“What’s your name?” (¿Como te llamas?)
“How old are you?” (¿Cuantos años tienes?)
“Where are you from?” (¿De donde eres?)
“Where do you live?” (¿Donde vives?)
“What is your favorite color?” (¿Cual es tu color favorito?)
These five questions are my go-tos. As an English teacher in a Spanish-speaking country, I am constantly used as a tool for improving English. When I am talking to a non-native speaker in English, I almost always start out with these five questions because it is almost guaranteed that everyone knows how to answer them. Based on their responses, I can roughly gauge their level of English and plan my next questions according to the specific level. I have realized that the first things we, as humans, typically learn to say in a new language are the ways to describe ourselves. It’s also interesting to think about how we always use the same items to describe ourselves, almost as if we are going through a checklist in our heads: Name. Gender. Age. Birthplace. Current address. Occupation. Likes/dislikes/opinions.
One of our most defining characteristics is where we live. For me, these type of questions are complicated. Where do I live? Well, I grew up in Ohio with my family and I lived there for the first 18 years of my life. Simple enough. Except then I have to mention that I also lived in Florida for almost four years for the university and my jobs. On a side note, I also lived in Spain for four months when I was teaching English there. And now? Now I live in Ecuador. I used to live in Quito (for three months), but now I live in the city of Latacunga. Where in Latacunga? I live in between the campo (farmland) and the city center, with a host family (at least until October, when I will then have the option to move out and find a place on my own, if I want).
For me, home will always be the grayish house in Mentor, Ohio with the big sunroom. Home is where my family raised me. Home is where I learned to ride a bike, where I spent countless hours in the backyard, where I parked my car at night, where I got in trouble for coming back late, where I have shared thousands of meals with my family, where I always feel the safest and most comfortable.
However, I will also think of home as the first-floor apartment on Lake Hollingsworth with dozens of carpet stains but even more great memories. And home is my first dorm room, and the little third-floor apartment with the big host family in Spain, and the tiny house in Quito, and my house here in Latacunga.
Each of my homes is unique in its own ways, with both positive and negative aspects. Here in Latacunga, where I’m currently living, I can’t complain much about my home. Our house is relatively big for an Ecuadorian house (which is somewhat average for the United States) and my host family is very welcoming. My room is separated from the main house, which is nice when I need my own personal space. I also have my own bathroom and a decent-sized wardrobe with mirrors, which are huge luxuries here! I think it’s funny that I am living in a comfortable-sized room with nice amenities as a Peace Corps volunteer. So many people asked me if I was going to be living in a hut here in Ecuador, which is nowhere near the truth. However, sometimes I do feel like I am living in a hut compared to my other homes in the past. Here in Latacunga, the weather is cold almost all year round and I do not have a heater. When the gas runs out (which is at least once a month), there is no hot water at all. Even when I do have hot water, it is not always dependable. The internet connection is mediocre at best, which makes communicating with family and friends difficult at times. I am getting accustomed to not having all of the amazing American amenities I used to take for granted, and I have realized that my home here in Ecuador is better than I (or most of my friends and family) would have expected.
Furthermore, I have learned that home is not always a location. Home is also the feelings we have, the memories we make, and the people we share our time with. Whenever I’m homesick (for Ohio or Florida or Spain), I just remember that no matter how far away I am currently living, I will still always be able to call these places home. I also know that someday in the future, I am going to be homesick for Ecuador. However, today I am thankful to be here, thankful for where I have been, and thankful for where I will end up.
“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” – Carson McCullers