When I made the move to a small highland town in Ecuador two years ago I knew that my new lifestyle would also come with an education. In fact that was part of the appeal. I would learn Spanish, adopt new customs, and adapt to life in a country halfway around the world. It was going to be great.
Guess what? I was right; it is awesome, but not necessarily for the reasons I thought it would be. Sure, my original intentions have come to fruition. My Spanish is coming along nicely and I’ve gained many new friends because of it. Despite my conservative Scandinavian upbringing—my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. as children and settled in the Midwest where the Scandinavian culture still runs strong—I’ve come to embrace the custom of kissing all acquaintances, new and old, on the cheek.
I’ve even found that despite the initial struggles of learning to find my way around the bus system, haggle for goods, and explain directions when roads have no names, I really don’t miss the United States much. These are all marks of my progress as an expat and I’m proud of having navigated these first years successfully.
What makes this journey great though are all the unexpected things I learn. For example, I’ve found that expats share an immediate bond. No matter your background, political leanings, or religious beliefs, we’re all in the same boat here and we’re all quick to help one another.
From fellow expats I’ve received offers to bring back items from the U.S. that can’t be found in Ecuador. I’ve been given a sounding board for those times when I need to vent about missing family in the States or when I want to share a piece of exciting news. I’ve been shown the ins and outs of my new town by those who’ve paved the way. All of this has been done without expectations of reciprocation, though I hope I’ve repaid just a fraction of what’s been given to me.
Before I made the big move, it seemed that something was lacking from my life in the U.S. Living in Ecuador has helped me to realize that my trouble wasn’t with absence, it was a matter of excess.
In my former life there was excess consumerism, excess demands on my time, and excess pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Now that I’ve settled into the relaxed days of Ecuador there has been a restoration of balance. These days, instead of joining in a sea of vehicles to make my way to chain stores simply to purchase my choice of mass-produced goods, I now walk or bike through town stopping at small markets where I can find hand-crafted products and locally grown food.
Ecuador has also taught me the importance of perception. As with any country Ecuador has its finer points along with areas in which it could use a bit of refinement. Which aspect of the country you focus on will determine your perception of Ecuador at large. Once I chose to enjoy the beauty of Ecuador and the kindness of her people I find that I rarely notice the blemishes these days.
There’s still plenty to learn and I find new lessons nearly every day if I’m open to accepting them. As much as I love the gorgeous vistas, the slower pace of life, and the affordable cost of living, this country’s greatest gift to me has been my ongoing education.