Three days to go before I leave the Midwestern winter for Ecuador! A few weeks ago around the holidays I answered the “are you excited?” question countless times, and the response “yes, of course!” became almost a knee-jerk reaction. Not that it wasn’t true but I was more focused on finishing finals then saying goodbye to one of my best friends and boyfriend of two years as he headed off to California for an internship. Since then I’ve devoted my energy to preparations for my own adventure. As my departure approaches, I have reached a whole new level of anticipation tinged with nervousness. I can’t help but imagine all the ways my first interactions with my host family will go. Will I be able to remember the basic Spanish I learned in high school? Maybe not at first, but it will get easier as my Spanish improves and this challenge is part of why I wanted to study abroad.
I’ve had first contact with my host family! A Spanish-speaking friend helped me compose an e-mail a few days ago introducing myself. My host mom replied last night and it turns out both of my host siblings are boys, ages eighteen and three. She also warned me that the weather there is variable and to bring a jacket. It was such a sweet e-mail and I’m already attached to them even though we haven’t even met. Since then I’ve been hypothesizing about how our first few conversations might go and realizing how limited my Spanish vocabulary is. This weekend I’m planning to look up some specific words and phrases I use often when I speak English. I want to express my personality as much as possible right away and I’m afraid if I’m not somewhat prepared I’ll end up saying less and coming across as more shy or reserved than I am.
The last few days I have slowly moved out of my downtown apartment to make way for my sub-letter. My room at my mom’s house on the west side of Madison is now three quarters full of bins and boxes of my clothes, kitchen equipment, shoes, and random belongings. On the other side of the room is a growing pile of things I will need (or at least think I’ll need) for Ecuador. My parents have been divorced since I was eight and moving between my two houses every week has given me a great deal of practice packing a suitcase. I have never packed, however, for a trip as long or as unknown as this one. I’m about 90% sure I’ll have a corner or my suitcase full of things I brought and never used and end up buying or going without a few items I forgot. I’m thankful for the packing list we got at orientation and the advice of many students who have done this in past semesters.
Thinking about what to pack has also brought to mind what I’ll miss about home. My little ten-year-old sister will probably have grown up noticeably by the time I return in June. While it does sadden me not to be around for half of one of her formative years we have dealt pretty well with my move to college. Being separated is a product of our eleven-year age difference and I’m sure we’ll continue to adapt to whatever degree of separation we experience.
While I know there will be some homesickness there are so many things I’m looking forward to in Ecuador. The fruit, the thunderstorms I’ve seen on the weather predictions every week for Quito, getting to know my classmates in the program, getting to know my host family, seeing green vegetation again, being in a rainforest for the first time, gaining confidence in my ability to communicate in Spanish, the list goes on longer than would fit in this post. For now, though, I have to focus on figuring out the best way to transform this pile of stuff into a neatly packed suitcase…