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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Orienting Fulbright Grantees

ECUADOR | Saturday, 27 October 2007 | Views [938]

For some odd reason, the Fulbright Orientation was held nearly two months after the first grantee's arrival in Ecuador.  Therefore, by this time us Fulbrighters had already become well acquainted over various dinner parties and varied attempts at dancing salsa.  Nonetheless, for two days we gathered over various spectacular and less intriguing activities.

Day One consisted of five presentations given by university professors, diplomats, and other distinguished persons.  The most entertaining speaker, however, was our very own Fulbright Executive Director, Susana Cabeza de Vaca.  With a last name that directly translates as "cow head," one would expect a humorous delivery.  Susana's topic was "Culture Shock," a theme all of us are familiar with in past endeavors.  She presented us with a detailed timeline of the phases of culture shock we would encounter during our stay.  The first phase is referred to as the "honeymoon" period where we will be silly with happiness.  All perceptions will be viewed through a tourist lens: the food is amazing, the people are warm and friendly, the altitude has yet to descend on our content heads, and we are fascinated by new friends, places, and Ecuadorian novelties.  Then suddenly, a dark cloud glares down on us bringing depression, loneliness, homesickness, stereotyping, and impatience.  The food is no longer satisfying and why on earth can't people learn to be on time, and for Christ sake, stop whistling at me!  Our physical health begins to deteriorate and the altitude is suddenly at fault for everything.  Phase three is an emphasis of phase two, but the good news is that one emerges from phase three enlightened, with renewed spirits, and well equipped to challenge new obstacles.  The problem is, once you've successfully undergone the entire program, you'll have to do it all over again, backwards, when you go home.   

Now, I assure you I was paying attention to Susana's speech, but I couldn't find many parallels between my current cultural immersions and those she was describing.  For instance, I am currently in "phase two" (past the 6 week mark) and my physical performance has excelled under my newest research theme "Rock Climbing in Ecuador." The altitude sneaks up on me occasionally, usually after my second beer or on a steep incline, but has otherwise let me be.  I was slightly disillusioned by a rude taxi driver who insisted that I lived in a barrio "muy feo" to which I replied that it was actually quite tranquilo and after all, we have the best views in the city, but I didn't see it fit to peg his rudeness on the entire Ecuadorian population.  Yes I miss my family and friends dearly but I have yet to try several local dishes and 75% of the country to see.  Not to mention my research (no, not climbing) is fascinating and I have only just begun!  So I am praying to pachamama that she will fend of the ugly head of culture shock so that I can continue enjoying my adventures and work, and if my calculations are correct, I think I may have tackled the beast somewhere in Kenya or Peru, in which case, I have little to worry about.

Day One also incorporated a formal three-course lunch in which, by means of seating tags, we were obligated to schmooze with the various presenters, additional guests, and Ecuadorian Fulbright grantees going to America.  So the day passed sluggishly and we were finally released into La Mariscal (the backpacker sector commonly referred to as Gringolandia), which is adjacent to the Fulbright office.  An evening replete with salsa and canelazo left some of us in shabby condition for the following day of orientation: a trip to Cotopaxi National Park.

We set off from Quito at 7am on a private bus well endowed with cushioned seats and ample reclining ability.  Needless to say, we slept.  Two hours later we arrived at our destination in the park, a gorgeous parámo circling a lake wafted over with sparse clouds that permitted the sun to pierce through and color our cheeks.  We trekked about the lake restoring our lungs with pure air before boarding the bus for our next destination: lunch.  Lunch was a fabulous three-course feast of novelties, including a quinoa soup saturated with melted cheese and spices and grilled trout.  The restaurant, lit by windows spanning each wall, offered delightful views of Cotopaxi's neighbor, Sincholagua.  After lunch, we fell into a collective food coma on the bus before arriving at our final destination, the Chiva Express. 

Grudgingly awakened from our naps, we traipsed onto the top of a toy train where we would ride, buckled in, for 25 kilometers towards Quito.  The conductor generously offered us wool ponchos, as the clouds had won their battle with the sun and were celebrating with a spattering of raindrops.  For the next half hour, we huddled under our ponchos giggling back at passersby confused by a traintop of gringos clad in local attire.  Juliet (also studying agriculture) and I played the plant guessing game as we passed farm after farm.  The highlight of the ride was our collision with a cow.  Unfortunately, I was too cold to stand up and view the commotion but apparently we had tipped over the poor creature and it was having trouble standing up and running away for dear life.  According to a local friend, this is actually quite common.

We finally arrived at the end of the line and boarded our little bus for our final orientation activity, one last bumpy sleeping session.

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