The most commonly chosen living situation for students abroad is to live a host family. This not only gives students more immersion into the language and culture of the country they’re living in, but also presents new challenges.
In Ecuador the family is a very important aspect of life, often extended families will continue to live together or in adjoining houses. Some houses in Quito include parking, gardens, and sometimes several houses all within one walled compound where multiple generations coexist.
My host family lives in a four-story apartment building in the new section of Quito. My host parents as well as my sisters Maria Sol, 22, and Viviana, 30, have shared their three-bedroom one story apartment with exchange students for nearly ten years. In Ecuador there is no dorm living (that I have come across), so students continue to live with their parents through school and after entering the workforce. Even after discovering this, it surprised me that Maria Sol and Viviana not only continue to live at home but they also continue to share a room.
In the United States, we like to spread out into neighborhoods outside of our cities, with yards and big rooms. I have never had to share a room with my younger sister and haven’t lived in a house under two stories since I was a toddler. This kind of space just doesn’t translate down in Ecuador where smaller houses and apartments work well with the close family culture.
Houses and apartment buildings are very close together in Quito, most are touching. The sprawl of the city prevents most people from having yards, though some houses have small gardens. There really are no suburbs of Quito, since the city stretches out into the mountains. The cities in the neighboring valleys of Chivas, Tumbaco, and Cumbaya (home to the University of San Francisco de Quito) are just extensions of Quito, just as crowded and busy as the city itself.
Getting used to city living is a fun experience, but getting used to living with a family takes a little more time and patience. American college students are used to a lot of independence, which makes it hard to revert back to living at home, whether it is our own homes in the states or a home abroad. We are, for the most part, responsible for ourselves and don’t check in with anyone except maybe a roommate.
Living with a family again means communicating class schedules, social engagements, and letting mom know if you’ll be home for dinner or lunch. It becomes a little awkward when one factors in nighttime activities like visiting the bar section of Quito, but luckily my family is more than used to international students’ penchant for going out.
Even though it is an adjustment, I can’t imagine this experience without my host family. They take care of me when the altitude and new foods get the best of me, and my host mom has been instrumental in figuring out my visa situation. Even with the language gap, they help me understand life in Ecuador- the food, the politics, the culture, the geography, and so many other things I never would have understood.
When I first arrived here, my host parents told me to think of this as my home, and them as my parents. While they cannot replace the parents I have, they have provided the support system that every parent hopes their culture-shocked student will find.