April: Aventuras de Abril
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Ecuador, etc.
I would say I’m from New York, though when people ask me that question, I never really know what to say. I’ve been moving from place to place every few years since I was born, and probably because of that, moving to South America after I finished my Bachelors seemed like a completely logical step for me. I came to Ecuador in January 2011, originally to take a CELTA course (Certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages) and then teach for a few months, but I was never able to leave. I fell in love with teaching, the lifestyle, and people of Ecuador. I now run a volunteer program that functions in and around Montañita to bring people here from all over the world, people who are interested in donating their time, energy, and skills to helping the community in whatever ways they can. I have found myself a beautiful corner of the world.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging the first night I set foot here in Ecuador. It was the first time I had ever been completely alone in a foreign country, so I was feeling a bit lost and lonely. I pulled out my laptop, and imagined I was sitting there telling my best friend how my day was going and everything that I had seen and done and hoped to do. It made me feel better and it made my loved one’s back at home feel better as well. So I decided to keep it going.
The first year of blogging, I focused mostly on my thought and impressions of South American life for the benefit of my friends and family back home. But as time when on, my reader base grew to include people from all over the world and I started receiving requests for advice on expat life. I moved my site to a more accessible platform and began writing more posts to give useful information to other expats and travellers looking to come to Ecuador, but with my own twist of course.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite blogs are ones that present the readers with useful insight in a humorous or interesting way. I try live up to that when writing my own travel advice. I think that my posts about avoiding harassment in Guayaquil, and learning how to cook without a grocery store frozen aisle. I also really enjoy writing more reflective pieces about daily life and culture, and by mixing those more memoir style posts into the mix, I can still keep the blog personal and not just a strict travel guide.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Ecuador differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I can’t really say that I experienced real culture shock when I moved to Ecuador. I find that I am quite adaptable to new situations. I did however find myself thrown the first time I went home to visit my family after I had been living here for quite some time. I had done such a good job of evolving to fit an Ecuadorian lifestyle that when I returned, I found myself confused and uncomfortable. The feeling passed after a few days, but it is interesting to me that the return home gave me more culture shock then the move here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Ecuador? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was definitely not prepared when I moved here, mostly because I had not actually been planning to be an expat when I left home. That just evolved naturally once I got here. The biggest things I would change if I could go back would be my packing list. I did almost no research about coastal Ecuador, so my choices were not the best. The best thing to do is really research the place in terms of what you will need to bring with you. Maybe get in contact with an expat already living there and ask them what would be their essential pack list if they were starting over again. Look into the weather where you are interested in living. Yes Ecuador is on the equator, but the weather in the Sierras and the Orient and the Coast are all vastly different. Bring any electronics you need with you. They are all very overpriced here, and quality is hard to come by. Bring some cooking utensils. You will be cooking for yourself probably a lot more than you did back home and pretty much everything will be from scratch. I’ve been told that it is possible to find things like cooking thermometers, measuring cups, and food processors in specialty stores in the biggest cities, but I have to find one. Bring lots of reading material or an eReader. Having a bookstore to frequent is a luxury that I don’t have anymore.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
On my first day in Ecuador, I was in Guayaquil wandering around and looking for shampoo. I was wearing a small backpack when I found a big superstore to check out After walking up and down the aisles for a minute, I was approached by a large burly guard wearing a large bulletproof vest on the outside of his uniform, and carrying a large automatic rifle. Since I couldn’t speak any Spanish at this point in my life, the conversation went something like this:
Guard: Excuse me miss, you need to check your backpack at the front desk.
April: I no understand.
G: Your backpack, you can’t have that inside the store, you can check it up front.
A: I no speak Spanish.
G: Jesus Christ! These damn gringos…
When the guard finally got fed up, stopped being polite, and started waving his rifle, I realized that I was missing something. Luckily for me, a nice stock boy came along and pulled me to a counter where everyone else was checking their bags.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Ecuador?
- Think hard about the reasons you want to move here. Ecuador is very different from home in a lot ways. You will not have access to the food you are used to. Basic things, like paying your electricity bill or opening a bank account can become huge full day projects. If you are looking to have the same lifestyle that you had back home but with a cheaper price tag, you will be disappointed. Be realistic about your motivations, your expectation, and what you really need to be content.
- Make friends with locals. It is very easy to slip into a group of other expats and travellers. You don’t have to worry about the language or cultural barriers and it’s comfortable and safe. But making friends with locals is important for a slew of different reasons. Have a social group made up of Ecuadorians means you will learn or improve your Spanish very quickly. When I arrived here I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but I was at a conversational level by about 4 months, and I am fluent now. Not because I have a good ear for languages, I do not, but because none of my friends spoke English and I had no choice but to learn. Locals know things that other foreigners do not. They know where the best prices for everything are. They know who you need to talk to get something made, or cleaned, or bought. They know what places are safe and unsafe. Networking is important no matter where you are in the world, but in these smaller communities, have good relationships with your neighbors can be make or break if you are looking for a job, or need a car repaired, or if your dog goes missing. In the States, we are used to keeping to ourselves and our group of friends, but be bold and seek out relationships with people. You’ll not only have a better and more Ecuadorian experience, but also it’ll be better for you in the long run.
- Go with the flow. Things are not going to turn out how you planned. Some days are going to be difficult. Some days are going to make you want to tear your hair out and go home. There are obstacles and challenges that will drive you crazy. There will also be little things that seem so insignificant now, but that will start to drive you crazy as well. But if you stay calm and flexible and keep a good sense of humor about things, it will all pass, and you end up enjoying this amazing country for what it is.
How is the expat community in Ecuador? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community here is as wonderful and diverse as the country itself. There are other expats of all different ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and all here for different reasons. I’ve lived in 4 different cities/towns now in Ecuador and have had no trouble find expat friends when I need to hear a familiar sounding accent or want to banter with someone in English.
How would you summarize your expat life in Ecuador in a single, catchy sentence?
A seat of the pants adventure.