A Quirky Young Lady’s First Impressions of Quito

The view of dotted lights painting the city of Quito at night? Well, nothing compares to a welcome like that.

A month…okay…roughly 4 weeks have gone by since my Quito arrival. After a tearful goodbye with my husband, taking a red-eye flight from Denver to NYC, a flight from NYC to Fort Lauderdale, and a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Quito, (breathes in), you can only imagine how tired I was when I arrived at 10:30 p.m. at night. After we landed, nearly everyone on the plane started clapping. I knew right away I was in a different country because Americans don’t usually clap on a plane unless the plane ride was bumpy and frightening along the way!

I met up with several volunteers in the airport after customs, and we waited for our shuttle ride drivers. After waiting for other volunteers and the drivers, the drivers walked us over to the two cars. Somehow the drivers packed about 11 people’s bags into/onto (literally on top of) two different cars and drove us to the hostel, which was 45 minutes away. My first impressions of Quito were that the people are welcoming and the city has a mixture of rundown and developed buildings (many are colorful). I nearly shouted hallelujah after seeing a shower and bed at the hostel at 1 a.m.  After a much needed night’s sleep, several volunteers and I explored Quito a bit the next day.

First of all, you have to be careful walking around here because the taxis, cars, buses, and bicyclists are on a mission to get to their destination (pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way). Trees and metal rods jut out of sidewalks, and some sidewalks have square holes in the ground (#justcitystuff).  Vendors and kiosks line the street with odds and ends and goods and more goods. We walked around the famous Foch area and had a bite to eat.

Foch sign Foch area

During the day, the ladies from the first hostel moved over to a different hostel. It had a lovely terrace area, and we played a few card games.

Later that evening, everyone met up (38 volunteers total), and we played a spider web yarn game with the group. We then ate traditional food at a swanky restaurant. I tried ceviche and goat for the first time, and I was impressed with its deliciousness. I also learned that it’s not recommended to drink tap water here, but that’s okay, because the variety of fruit juices are endless (guanoabana for the win), and 2 liters of bottled water is like 60 cents. (It’ okay to use the tap water for brushing your teeth and washing your face.)

goat

We started orientation the next day in CEC, and that evening, the son and mom of my host family came to pick me up and another volunteer. The mom gave us a warm welcome, and after her brother-in-law dropped off our bags at the house, he came back and picked us all up. We live only four blocks away from CEC, so we lucked out in that regard. The host family house has an upstairs and downstairs. The other volunteer and I each have our own bedroom, and we share a bathroom (the host family doesn’t use this bathroom). They also have a washer and clothesline in their patio area.

The next two and a half weeks were filled with orientation activities, from diversity and safety sessions to teaching and culture sessions. I also took 10 Spanish group lessons as well. I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to go in too much detail about orientation, but it was all important stuff we needed to know to have a successful year abroad here teaching English in Quito.

On the weekends of those two and a half weeks, we went on several trips.

First, we went to TeleferiQo, where a cable car transported us on the east side of Pichincha Volcano. It took us up from around 10,000 feet to about 13,000 feet. A few of us hiked up the volcano for a couple of hours. Some made it up to the top, and I was pretty close, but I was cold and hungry, and I wasn’t prepared to climb rocks. The views were stunning though.

Teleferiqo

Teleferiqo

Another trip we took was to Mindo. Here, I zip lined on 10 different lines, swung on a Tarzan swing, and tasted the best coffee of my life after learning how it’s made right there.

Group view

Front

I also checked out Mitad del Mundo with our volunteer group. Here, half my body was on the northern hemisphere, and half my body was on the southern hemisphere. I also balanced an egg on the equator, and I earned a certificate!

Ecuador latitude line

Egg balance

They called me the “eggmaster.”

Egg certificate

Last weekend, I toured the historical center of Quito with an Ecuadorian. We visited a glorious church with golden walls and sculptures (no pics allowed), a cultural museum, and El Panecillo.

Cultural art bell church

El Panecillo

El Panecillo

In the meantime, I’ve been meeting some great Ecuadorians at language exchange clubs, spending time with my host family here and there, practicing some yoga, shopping, and relaxing and studying Spanish as much as I can. I earned a Spanish minor in college over four years ago, so I’m having to relearn some stuff while practicing the best I can.

I’m not going to deny that I haven’t experienced my fair share of challenges along the way. Mostly with struggling with Spanish, missing my husband and family dearly, trying to eat foods without milk/cheese because I’m lactose intolerant, accidentally bonking my head on one of my favorite restaurant’s low ceiling and bleeding a bit (the restaurant painted it red after that haha), trying to practice yoga, being brave to walk outside or ride the buses alone, remembering to throw toilet paper in the trash (plumbing can’t handle it), praying that when I get into the shower it will be warm with full water pressure, and feeling confident with lesson planning and teaching.

What I’ve loved most so far? The host family and Ecuadorians are kind and happy, there’s cute dogs everywhere, the parks are beautiful, supportive WorldTeach directors, other friendly volunteers, the culture revolves around family and friends, not individualism and capitalism, the 25 cent bus rides, endless cultural activities and sites, the mountain views are glorious, the places to shop are endless, there’s plentiful places to eat $2.50-$4 almuerzos (lunches) with soup, rice, meat, juice, and more that will fill you up to your heart’s delight. I grew up in suburbs nearly my whole life, and nothing compares to city living in another country.

I start teaching next Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to working with young adults and professionals. My contributions could open up more opportunities in their careers. While Ecuador has plenty of teachers who can speak English, this particular college is in need of sophisticated native English speakers who can teach those at an advanced and academic level.

I’m also looking forward to getting into a routine, meeting other Ecuadorian teachers, and doing more writing and exploring on the side. Who knows what the next nine months will bring?

I welcome questions. Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are my own and are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach.

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Life Update

Hey all, I can’t believe it’s already been a couple months since I last wrote a blog! I meant to write a few a week, but I got a second part-time job, and I’ve been so busy lately. This time last year I was getting ready to defend my thesis for my master’s thesis! Oh, how things change. Anyway, I’ve been planning a lot for my wedding in June. Just a few details left…picking out the songs has been one of the hardest parts!

I updated our website with our engagement photos, story of how we met, details of the event, and of course, our registry. We’re doing a nontraditional registry called a honeyfund because we would both like to go to the east coast. My fiancé is originally from there, and I’ve always wanted to go there. We’re flying into NYC, driving up through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, and driving down through New Hampshire and Vermont back to Boston to fly back to Denver.

 

Right now I’m working part-time as a junior content manager at GoAbroad.com, and the contract ends the end of this month. It’s been great practicing my writing and editing muscles and learning about SEO. Here’s my lovely profile. I also started working as a caregiver for HomeInstead a couple months ago, and it’s taught me a lot about patience and compassion.

Other than that, I’ve been riding my bike and doing yoga as much as I can every week. My fiancé and I are still keeping up with our plant-based diet. Lately, we’ve been trying out quinoa apple salads, beet burgers, and veggie soups. Some days are harder than others to keep up with it, and we splurge every now and then on junk food. We’ve heard the first year to transitioning to it is the hardest, but we’re keeping on! I notice I feel a lot better and don’t get as many headaches from it as well.

I still definitely need to cut out more sugar!

My neighbor also let me borrow a book called The Name of the Wind and its sequel Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I read both of them. They’re about an orphan boy who learns how to be an arcanist (a wizard) in a supernatural world. If you like Harry Potter, I’m pretty sure you would like these books, too. The third one should come out soon, and I’m excited to read it!

I probably won’t have much time to read in the next few months with planning a wedding, honeymoon, and working. This month is also filled with family birthdays including mine (yay #26). Well, I suppose aging is a privilege as my grandpa liked to say.

Thank you for reading!

5 Favorite Vegan Desserts

If you’re like me, you have a sweet tooth the size of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I just can’t get enough of baking and trying new desserts along the way, so it’s always fun to try creating vegan desserts. You might think that all vegan foods are disgusting, especially vegan desserts. While they don’t have eggs or dairy products in them, it doesn’t mean they’re always healthy, but sometimes, they sure do turn out delicious thanks to the sugar.

Chocolate fountain

A chocolate fountain of yum.

 

Here are my five favorite vegan desserts to spark fireworks in your tastebuds:

  1. Vegan Brownies (Gimme Some Oven)

Chocolate brownie

Honestly, this my top favorite brownie recipe of all time. Never did I imagine that eating a dessert that has an avocado in it would taste good, but it makes the dessert so soft and moist in a good way. Plus, the chocolate flavor is hard to miss.

2. Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Swirl Frosting (One Green Planet)

Chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting.

Did I mention that I like chocolate? If you add peanut butter to it, then you’ve just won me over fo’ life! Treat yo’ self! Don’t forget to spray the cupcake liners with this one, and add a little extra almond milk to the frosting recipes. Otherwise, you have yourself a winner.

3. Chocolate Chip Cookies (Vegan Housewives)

Vegan Chocolate Cookies

You might think no eggs, no dairy, no food delight, but you gotta try this recipe. It’ll blow your mind with its delicious chocolateliness and a hint of coconut that will melt in your mouth. Are you noticing a theme with the chocolate?

4. Vegan Chocolate Brownie Ice cream (Minimalist Baker)

Bowl of chocolate ice cream.

If I ever see one more vegan ice cream recipe made with bananas, I’m going to throw up. As much as I like bananas, I don’t want that overwhelming flavor. BUT WITH THESE, NO BANANAS! This is so delicious…tasty tasty.

5. Vegan Puppy Chow (Snapguide) 
screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-6-25-18-pm

I’m just going to stick to the chocolate theme while we’re at it. While some might consider puppy chow a snack, I think of it as a dessert because I can’t stop eating them once my hand is in the bowl! These are so good! BTW: Carob chips are a chocolate alternative.

All right, there you have it. My five favorite vegan desserts so far. For someone like me who is lactose intolerant, you have no idea how thrilled I am to find recipes that don’t have dairy products! With all of these desserts, I should get back to doing some yoga.

What are your favorite vegan desserts?

Thanks for reading!

What Death Teaches Us

Unless someone we know/know of passes away (interesting euphemism), we don’t think about the fact that one day, we’ll cease to exist on Earth anymore. We all continue to live our lives, run errands, go to work, do the chores, and relax and have fun when we can. While death is a taboo topic (probably religious undertones to it), I still think we need to acknowledge what death teaches us.

Hourglass in black and white.

We have a limited amount of time in our lives.

All of us make several choices a day, and we have a lot of freedom with those choices. Unfortunately, we cannot make the choice to live forever (maybe in the future with robots and downloading our conscious), and it’s a scary thought. Sometimes at night when I’m lying in bed, chills run down my spine and the hairs on my arms raise just thinking about the fact that one day, I will not get to experience life anymore.

(Side note: For those of us who have depression that might think of death often as an escape sometimes, which is a permanent solution to a temporary problem — medication and counseling are helpful in diminishing these thoughts — let death teach you to embrace life.)

So, what does death teach us? It teaches us to notice the small things and be grateful for them, like the warmth of the sun on your face or the splashes of rain, the wind breezing through your hair, and the feel of grass underneath your toes. It teaches us to savor the hops in beer and the taste of your partner’s lips with a kiss. It teaches us to appreciate the sound of a child’s laughter, the touch of soft fur on a puppy, and the feeling you get when your food at a restaurant arrives.

Death also teaches us to dig deep into ourselves to consider what we desire most in our life. If your dreams are to build a career, have a good life with a soulmate, or to exercise until you’re fit, then you know you’ll have to face many fears and obstacles along the way, but do it anyway. If some of your friends and family don’t support you, do it anyway. If you think you just can’t go on or you keep procrastinating, take a breather, stop with the excuses, and do it anyway. (Granted that these things are good and legal.)

No one said life was going to be easy. No one said there aren’t going to be @$$holes who try to get in your way. While you cannot “live life to the fullest every day,” you can certainly appreciate the small things, work inch by inch towards your goals and dreams, embrace new opportunities to try new things, travel and meet people, and realize that you will fall and fail sometimes, but you only get this life (that we know of). Screw being in a rut or being paralyzed by fear. Screw the haters and naysayers. It’s better to celebrate the small victories along the way and keep trying, then to give up or do nothing.

What positive things has death taught you?

Thank you for reading!

5 Documentaries to Inspire Change for People with Depression/Anxiety

While Netflix is chock-full of documentaries that cover everything from the environment to empowerment, I’m always on the lookout for documentaries that can help me learn more about mental health and how to shift my attitude toward life. Sometimes, we just need some inspiration or a kick in the butt to motivate us to work towards happier, healthier lives.

Brain firing off sparks

Does our brain control us, or do we control it?

While the following documentaries won’t solve all of your problems, you might learn a think or too, and they might help you put things into perspective.

1. Happy
This documentary explores the emotion of happiness by interviewing people from all over the world (including victims of traumatic accidents) from the United States to India and seeing what makes these people happy. Scientists have discovered that your happiness is 50% genetics, 10% environmental, and 40% your own attitude. With this 40%, you could help boost your happiness levels by practicing gratefulness and helping others.

2. Food Choices
After watching this documentary, my fiancé and I decided to make a huge change with our diets. You’ll learn about the lies of industries that promote false claims about the benefits of milk, meat, eggs, and fish, and you’ll learn about how a plant-based diet can lower the inflammation in your body, thereby reducing symptoms of mood disorders.

3. The Secret
Some people might think the content in this documentary is all mumbo jumbo, but I still think they’re onto something with the importance of having goals and envisioning success from these goals. “The Secret” focuses on the “law of attraction,” which states that your thoughts have positive vibes, and with these vibes, you’re attracting positive things in your life. Talk about the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. The Minimalists
While this documentary doesn’t focus exclusively on mental health, it does talk about the importance of relationships in our lives. In our capitalist country, we believe that money is everything, and the possessions we have will impress people and raise our status. But the joy from that is short-lived. The real joy is not how many possessions we have, but the happiness we feel from socializing with friends and family

5. Neurons to Nirvana
This documentary takes a deep look into psychedelic drugs and why our country frowns upon researching them. With so many cutting-edge healthcare developments in this century, we should be searching for new ways to help people with mental health disorders, and it covers how ketamine has had positive results. You won’t look at psychedelics the same way after watching this.

More and more documentaries are touching on mental health, which is a good sign toward diminishing the taboo of this topic. Just keep an open mind while you’re watching these, and you’ll be surprised at what you learn along the way.

What are your favorite inspirational documentaries?

Thank you for reading!

5 Favorite Things About Yoga

When you think about yoga, you probably think of super skinny flexible women who can do all of the expert poses. While I’ve been practicing yoga for a couple years now (mostly three times a week), I’m still working towards that point. It’s nice to have goals though, right? Sometimes it’s difficult to feel motivated to get on the mat to practice yoga, so I’ve come up with my five favorite things about yoga.

Yoga pose

Reach towards the goodness of yoga.

1. Cool-sounding poses

Sanskrit, a classical Indian language that goes back thousands of years, is the language of yoga. Within this language is a philosophy that breathes deep into our minds and bodies when we practice. When you hear certain words, it taps into your consciousness and can help you get the most out of class. My favorite ones are tadasana (mountain pose), supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose), and savasana (corpse pose). The words might sound a bit scary at first, and it helps if you learn some of the syllables and how to pronounce the words.

2. Different levels

Almost everyone (and any gender) can practice a variety of yoga poses. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you can focus on different parts of your body you want to improve from core to arms to back to legs. Most of the poses aren’t that difficult, but if you do them repeatedly, that’s when it can get a bit tough, so stamina is the key here. Thousands of YouTube videos will help you get started, and most gyms offer yoga group fitness classes, or you can go to a local yoga studio. Beginner, immediate, and advanced are the main levels, so more practice equates to leveling up.

3. Mental health benefits

Practicing yoga consistently helps improve and elevates your mood, reduces anxiety, and eases the symptoms of depression. Yoga also decreases inflammation in your brain, increases positive emotions and lowers negative ones, boosts your brain power, improves memory and concentration, protects your brain from aging, and helps you feel more mentally alert and energetic.

4. Physical health benefits

Yoga has a plethora of health benefits, and I can’t even list them all here because it would be too long. The main ones: improves flexibility, posture, and balance; decreases headaches; improves bone health; boosts immunity; drops your blood pressure; improves digestive health and lowers blood sugar.

5. Affecting your life off the mat

Not only are you reaping the benefits of yoga from practicing on the mat, yoga is also affecting your life off the mat in positive ways. Yoga helps you learn how to listen to your mind and body and better, especially your breathing. When you’re flustered from waiting in lines or in traffic, you’re upset about something, or you’re having trouble falling asleep, you learned from yoga how to listen to your breath to help calm you down. Yoga also helps you improve your attitude toward life and the importance of being in the present moment.

After practicing yoga consistently, you’ll start to notice subtle changes in how you feel overall. The benefits of yoga are not instant, but if you stick with it, you’ll improve your quality of life and your relationship with yourself and others. Hopefully these five things listed will motivate you to get started, to keep going, and to never give up! The yoga pains you’ll feel from practicing are just making way for strength and resilience down the road.

What are your favorite things about yoga?

Thanks for reading!

Responding to “What do you do for a living?”

Probably about 99% of the time when you meet someone they’ll ask you what you do for a living. We live in a society where work = productivity = capitalism, and certain careers mean certain statuses and wealth. While I think every employee in ANY job should be respected, sometimes (more often than not) people don’t define themselves by their careers.

The word "LIVE" with words in each letter.

What drives you in your life?

Perhaps you are working in your dream job, whatever that may be or perhaps you’re in an entry-level job trying to work your way up the proverbial work ladder. Some people are in between jobs and trying to figure out what their next steps are. Careers are important, but they’re not a priority for everyone.

Many people are working in a job they don’t particularly like, but they work to pay for living expenses and continue pursuing other passions and hobbies  <— that’s what we should be asking. When we meet new people, our conversations should revolve more around what drives us in our lives.

Maybe you’re like me and you’re into yoga, artsy activities, and languages, or maybe you’re interested in building things or taking care of other people. If you’re into watching movies of certain genres or all genres, then that’s a great conversation starter right there.

If you’re working in a career that aligns with your interests, then consider yourself lucky, and that’s definitely worth talking about to other people. Maybe you can inspire others to go after careers that align with their interests. What I’m trying to emphasize is that how we increase the numbers in our accounts shouldn’t define our identities.

I think we should try new ways of going about our initial conversations when we meet new people because I’m more interested in what hobbies and passions drive them then how they pay the bills. After all, life is too short to be unhappy all the time.

What do you do that drives you?

Thanks for reading!