and doctor’s appointments. Luckily, I have been able to spend a little time with both my high school and college friends, so my whole summer has not been work. Some friend highlights include getting “The Beast”—a 10 scoop sundae— at a local custard shop and going the first of my college wedding.

However, with all of this hoopla going on, I have seemed to forget about something… Oh yeah, I’m leaving the country in three weeks to study abroad in Ecuador. The past few days have been a wave of emotions. First, I was straight-up overwhelmed and anxious. I started making an extensive packing list, and I still have not really started tackling this list. For the record, I hate packing. It is so overwhelming that in the past I have usually ended up shoving random clothes into a suitcase just so that I can be done with the packing process. I probably should not take this course of action for this trip, though. The anxiety came from not knowing who my host family was. I was so nervous to know who I am going to live with for the next 4 months. Will they accept me and embrace me as one of their family members? Will they be kind and welcoming? I just kept praying and praying that I could get matched with a loving family.

Now, I am in a more positive emotional state. I am still overwhelmed with packing. I do need to take a bit more care when packing to go to a third world county. I need to think about what medicine to bring, ways to purify water, and other items that might be necessary to have for my overall health and well-being. I am a lot more excited, though, because I now know who my host family is. They are a family of 4, including two children in their 20’s. My host sister and mom have already been in some contact with me, and I am getting the sense that they are very kind, safe, and welcoming people. I still do not really know who they are because the first time I meet them will be at the airport in August, but I have a good feeling about this family.

So in a nutshell, I am excited to meet my host family, packing is overwhelming, and I’m slightly concerned that I will get sick from the food/water at some point. Oddly enough, I haven’t been that concerned with the idea of speaking Spanish the whole time. I guess I will see how that goes once I get there.

¡En tres semanas, estaré en Ecuador!

Hasta pronto,

Hannah

Maine: A Must-see Gem of the Northeast

For years, I have wanted to travel to Maine because of its seafood, outdoor activities, and balance between city and scenic. Finally, I got the opportunity to visit Maine with my family this past week. We spent 2 days in Portland, and then 3.5 days in Bar Harbor. This trip was one of the best vacations to date, in my opinion.

Sunday: Cycling and sailing

Sunday morning, we kicked off the day by renting bikes as a way to explore Portland. Our first stop was The Holy Donut, a very cute donut shop that makes unique donuts from Maine potatoes. We went to The Holy Donut twice on our trip; I recommend the following flavors: chocolate sea salt, Maine blueberry, blueberry lemonade, and chocolate cinnamon sugar. I’m not a donut person, but I loved these creations. We spent the rest of the day biking near the coast. In the evening, we took a Schooner for a sunset cruise in the bay. The views were gorgeous, and it was fun to be in a sailboat, witness the masts go up, and feel the boat heel due to the wind.

Monday: Cape Elizabeth

Monday, we took a road trip down to Cape Elizabeth. We first took a pitstop at Fort Williams and then proceeded to Crescent Beach. I loved exploring the coastline at the beach, with its unique mix of sand, greenery, and unique rock formations. For lunch, we ate at the famous Lobster Shack. After a long wait, I had a lobster roll meal and shared some mini blueberry pie. I’m sure we could have gotten this meal for a cheaper price, but the experience of eating at cute, red picnic tables by the coast was quite memorable. For dinner, we went back to Portland and ate at an amazing new Thai restaurant—Chee vit dee.

Tuesday: Drive to Bar Harbor

We took scenic route to Bar Harbor from Portland. I really enjoyed making a pitstop to hike Mt. Battie in Camden Hills State Park. For dinner, we ate at the Chart Room, which had a good variety of food for good prices. The best part of the night was getting ice cream downtown. Disclaimer: we ate ice cream every night on this trip, both in Portland and in Bar Harbor, so we tried a few places out. One of our favorites was Jordan Pond. They don’t have as many flavors, but we could get a single scoop of ice cream for $2.50, while every other place was serving up one scoop for nearly $5…I know, it’s outrageously priced.

Wednesday: Acadia Day 1

Wednesday was dedicated to hiking the beautiful, and very difficult hike up Southern Bubble to see Bubble Rock. The views were stunning, but warning, this hike is a hybrid of hiking/climbing over some rocks. It is not a smooth path. For lunch, we ate at Jordan Pond House, which is famous for their popovers and strawberry jam. The wait was worth it. The food was delicious (I had a lobster Nicoise salad) and the popovers were heavenly. It was my first time having popovers; I am a fan of how light they are in comparison to biscuits and scones.

Thursday: Acadia Day 2

My favorite day by far! We woke up at 3:45 am to see the sunrise over Cadillac Mountain. Come early if you plan on doing this yourself because parking will be a challenge, even at 4:30 in the morning. It was the most beautiful sunrise I have EVER seen in my life. There are no words to describe it. For breakfast, we ate at Great Maine Breakfast. I loved their oatmeal toast with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam 🙂 Later, instead of hiking through the park, we biked—this time on some of the Carriage Trails to see some stone bridges. These trails were extremely hilly, probably the toughest bike ride I have ever done. Needless to say, after lunch, we took the bus back. The bike ride was super fun, but we were beat.

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Friday: Exploring more of Mt. Desert Island and Acadia Day 3

In the morning, we ate breakfast at Two Cats, where I got a delicious cappuccino and a bagel and lox (We also ate there Saturday morning too!). The little breakfast place used to be and inn, and it is so charming and quirky on the inside. Afterwards, we drove around to some less visited parts of the island—Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and Bass Harbor. To be honest, I don’t think people are missing much by not seeing these areas. I personally liked being in Acadia more. Later, we went back to Acadia to hike Mt. Gorham. For dessert, we went all out and got 2 scoops each at Udder Heaven. It was $5 for the 2 scoops, but the flavors (and there are more than 40) are delicious and the scoops are HUGE—well worth the money.

Saturday: Travel chaos

We had to drive from Bar Harbor to Portland to fly home, Unfortunately, our flight got delayed numerous times due to thunderstorms, and we even got delayed and stuck right on the runway. It was an exhausting night, but we did make it home around 3am.

This was one of my favorite trips for many reasons, from the food to the adventure. My favorite part, though, was getting to spend quality time with my family. I truly enjoyed the moments we spent looking for sea glass together, exploring this odd shop in Bar Harbor filled with rocks, fossils, and preserved specimens (Why is this shop there? Beats me.), or eating copious amounts of ice cream in the search for the best deal and quality of ice cream. The trip was not perfect, but I felt so happy and peaceful here in Maine. I hope you all get to experience Maine someday too.

Lots of love,

Hannah

Cheers to a Wonderful Scottish Adventure

Yesterday, I got back from an amazing week in Scotland. I mostly stayed in Edinburgh, but I also ventured to North Berwick, the Highlands, and the Pentlands. I’m so thankful to have been kept safe and healthy throughout the week, and I am even more grateful for my friend who graciously showed me Edinburgh—her home for the last five months. I can definitely say that I am in love with Scotland, and here are a few reasons why…

The Smell

Scotland is known for their whiskey, and where I was staying, there was a distillery nearby. If the wind is blowing right, you smell this yeast scent that to me smells like popcorn/hot dog buns. For some reason, I really enjoy this scent, and from now on, any yeast smell will connect me back to Scotland.

The Hairy Coo

Scotland’s highland cow, the hairy coo, is just too charming. They are these long-haired cows that really serve no purpose as far as providing meat or milk. They just mind their own business, and I find them completely charming.

The Food!

The UK has it right when it comes to food. One, their scones are far superior to those in the States. Secondly, they have Digestives, which to me are like a cookie/graham cracker hybrid. The best ones also have a thin chocolate layer on top. They are the perfect end to any meal or with a hot beverage.

During my time in Scotland, I tried a variety of coffees and teas. One of my favorites was a Chocolate Abyss tea— a black tea with chocolate and coconut.

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Whilst in Scotland, I tried two classic Scottish dishes: haggis and black pudding. I really enjoyed both, honestly. The haggis had great spices and was served with mash, and the black pudding was revamped by adding cheese, caramelized onion, and greens.

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Finally, two of my favorite sweet treat destinations were Lovecrumbs for delicious, fresh cakes made daily (I got a slice of chocolate coconut cake) and Mary’s Milk Bar for amazing gelato ( I had a scoop of rum raisin and a scoop of salted caramel).

A Harry Potter Fan’s Dream

So much of Harry Potter was based off of Edinburgh. First of all, JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book at The Elephant House, a local cafe. Secondly, Hogwarts is based off of a nearby school that supposedly has four different houses. Thirdly, Tom Riddle’s grave, as well as graves that inspired the names of many characters in Harry Potter (like McGonagall), can be found in Greyfriars Kirkyard. As a Harry Potter fan, I loved seeing how JK Rowling got inspiration for this monumental series.

The Community

Edinburgh is a city with a small town feel. I love how the buildings are made of beautiful stone, and that the city has a mixture of buildings with plenty of green space. Furthermore, I love how people are always out and about walking and enjoying life (oftentimes with their dogs). The people in this city seem very relationship focused rather than work focused. This is seen primarily in how early the shops close each day. I wish we adopted more of this lifestyle in the States.

I love all that Edinburgh offers. There are shops, cafes, parks, hikes, and more. It is only a bus ride away from even more breathtaking sights, such as the Highlands—full of lochs, glens, and bens. This trip was a wonderful introduction to experiencing other cultures. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to travel; I know that traveling really is a privilege. I hope that I can use this experience (and any future travels) as a way to learn more about myself and to gain a greater perspective of other people’s lives.

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Cheers,

Hannah