Lessons from Quito


Upon leaving Quito today, I was reminded of all the incredible things I have learned living here for a month, so I decided I would collect them all here.

1) Throw your toilet paper in the trash, NOT the toilet.
This one was really hard to get used to, I didn’t realize how automatic throwing toilet paper into the toilet was until I came here and was told at 3 a.m., “nunca pone el papel en el inodoro” or “never put the toilet paper in the toilet.” I thought it was just a result of my rusty Spanish and lack of sleep. Nope — here toilet paper goes in the bin. Luckily, after a few weeks, I finally got used to it; but every once in a while, I will slip up and have to pray to the toilet gods that it doesn’t totally destroy everything.

2. There is a seemingly endless list of scams that are all terrifying.
Upon arriving in Quito, we had an almost infinite schedule of orientations, and one theme that recurred was the ever-frightening and inventive scams that people may use to try to rob you. One of my favorites was the “poop scam,” in which someone is above you and they pour a bottle of human (or animal, I guess) feces on your head to stun you so that they can rob you. One of the more frightening ones was the pamphlet scam. If you have ever lived in a city, you have probably seen people trying to hand out flyers, etc. and it’s not a big deal. Apparently in Quito, however, people try to hand you pamphlets that have this nearly invisible powder that will actually put you in a trance, and then they will have you go to your ATM and take out all your money and give it to them. The scary part is, sometimes people will get very close to you and try to give you things (it happened to me once trying to get out of a cab) making it very difficult to avoid touching their papers. We were also warned of the taxi scam — because of course there is a a taxi scam. No one had to tell me not to get in a car with a complete stranger and my valuables, possibly while intoxicated, and tell him where I live. Yeah right. To make it worse, there is this scam in which the taxi driver robs you and drops you off in the middle of nowhere with no money, no phone, nothing. Though we learned over and over again which taxis were safe, every time I took one (which was often, since they are the main method of transportation apart from buses), this scam still crossed my mind.

3. I love the mountains!
Surprisingly, coming from Maine, I never did a lot of hiking as a child. I always have found mountains beautiful and incredible, but growing up, any real hikes were a few hours away and we always seemed to be too busy to commit to a day trip. This semester, however, coming to Quito and partaking in all the field trips we did, I quickly learned to love hiking. There is nothing quite like the feeling of spending six hours climbing to 4,700 meters in the sky and then feeling like you can see the whole world dancing above the clouds. I have the bug now, I’m hoping that next semester holds some great hikes out west.

4. Living in the moment is a real thing
Any student or millennial has probably heard the phrase “live in the moment.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I never quite got that until I came here. Coming to another country with a group of complete strangers was probably one of the most liberating things I have ever done. I’m not saying that all of the problems and stresses from home and school magically disappeared, but I learned to accept them and move on and enjoy the time I have here. There has been so much to do every minute of every day that I haven’t even had time to really miss friends or family, and I have even managed to forge my own unique sort of family here — a mix of friends and host families and other students. I always try to call my parents on Sunday, but besides that, I have left most of my home life behind and just reveled in the time that I get to spend in the magical country of Ecuador.

That’s it. If you go to university and it is at all possible, do it. Do it now. Seriously, go start your application. Even though you might have that organic chemistry exam tomorrow, make sure you make time to apply. And if for some reason you cannot go for a semester, look for jobs or grants or internships that will let you travel to learn, because I don’t think there is anything better in the world.