Monday, January 28, 2013


I never understood soccer. Between Conemaugh Valley not having a team and me, never playing in a league or really even watching it, I simply don't know the rules. Here in Quito, however, soccer or "fútbol" is SO popular and everyone knows the game. Last semester, I was looking through some of my friends photos who were here and I saw a few from a Liga game. They all had jerseys on and were there cheering for a team that they didn't know anything about until then. I couldn't wait to do the same thing.

My friend Brian made a post about going to a Liga game and in no time, people were responding saying that they were wanting to go. I think there were 19 of us who each gave him a whopping $7 to buy us all a ticket. I told Papa Galo that I was going and he said that I needed to buy a jersey. Pablo and Mae, however root for Barcelona and they were less impressed at the idea of me going to the game.

My friends, Elizabeth, Hilary and Nicole decided to head down to Mariscal for a while before the game to grab lunch. I had already eaten so I just got and Oreo milkshake and it was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. I was tempted to buy another one but held myself back in case I wanted something at the game. Our waiter was really nice and offered to take our picture. He put up with our Spanglish pretty well actually.

After an extremely interesting bus ride, we finally made it to the stadium. This game was the opening game for the season and there were people everywhere. We were told to buy a shirt outside of the stadium, because they were nearly $30 cheaper, and so we did. Hooray!
Some of our  group arrived late so we had to split into two groups and sit in different areas; there was no way we could save 19 seats on the opening night. One older lady that was sitting next to us was trying her best to teach us the cheers when we would get a goal but it was a long cheer that the entire stadium would do and it was just too hard to catch on, so we pretended and laughed at ourselves.
Everyone was so enthusiastic about the game, the players made a Gangnam Style video that was played on the big screen, one player was taken out on a stretcher, I declined a chocolate bar that would cost $2, and we learned that not all bathrooms have toilet paper(?). We really did have a great time cheering for our new favorite team.


I know it doesn't look like there were a lot of people from these pictures but this was before the game started.


Liga won their first game beating Aucas 3 to 1! We realized after the game that trying to find a taxi would take FOREVER. Hilary, Nicole, Elizabeth, Keith (another BCAer that lives 1 minute from my house) and I decided to go get something to eat at the bakery until the crowd died down a bit :). We finally did get a taxi, the 4 of them all squeezed in the back, and I was lucky enough to get the front seat, hah.

When I got home, Papa Galo was still awake and was so happy with my Liga shirt purchase that he had me go upstairs to Mama Paty's room to show her (don't worry, she was still awake too). Pablo and Mae, on the other hand, weren't as excited when they found out but that's okay because it was a lot of fun and I will be ready to go for the next game. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Well guys, I'm 21! It was not the type of celebration that many of you are probably thinking, it was better! A week before my birthday, Mama Paty told me that I could have a few friends over if I wanted to and that she would bake me a chocolate cake with chocolate icing!

I woke up on my birthday to Papa Galo bringing me a beautiful arrangement of flowers with a card that says:

Feliz Cumpleaños                                                     Happy Birthday
Querido Kara:                                                           Dear Kara:
Que Dios te bendiga hoy y siempre.                        May God bless you today and always.
Feliz cumpleaños: Galo, Paty, Pablo, Mae, Tata   Happy birthday: Galo, Paty, Pablo, Mae, Tata

I am fortunate enough not to have class on Friday so I was able to sleep in/ do my own thing. After giving me the flowers, Papa Galo left for work and I was left by myself. I went out to get breakfast and found that delicious chocolate cake already out on a plate for me (best breakfast ever). Leo joined me on my bed as I did some homework/read all of my facebook birthday messages-thanks everyone!

Of course I was wanting to talk to my family so Mom said about skyping once Dad got home from work. I was so excited to see everyone there since Morgan is always working and Becca having basketball practice/games. Not only did they sing "happy birthday", but there were balloons AND a cake there...I even got to blow out the candle, kind of.


I told them about how I was having a little party starting at 5, and that I was going to go meet my friends at Rio Coca so that I could help them get to the house. Having to meet them at the bus station didn't give me much time to skype but it was so nice to see all of my family on my birthday...I hope they enjoyed my cake! ;)
We eventually all made it to Rio Coca (sorry for making you wait, Elizabeth). From there, we loaded the crowded bus to travel back to my house where my one friend, Mili, would meet us. Mili is from here and I know her because she studied at Juniata all last year so I was really happy that she was coming to my party. :) Unfortunately, Mili had to wait for us because we got lost... Okay, I know I'm not good with getting around/directions but I was trying to pay attention. In my defense, there were a lot of people in front of the windows and it was hard to see where we were. Once I stopped recognizing things I figured it was time to get off of the bus.
I called Mama Paty because she can speak English pretty well and I was trying to describe where we were by the shops/restaurants that were around because we couldn't find any street signs. Her answer to me was, "I don't know where you are". Great. Luckily, Papa Galo recognized one thing or another and told us to wait where we were and he would come pick us up.

We made it to the house were we found poor Mili who had been waiting for nearly an hour...Mili, I am so sorry. My little fiesta started out with chit-chatting and eating mini empanadas and mini hot dogs. It was nice for my host parents to get to meet some of my friends...oh yeah, let me introduce you:

Starting on the left there is Mili, (me), Hilary, Nicole & Elizabeth
THEN came time for the delicious chocolate cake. I was sang to in both the English and Spanish version before making my wish and blowing out my candles. This is when Mama Paty informed me that it is a tradition that the birthday boy/girl is to take the first bite out of the cake while everyone else chants "que muerde el pastel" or simply, bite the cake. As  I was getting closer to the cake with my mouth wide open, I felt Mili's hand pushing down on my head. I wasn't quite close enough to end up with a face full of chocolate but her and Mama Paty thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Apparently everyone still does this even though they know what is coming. Papa Galo did end up getting me the second time around but hey, its tradition. 


Pablo and Mae (my host siblings) ended up making it to the party too with their karate friend Diego. It was so much fun just hanging out and laughing with my friends and new family. Thank you everyone for making my 21st a great and unique one.



Thursday, January 17, 2013


With everything that had already happened here the first few days, I almost forgot that I was actually here to study. The morning after I moved in with my family or BCA group was to meet at Rio Coca(the bus station) at 8am so that they could show us how to take the bus to the university. Some from our group are able to just walk 5 or 10 minutes to the bus station while many of us need to take a bus to get there.

That morning, Papa Galo went with me to catch the first bus. The stop is only about a three minute walk from where I live so it is pretty nice actually. We didn't have to wait to long for the bus to come, but when it did, there were already so many people on it. The buses here only cost 25 cents a ride and I'm glad because I'm not the biggest fan of taking them as it is. Going from little 'ole Mineral Point to this huge city is so different. Not only was the bus packed but the rules of the road here are pretty much non-existent. U-turns, cutting off other cars and not using turn signals is accepted here which makes the bus ride even more interesting. I'm just happy that the breaks always seem to work well... sometimes too well. Papa Galo noticed my bag hanging off of my shoulder as we were standing there in the middle isle hanging on for dear life. He didn't hesitate to reach down and push my bag in front of me where I could hold it. Too often, pick-pocketers take advantage of easy targets like that on crowded buses; lesson learned.

After approximately a 10 minute bus ride, we arrived at Rio Coca and walked up to where our BCA group was standing. We were all excited to see each other and were curious to hear about what each other's families and houses were like. I also found out that I live really close to two of the girls and one of the guys from my program which is nice to know for sharing future taxi rides.

The bus ride from Rio Coca to USFQ lasted about 20 minutes. When considering catching the bus and waiting for the next one, it usually turns out to be 45 minutes to get from my house to the school.Okay, now the's like a resort. I never feel like I am at school when I am there. A few students (that we met in the park) took small groups around to give us the grand tour before classes started. There is a pond and beautiful trees everywhere, the buildings are beautiful and everything is so clean.


Our first day of class was on January 9th if I remember correctly. I was pretty nervous about taking the buses by myself and getting lost. Luckily, another girl, Stephanie, from the BCA program was getting on the bus at Rio Coca too so I was able to go with her! I was pretty excited about it. Aaannddd, since my class didn't start until 10, I was able to leave later and the bus wasn't packed like it is in the mornings.
School is going great so far here. My professors are really nice (one is from New York and has no Spanish accent at all), my schedule is awesome* and I am meeting a lot of new people; both international students and Ecuadorian students. At first I was really confused when trying to get around from building to building but I think I have the hang of it now. It was really like being a freshman again but I am glad that I'm here...maybe I'll just stay (Don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm half kidding).

*My schedule is perfect. I only have one class from 2:30 to 4 on Monday/Wednesday which gives me Friday off. Tuesday and Thursday are my long days, 10 - 2:30 and then 4-5:30, but it is worth it to basically have a 4 day weekend.

Monday, January 14, 2013


The majority of people would say that living with a family in another country is by far the best way to learn about the culture and learn the language. Until January 6, none of our BCA group knew where we would be staying for the next four and a half months. Unlike most programs where the host families are assigned prior to leaving, BCA waits until the directors get to know us better so that they can assign us to a family where they believe we will fit best.
The afternoon after our last morning of orientation, everyone met back up in the same room we had been going to for the past few days. Daniel, Miguel Andres and Marta began handing out papers to us that were filled out by our assigned families. Everyone was so excited to see how many brothers/sisters they were going to have, if they had pets and where they were going to live. Once everyone had the papers, we began asking our directors where we lived in comparison to all of our other friends so that we could locate ourselves on the map. I think we were driving the directors a little crazy with all of our questions but we were too excited about it.

After nearly an hour of asking about each other’s families, Daniel announced that he was going to meet all of our families at the hostel and that they would be coming over shortly to meet us. Let me just add here that all of the excited feelings quickly turned into excited/anxious/nervous feelings. All of the other BCAers that we had become such good friends with already, would now be leaving to go live with a family that we have never met. We all sat there impatiently looking out the window, just waiting to see the 35 families walking toward the building. Miguel Andres was still there in the room with us and he said that when they all come in, they would take turns announcing who they were there to pick up and then we were to take all of our things and leave with them.

The first family walked through the door and we began to clap…not sure it was because we were excited to see whose parents they were or because of nerves and we didn’t know what else to do…maybe both. The whole crowd of people began filing in and stood at the front of the room; some families had babies, some were single mothers, some were older couples. Until that same morning, they didn’t know who they would have living with them either so they didn’t know what we look like, and we didn’t know what they look like. One by one they would step towards the front and say something like, “my son/daughter is….”. All of the parents were so excited to see their “son/daughter” stand up and when we did, we ran up to meet them and hug them. Everyone clapped each time. This process made us feel like we were being adopted into a very loving family and actually became emotional for many of us. There was just so much excitement and whatever all of the other mix of feelings were, I’m not really sure. When my host parents called me, I went up to hug them and the first thing my host mom said to me was, “hola, mi corazón” which translates to, “hello, my heart”. Both of my host parents were SO excited to meet me! Even within the first two minutes, I knew I was going to love them.
Driving back to my new house was not awkward at all. I was afraid that they would be asking me questions and trying to get to know me without me knowing how to say it in Spanish. However, my host mom, Paty, studied abroad in Indiana and was an English teacher for years. Even if I didn’t know something, she was able to help me out. My host father, Galo, on the other hand doesn’t understand much English. I also have a host brother and sister, Pablo who is 27 and Maria (Mae) who is 22, but they don’t live here anymore. They live together in an apartment about 5 minutes away from the house but they visit pretty often. Actually, they are both rrreeeallllyyy good at karate… national champions to be exact. Pablo teaches younger kids so of course I asked if they wanted to teach me…I will be learning here very soon. J I also have a grandpa, Tata as they call him, who lives right next door. He is Mama Paty’s father and he has been living there ever since her mother passed away.

When I arrived at the house I couldn’t get over how cute it was. First we need to be let in a gate to our little street so I feel very safe here. The guards all know who I am now so it’s pretty cool. The outside of my house is adorable and it has a bird bath, hummingbird feeder and plenty of plants.

The inside is perfect and I already feel right at home. I was given my own room (Pablo’s old room) and I have my own bathroom!!


I have two dogs, two cats, a bird and a fish. From inside my room I have a glass door that leads to the room where the animals are and I am often visited my one of our dogs, Leo. Sometimes he even makes his way out and around to wake me up in the morning by jumping right up into my bed. He reminds me SO much of little miss Mya it makes me laugh.


After all of my things were placed into my closet it was time to eat. Everyone was there, Mama Paty, Papa Galo, Pablo, Mae, Mae’s boyfriend Fran from Columbia, and Tata. This dinner wasn’t awkward for me either which pleasantly surprised me. The dinner was delicious: burritos, chicken soup and chocolate cake for dessert. I did end up trying some guacamole on my burrito but I can’t say I was the biggest fan. After dinner everyone went into the living room to hang-out and chit-chat. I ended up even skyping with my family back home so it was nice that they all got to meet each other the first night. They love that we have alpacas and think the pictures that I have on of them on Facebook are so cute.

I am absolutely loving it here and am so thankful to be living with the Reyes family. I can already see coming back to Quito to visit them  20 years  from now. Life is good.



Wednesday, January 9, 2013


After arriving at the airport, most of our BCA group loaded our luggage onto a bus and our directors, Daniel Bryan and Miguel Andres, started to talk to us about what the next few days would bring with orientation until we arrived at Hostal la Carolina where we would be staying until meeting our host families. (I promise the hostel was not as scary as it sounds, it was actually pretty nice.) We were all so tired after traveling all day that we pretty much just brought our suitcases to our rooms and went to bed. I did talk to my roommate, Lilly, for a while first; she is from Maine and is so sweet.

I decided to shower before going to bed so I gathered all of my things and turned on the water. The water was FREEZING, like ice-cold freezing. I tried to turn off one knob at a time to see which was for the hot water but I didn’t notice any difference between the two. At this point, I was already ready to be showering and didn’t want to get up extra early the next morning to shower before Lilly so I toughed it out, kind of. I think I still had shampoo in my hair when I got out but I didn’t care. I warned her the next morning about the ice-bath… she had the same issue so it wasn’t just me. *

All of us were to meet downstairs in the lobby between 8:45 and 9 that morning for breakfast before starting day one of orientation. I wasn’t sure what to expect food-wise yet so I was a little nervous. The breakfast ended up being pancakes and pineapple juice and it was delicious! I just tried my first pineapple in December and now I like them which surprised me. We all ate there together with three or four to a table so it was a good chance to start to get to know everyone.

Daniel showed up around 9:30 to bring us to the building across the street where we would have our morning sessions. This first day we talked about the expectations/concerns we had, the first half of the safety and security section, and then we also spent more time getting to know each other. With the facebook group that was set up, I could recognize some of the others there, but remembering about 30 names was a little difficult at first. Daniel actually went around and was able to name us all with hardly any hesitation…we were impressed.
Lunch time made me nervous again. This little picky issue is slowly starting to go away for me now though, hooray! Our entire group walked to the mall for lunch so that we could all pick something from the food court. Once it was my turn to order I did my best to say what I wanted but I wasn’t sure what drink I ended up saying I wanted.  I recognized that the cashier said the word manzana or apple and I thought, hmm, apple, I like apples… “si, manzana”. So there I was, waiting for my order and expecting an apple or apple flavored sauce on my chicken I ended up with orange soda. Good enough for me, I think I have my Spanish down pat.  I’d like to mention that my entire meal that included a full  plate of rice, beans, chicken and a fried plantain cost me somewhere around $3.50…I can’t get over how cheap food is here.

Walking back to the hostel I heard a man down the street talking to someone he knew and said, “mira a todos los gringos”. All of us “gringos” stand out so easily here I felt like I was in some sort of parade. It made me laugh to myself because I am so use to just being in a community where I am part of the majority, but here I am a gringa…a very white gringa. (Don’t worry, the word gringo is not seen as offensive here like it is in other countries. There is actually a business of some sort here called Happy Gringo, haha.)

Our next little outing was al Parque Carolina. This park is absolutely beautiful with so many trees that we do not have in PA, hah. Again, this was to help us all to recognize faces and try to bring us closer. We played ice-breaker like games that made everyone uncomfortable and feel awkward from having to be so smashed together to participate, but I would say that it worked. We actually had a crowd of Ecuadorians watching us so that made it even stranger but more hilarious at the same time. Miguel Andres invited a few students from the university I will be going to too so it was nice to start getting to know people from Quito. We then had some free time to do as we wished but we were all to meet at 5 before it started to bet dark. We were told that this park in particular is not a place to be any time after 6 because of the crime rate. Even though there are places like these in Quito, it is easy to avoid them.

During our free time, some people played soccer, some resorted to the paddle boats, a few just walked around and then five of us decided to play basketball. At first we played around the world and “caballo” instead of horse, but then one of the students from the university joined us and we were actually able to play 3 on 3. Now I know I’m not in the best shape of my life right now, but we were all feeling the effects of the altitude change.  The game was a lot of fun and we eventually accumulated a crowd.

Later that night, Daniel took us to a vegan restaurant for supper even though I don’t think any of us are vegan. The food there was, interesting, but the drink caught me off guard a little bit. It was some sort of pineapple juice and oatmeal mix. Some people really liked it but I wasn’t the biggest fan… I am really trying to try new things while I’m here. The owner of the restaurant had the whole place reserved just for our group so it was nice. Our goal for getting back home was to learn how to call a taxi and give the directions. First, half of us decided to follow Miguel Andres to see where the main area for the night life was.  He took us to an area known as Mariscal (it is possible that I’m spelling that wrong) where there was so much going on. There were some clubs playing only American music, but then again I did hear some playing salsa music and it made me reealllyyyy excited to learn. We were able to walk around for 10 minutes in groups to check the place out and then we all met back up for Miguel Andres to watch us call our taxis. We were told not to pay more than $ 3 to get back to our hostel because many times the cab drivers will see that we are clearly not from Ecuador and will try to charge us extra. We turned down the first cab because he was asking $3.50 and we were absolutely not allowed to pay that price. We really should have only paid $2 but we aren’t comfortable with our bartering skills yet.

Surprise! Now I like bananas. The next morning’s breakfast was a bowl of cantaloupe and bananas and it was SO good! The fruit down here is so fresh. Our morning continued with some more information about safety and the BCA program in general before heading to lunch. My ordering skills were much better this time and I even was able to ask for extra rice instead of the beans! I’m feeling more confident with it now I think. J

The next destination of the day was to El Panecillo and then to the Centro Histórico. El Panecillo was the top of a beautiful mountain that overlooked the entire city of Quito. It really was amazing to see how long and skinny Quito really is and was a great place to take pictures.  Not only is this place known for the view but there is also a large statue there that represents the Virgin Mary. Each aspect of the statue – crown of stars, moon, dragon – represents something but I wasn’t able to understand all of the explanation.  

For Christmas they also added interesting figures to represent the nativity scene. My favorite was how they made baby Jesus in the manger, hah. Unfortunately I was walking around with my friend Nicole from Juniata and we missed the group photo…boo

Centro Histórico is another popular place with BEAUTIFUL churches, monuments, restaurants, shops and the president’s house! Unlike the White House, the Palacio de Carondelet is pretty much just another gorgeous building on the street. There are not gates surrounding the building and although I did see some guards/police officers, it is nothing like back in the states.  Actually, Daniel was telling us that one day he had people come in not realizing that Fidel Castro was visiting. I guess Fidel came out onto the balcony and started to give one of his charismatic speeches; the place was so packed that he had to delay his tour.

Our very last stop of the night was to a restaurant in a very cool place of town. There were streets where only pedestrians were permitted and it was again full with restaurants, shops and music. During dinner a man played the guitar/harmonica and sang a few songs for us. I love hearing all of the Spanish music here! After dinner we walked the street, popping in and out of the shops and just enjoying everything that was going on. We even were able to see the Virgin Mary statue from there.

Well, this concludes my post.  Thanks for sticking with was a long one! (Tab, I think I need your help with figuring out how to upload pictures... I'm still not sure why it isn't working) I will try to do this more regularly so it doesn’t take away your entire day but I can’t promise anything.  J Just a heads up, my next post will be about my new host family!


*The others said that their showers were fine. The next day we decided to just leave one knob on for a while to see if it would heat up and it did finally start getting warm after a few minutes. I would like to say I am very thankful for hot water.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


          Am I really in Ecuador right now? It doesn’t seem real to me, still, but I absolutely love it so far! There are so many stories I have to share already but unless you would like to read for hours at a time, I am going to have to cut some of it out until I make it back to PA to share. I suppose we will start with the beginning…
          On January 2nd (the day before I left) and on the 3rd, I was bombarded with texts wishing me the best of luck on my semester abroad. I would like to take the time now to thank everyone for all of their support, prayers and generous donations for this trip. I wish I could thank all of you individually but just know that I appreciate it more than I could explain. I also appreciate the infinite amount of advice from everyone… some was helpful and would make me even more excited and then others were interesting tid-bits of info to say the least.
          My whole family was able to drive me down to the Baltimore airport where I would be flying by myself for the first time. After I checked in my bag we all just sat in the little for court until it was closer time for my flight since they wouldn’t be able to go with me through security. Not only was my immediate family there but my cousin Adam who lives down there made a special trip in to say good-bye and leave me with some flying/traveling advice… he and his wife Lea are professionals at this type of thing. Text messages kept coming in from so many people to again, wish me the very best and safe travels. I also was able to talk to my cousin Tasha on the phone for a few minutes right before I was about ready to venture out on my own; I think she was as excited for me as I was! Everyone walked me over to where security was to say good-bye and every time I hugged another person it would become a little more real to me that I would be leaving for 4.5 months. There were so many emotions  going on for me at this point… excited to actually be in Quito, nervous about forgetting something for customs and not being allowed into the country, and of course, sad about leaving my family. I didn’t want to drag it out because I knew that if I did I wouldn’t be able to stop crying for a while, but I made it. The man that took my ticket must have been watching our little hug session because when I handed him the ticket he said, “aren’t you going to take all of them with you?”… I wish.

          Everything with my flights worked out incredibly smoothly. I had a short layover in Miami and it was just the right amount of time for me to find my next gate and be sure that I had everything I needed in order. That was the first time that I had ever been in Florida and I could not believe how much Spanish was down there! I knew that it was common for that area but holy man! I will say that I was trying to eaves-drop on some conversations just to see how much I could pick up, hah.
          After four hours of flying from Miami I finally made it to Quito around 8:30. The city looked incredible coming in! Quito is long and narrow but I hear that in 2010 there were 2.7 million people who lived there! There were so many lights in the valleys of the mountains and volcanoes and I was just in awe of it.

           When I got off of the plane I ran into a group of nearly 20 others so I asked them if they were all here for the BCA study abroad program…and they weren’t. They were studying abroad but were there through another program. I decided to welcome myself into their group anyways. It was so easy getting through customs and then I grabbed my bag and went off to sit at a little café to wait to meet up with my group.

          I arrived roughly an hour and a half before the rest of them so I waited there and ordered a hot chocolate like my director told me to. I don’t know why, but I was expecting the hot chocolate to taste just like it does in the States, but it doesn’t. It actually tasted bitter to me. That was when I realized why the lady gave me 3 packets of white sugar. It wasn’t bad but definitely made me remember that there are going to be many things I will need to adjust to.

          Two of my directors came in to get me and it was easy to recognize them because of the group they set up on facebook. I went to shake his hand and he said, “that isn’t how we do things here” and leaned in to kiss me on the cheek. Oookaayy, culture difference number one. Even when meeting for the first time that is how everyone is greeted. BCA sent out bright green luggage tags to everyone so that it was easy to identify who belonged to our little group. Every time someone would walk in, the group that was there would cheer loudly and clap for their arrival, followed by the kiss greeting. Everyone was just so excited to be there that we all had so much to say to each other. It has only been one real day and we are already getting close. So far so good!