It’s slightly unbelievable that I have already been in Ecuador for three weeks. Sometimes it feels like a matter of hours, and other times I feel like I’ve lived here forever, so my grasp of time is not exactly accurate these days. I can happily report, though, that this week has been the best one yet. Last weekend was our first opportunity to really spend some quality time in the city with our host families, and the adventures never really seem to end.

On Saturday, my family took me on quite a trip. Before I get into the details, it is important to remember that things operate on Ecua Time here – aka, no one is in a hurry and deadlines mean basically nothing. So, when my madre told me to be ready to go on a quick road trip to a neighboring community at 9:30 on Saturday morning, I made sure to be downstairs ready for breakfast at 9 AM. The rest of the family made their way to the kitchen around 10 and then instructed me to wait 15 minutes while they ran a quick errand. At 1:15 PM, they returned to pick me up and acted as if everything was right on schedule.

If you have any idea of my love for scheduling and planners, you know that this caused a slight anxiety attack for me … I was expecting to meet a friend for a church service later that afternoon and hoped the trip wasn’t going to make me too late. Instead of my expected 20-minute car trip, I instead began an hourlong drive to Guayllabamba and Cayambe, lovely little towns hidden away in some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.

The family took me to lunch at a small diner where I got to try some local Ecuadorian specialties – empanadas de morocho, lots of aji (hot sauce), parrillada (kind of like bbq chicken), roasted corn, and platanos (similar to bananas). The food was wonderful and the conversation was lively as always. After lunch we stopped in the town center of Cayambe for bizcocho – a famous type of pastry that is usually accompanied by coffee or hot chocolate. Now, by this time I was already about 4 hours behind my original schedule but was so happy with the incredible scenery and food that I honestly couldn’t complain too much. I even made it to the 7 o’clock church service with about 4 minutes to spare. Perfect.

The church service itself was quite an experience as well. I went with one of my friends from BCA to her host family’s iglesia, an evangelical church that appeared pretty similar to the Pentecostal tradition in the States. The Spanish was rapid, emotions were high, and people were passionate. I probably only understood about 40% of the music and sermon, but it was such an encouraging and amazing experience to worship in another language. I am always reminded of God’s infinite sovereignty when I am able to see people from a completely different culture praise Him in their own language. It’s humbling and beautiful.

That evening, I got to spend some time in fellowship with my friend and her host family, and it was exactly what my heart was craving. It’s so easy to take Christian community for granted at home, and it is a truly moving experience to feel the undeniable need to speak about God and pray to Him with other believers (regardless of language barriers and culture disparities).

On Sunday morning I returned to the same church for another service and then had lunch with one of the families from the congregation … Once again, I was blown away by their hospitality and kindness. They even attempted to teach me a few things in the kitchen. Of course, I failed miserably at just about every task I was given, but I’m learning. And they are wonderfully patient.

Sunday evening brought another unexpected experience, and this one may be the highlight of the weekend. One of the girls in my study abroad program celebrated her birthday last weekend, and her host mom decided to have a small gathering at her home for cake and coffee to honor my friend’s birthday. When I arrived at the apartment, I expected a few members of the host family and maybe a few pastry items for the big event. I should have known better …. Ecuadorians are not into understatements and that simply would not be sufficient for any celebration.

Instead, I found a room full of Ecuadorians and massive amounts of fresh bread, appetizers, pastries, coffee, hot chocolate, and more. The host family was so friendly, and I learned a great amount simply by listening to them tell stories about their lives and their country. What I thought would be a 30-minute dessert turned into hours of conversation and celebration ….D o you see why I love this place so much?

I realize this post is already excessively long, but I have to mention a few things about my school week. To get straight to the point, I absolutely love my university. USFQ is not only a beautiful campus – sometimes I feel like I’m on vacation on some tropical island instead of attending classes – but the courses have far surpassed anything I could have imagined.

My three political science courses (politics of environmental change, theories of economic development, and corruption as an international phenomenon) are all so interesting, and class discussion never ceases to amaze me. The student population is not only informed about Ecuadorian politics, but most know an impressive amount about news in the United States, Europe, and all around the world. My classmates come from all around the globe, and it is common for me to hear Spanish, English, German, French, and Swedish throughout one class period. It amazes me every day, and I find myself more and more excited to attend class as the semester progresses. Yep, definitely sounding like a nerd. But it really is incredible.

Tomorrow I begin volunteering at an orphanage here in Quito … I am beyond excited for this opportunity and I am sure I will have more to share about that experience after tomorrow. This weekend I will be staying in Quito to see some of the city’s attractions – hoping to explore Pichincha, the nearby volcano, and maybe tour some more of the historic center. More pictures and updates to come, I’m sure. Until then, have a great friday…hasta luego!