Ain’t that America: Backwards Culture Shock?Quito, Spring 2012

I didn’t spend much time worrying about being thrown together with a bunch of random students from around the country before departure. But “Fellow Americans” are right up there with “zero personal space” on the What Causes The Most Culture Shock list. A little background: I go to a public, Big 10 school with about 30,000 undergrads. The vast majority of my friends are from the Midwest and insanely driven to graduate in four years and land a job. I’m a journalism major and a student newspaper employee. There’s a lot of emphasis on getting good internships, networking and doing more than humanly possible to have a great resume. We spend a good chunk of our waking hours (15 to 20-ish per week on average) in the newsroom or out reporting. We’re strategizing about internship applications, putting internship application packets together, or interviewing for internships. So then I came to Ecuador. Out of 26 students in my program, 21 are from small, private schools. Five students are from the Midwest, and only two of us go to school in the Midwest. Four people are anthropology majors. About half of the students here have no set career plan and are going to wing it or travel after graduation. Most are liberal arts majors (think Spanish, not economics). This was all quite a shock to a girl who had to sell majoring in journalism as a viable career path to her parents. My parents have drilled it into my head that I'm supposed to major in something employable, get good grades and graduate college on time. My parents love me very much, but they do not believe in taking a long, expensive road to find yourself. They believe in working to the bone. This has meant working every summer since I was 13, long nights of studying from fifth grade on, and becoming almost completely independent once I left for college -- I've been dealing with "real world" issues for a long time, which has probably made me more cynical and more of a realist than most people my age. I’ve never considered myself to be really Midwestern, but apparently I am. I've detected a few subtle hints at the sheltered, "born in a cornfield" Midwest stereotype. I’ve gotten everything from amazement to amusement to disgust at my Upper Midwest accent. I’ve been told a few times that I’m “so Indiana”, referring to the way I phrase something or what my parents do for a living. It’s not that there’s a division of economic class or type of college you attend among students here. People bring different attitudes to the table about what college and our experiences here should be, and friendships have formed mainly around what we want to do in Ecuador. I’ve met incredible friends in my program that I’ll stay friends with long after leaving Quito. But when you pack 26 young adults together with different ideas, personalities and backgrounds, sparks can and do fly.
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