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Lessons I learned while living in Ecuador

Lauren+Kreis+%28right%29+with+her+sister+and+nanny+outside+their+house+in+Ecuador+in+2007.
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Lessons I learned while living in Ecuador

Lauren Kreis (right) with her sister and nanny outside their house in Ecuador in 2007.

Lauren Kreis (right) with her sister and nanny outside their house in Ecuador in 2007.

Courtesy of the Kreis family

Lauren Kreis (right) with her sister and nanny outside their house in Ecuador in 2007.

Courtesy of the Kreis family

Courtesy of the Kreis family

Lauren Kreis (right) with her sister and nanny outside their house in Ecuador in 2007.

Lauren Kreis, Community Liaison

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When I was five years old, my dad took a job at the American Consulate in Guayaquil, Ecuador. My sister, my dad and I packed up all of our things, got on a plane and flew 3,358 kilometers south, where my life was changed forever. Now, as I prepare to graduate high school, I
realize how formative those years abroad were.

Lesson One: Don’t be picky

For the first three months of this new life, my family lived in a hotel a block away from my dad’s office. I survived on chocolate croissants and ravioli most of the time. As a young child, I was picky and afraid to try all the new foods surrounding me.
Every morning, a van would pick up my sister, me, and some other consulate kids and take us to school. We went to a private international American school called InterAmerican Academy, where all of our classes were taught in English except for our Spanish class.
Despite only having one Spanish class, I picked up the language quickly. This is because my nanny, Lucy, only spoke Spanish. In order to communicate with her, I had to learn the language. My dad created a system where we would put sticky notes on almost everything in the house with both the English and Spanish translation on it so Lucy could also learn a little bit of English. Not only did she help me improve my Spanish speaking skills, but she introduced us to native foods with the meals she cooked for us, and I finally stopped eating ravioli.

Lesson Two: Not everyone is as fortunate as I am

Although Lucy was a live-in maid, she would go to her own house on the weekends. We went to her house a couple of times, which was an interesting and shocking experience. Where she lived, the houses were made of bamboo with metal roof panels. The inside was small; it had one bed, a small kitchen space and a small TV. This looked nothing like the hotel or house where I lived. For the first time, I got a glimpse into the lives of low-income families. In our first year with Lucy, she had a baby, and we helped name her Sofia. As a young child, I treated Sofia like my own personal doll. I played with her, introduced her to Oreos and put makeup on her. Having her in the house gave me an even deeper connection to the people of Ecuador.

Lesson Three: Embrace connections

Because Ecuador is such a small country, it was easy for us to travel. It is also very close to its neighboring countries, Peru and Colombia, which we got to visit. Most weekends we would drive somewhere, whether to the mountains or the beach.
When I was nine, my father sent me away for two weeks to stay with one of his friends, an artist who lived in the mountains of Cuenca, so that I could improve my Spanish. Because I was staying with an artist, I was actually able to go to the workshop with him a couple of times; I even helped him with some of his pieces. While I was there, I learned how to make a natural sore throat remedy by using
onions and sugar and how to walk on wooden stilts.
The connections my father made with local artists, hotel owners and musicians gave us the opportunity to see parts of cities that we wouldn’t have found without their help and immersed me in the local culture.

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Lessons I learned while living in Ecuador