Upon moving to Ecuador, almost everything was foreign to me. I am not accustomed to greeting everyone I see (sometimes multiple times in a row), or eating rice at almost every meal, or hand-washing laundry and hoping it will dry in the sun. I’m not used to having to keep my phone hidden in public or not being able to use my back pockets because of potential thieves. Going on runs is difficult with the limited sidewalks and the limitless street dogs (who are not afraid to bark at or chase a passerby). It seems different to me that Ecuadorians can be so interested in my personal life. Host family members, colleagues, friends, even random people on the street constantly ask me questions about how much money I make or if I would be interested in having an Ecuadorian girlfriend. Of course, the language itself can also sound foreign to me at times. Although I am constantly improving my Spanish, there are still slang words that will make me lost in conversations, especially since many Ecuadorians also use words from the Quichua language (a native, indigenous language here in Ecuador). When I left my life in the United States to come to Ecuador, I knew I would be sacrificing everything familiar to me. I expected to experience all of these new and different things. However, I did not realize that my lifestyle itself would also be unfamiliar.
In the United States, I have always prided myself for being as busy as I can possibly be. When I was a high school student, I would go to cross country or track practice right after school, and then I would go to work. When I finally came home at night, I would quickly eat dinner, shower, and then stay up very late doing homework. Since I always took every Honors or AP class possible, I constantly had tremendous amounts of homework. In my extremely limited free time, I would hang out with my friends and family as much as possible.
Going into college, I only got busier. I quickly found a job my freshman year and consistently worked throughout my years at the university, increasingly more hours each year. By the end of my college career, I was working an average of 60 hours a week at 3 different jobs. (Not to mention, these jobs were all working with children, which can be especially draining). In addition to this, I also held executive positions in several organizations, and typically took 20 credit hours each semester in order to graduate with my 3 majors. Considering my other weekly tasks (cleaning my apartment, paying my bills, talking with family, spending time with friends, homework, preparing presentations, working on research publications, etc.), “free time” was a foreign concept to me. The only hobby I had time for was running because I made time for it. Since running has always been a stress-reliever for me and a way to stay in shape, I could always justify stepping away from a project to go run.
Nowadays, here in Ecuador, I have the most free time I have ever had in my life. Outside of the 6 or 7 hours I spend teaching each day at the high school, I am free to do almost whatever I want. I do have some work to do at home usually (lesson planning, grading papers, doing paperwork for Peace Corps, or planning activities like summer camps for my students), which I am happy to do because it keeps me busy. Aside from these tasks, I truly have the freedom to do whatever I want. At first, having all of this free time was a bit overwhelming, but I quickly learned to start enjoying it.
Luckily, there is a lot to do in Ecuador to keep busy. During my free afternoons, I like to go for runs whenever it is not raining. I enjoy going to the Laguna park here in Latacunga, which has a half-mile path around a pond. In addition to running, there are also nice exercise machines and places to stretch. I am hoping that I will be able to train for a marathon this upcoming autumn, since I finally have enough time to achieve this goal. In addition to exercising my body, I have also had a lot more time to exercise my brain. I always thought it was funny how I had to read so much for classes in the university, but I never had time to actually read for fun. During my next two years in Ecuador, I think I will be able to read as much as I like. I have also started to read books in Spanish, which is a great way for me to pass the time and practice the language simultaneously. My other common pastimes here include Sudoku puzzles, organizing my room, spending time with my host family, walking to the city center, meeting up with my site mates (the other volunteers here in Latacunga), talking to friends and family back home, and learning how to cook new foods.
In addition to all of the new activities, I have also started to embrace the beauty of doing nothing. Now that I have less deadlines to worry about, I tend to have more time to simply relax. Here in Ecuador, I am grateful for the opportunities I have with nothing to do. These are the times when I can sit in my room, meditate, pray, and sleep. I feel so much healthier now that I am able to get an average of 8 hours of sleep each night. It truly makes a difference! I also embrace the chances I have to take naps during some of my lazy afternoons. When I was living in Spain, I would take a siesta every day after lunch, but I had to cut this habit when I returned to the United States. Being able to nap again is such a great blessing; it is one of the many reasons why I love Latin American culture!
In our fast-paced American culture, it is often too easy to forget the value of nothingness. We constantly try to prove that we are working harder, sleeping less, and being more successful. College has evolved into a competition of proving to one another who is the busiest–who has the toughest class schedule, the most exec positions, the longest work week. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that life isn’t a race. If we become too worried about rushing to the finish line, we miss out on the entire experience itself. Although sometimes it feels like life itself moves slower here in South America, it’s really just me learning to live slower.
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” – Muhammad Ali