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The first few weeks of new term-London living

Always harder than I think it will be to write a blog post every week, sorry!!

It is currently the fifth week of lessons, time is flying by!! My modules are slightly more interesting than last term like I said in a previous post. They are definitely more time consuming and I am a bit worried about my writing intensive module because I have to write 15-20 pages of fiction by the end of the term. I haven’t written fiction since I was probably 11 so this will be challenging.

Since my friend from Seattle left I haven’t gone into central London as much. I babysit for a family in Fulham which is quite close to Uni luckily and closer to central. The other day I went in with my good friend and flatmate Hannah. We went to Camden Town which is probably the quirkiest neighbourhood in London, very very strange. It’s hard to describe but it’s not like anything I have seen before in any other neighbourhood. We then went to Oxford Street to do a bit of window shopping. Oxford Street is the street to go to for shopping, it is always extremely busy.

It is our friend Jess’s birthday on Friday and we will be going to a club in central London which I am super excited for as we have only really gone to the clubs Roehampton has deals with like Fez and Grand.

We are already talking about Spring break which comes after the term finishes on the 24th of March. It is a three week break which is crazy! We are hoping for a little girls holiday somewhere on the continent maybe and if not I might go somewhere. I have friends in Sweden and one of them wanted us to go to Berlin together which would be amazing so thinking about that.

Not much else to report so until next week!

Cheers xx

A picture of some of the buildings in Camden Town

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The end of break and start of new term

My Christmas holiday was four weeks long so after my parents left, I was with my really good friend Brittney, from Seattle. She had never been to Europe before so I showed her around London and we also went to Northern Ireland for three nights and I had never been there before.

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe that you can go up and since being here I had been obsessed with going. For my birthday as it was my 21st, my parents got me two vouchers to go up so naturally I thought taking Brittney up would make her first London experience even better. It was amazing and I was soo excited :)

One of my favourite pictures I took up there

The next day we flew to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Were were there for basically three full days. We saw most if not all of Belfast but also most of Northern Ireland itself. We did a bus tour which took us along the coastline and had stops along the way. We saw Dunluce Castle remains, went to a whisky distillery, Giants Causeway (the main destination of the tour) and an actual rope bridge. It was a spectacular day, the weather was good and the places and views we saw were out of this world.

Giants Causeway is said to be the 8th wonder of the world

Crossing the terrifying Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge

Belfast’s City Hall probably beats everyone else’s city hall

I then had to get back to reality and start my lessons. Brittney went to Amsterdam for a few days and I started my lessons. I have two new modules, a writing intensive one and Sociology of Childhood. They will be more time consuming than last term modules but should also be more interesting for me.

Until next post!

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Late Christmas Holiday post

Hello, long time no blog! I had a friend from Seattle staying with me so things have been busy but I am ready to catch you up on life in England.

As I am here for a year, my family came for Christmas so I could stay in England but we could still be together. It was our first Christmas in England together. We were in the London area for a bit so my family could see London at this time of year and my dad had memories of places he particularly liked at Christmas when he was growing up here. We also spent time with family and friends in the area.

We then made our way towards Gloucester where we would be spending Christmas with friends. Gloucester is in SW England but is further NW from London. On the way there we stopped off at a couple of places. Our first stop was Bath, a beautiful city famous for its Roman baths. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas and we stayed at a lovely pub inn.

Bath Abbey

Just a lovely picture from a bridge in Bath :)

We then moved onto Glastonbury which in June is the location of the famous music festival appropriately called Glastonbury. Not as much to it as Bath but a lovely place nonetheless. We spent a night there and then slowly made our ways to Gloucester that day stopping in Wells, another adorable village that we had been to when I was about 6 and my sister 2. Then we went to two of the Cotswolds villages for a little bit.

Christmas was lovely, we were with a couple who my dad has known since we was 16 when he worked with one of them. They have two frown kids and every day we were there we spent time with their daughter and her husband and two children. It was great and very relaxing.

All of us at our friends’ house for Christmas :)

The day after Boxing Day we left Gloucester and went to the Isle of Wight, an island south of London. My dad’s sister, her husband and my cousins live there. We were there for four nights spending time with the family and going on lovely but very blustery walks.

A view from one of our walks

We returned to the London area on New Years Eve, picked up my friend Brittney who was visiting me from Seattle and spend New Years Eve at my aunties, my family left the next day.

It was an amazing holiday and I feel so lucky that my family came to spend Christmas with me here in England.

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The Final Stretch

(Written Friday Dec. 4, 2015)

Next week is my last in Dublin and I couldn’t be more sad to be leaving or more ready to be home and see my family and friends. I’m sure it’s been used a hundred times before to describe the end of this kind of experience, but it truly is bittersweet. I could really live here, I really feel like I do, in fact, and so I feel a bit like leaving a home. I find myself with more places to call home as I get older and I absolutely love it. I’m more confident now more than ever that I am capable of making myself comfortable somewhere I never before thought possible. That’s just one of the many things I’m taking with me from Ireland.

So, my last few weeks in Ireland have been going well, but noticeably different from all the weeks before. Mainly, I’m stressed, and because I have more school work than the rest of the term combined all to do in these final three weeks. The first of those three was mostly occupied showing my visiting friend Heather around Dublin and Ireland, and the rest of the week spent recovering from those fun and exhausting five days. Now I’m at the end of the second week and can confidently say, most of my work now remains to be completed my final week here. If all else fails, I have a cushion of one week between the time I leave and the time most assignments are technically due. Thank goodness for the internet.

So between stressing about semester finals and packing three months of things back into my suitcase (I tried but did not do well “packing light” as was suggested, and I knew I’d regret it–and I do), I still want to get out and see some things, but that isn’t really happening. I’m learning to be okay with that though, and we’ve now planned our last few plays and free days. Thursday night we went to our farewell dinner with our program and program coordinator. It was nice and we went to a great new pub which made me realize, or remember that there is still so much to explore in Dublin. I think I could live here another month and never go to the same place if I tried. I haven’t decided yet whether that’s exciting, or makes me feel unaccomplished in my explorations these months.

Later, in our last week…

We visited the Rock of Cashel…

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And the Jameson Distillery…

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We went to the Blarney Castle (and kissed the Blarney Stone)…

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Went to You Never Can Tell, and Mary Poppins, our 13th play…

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Said Goodbye to Dublin and friends…

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We left a little something behind…

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And ended our trip with a final 7am pint at the airport. Cheers, Dublin. Till we meet again…

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Peru and Happy Holidays

I’ve officially been back in the United States for 21 days, and am so glad to be home with my loved ones. Before I get to that, let’s rewind to Peru, which was AMAZING. (However, it didn’t come without its battles and panic attacks)

Peru

I left Quito on the 3rd for Lima, Peru and stayed overnight in the airport (and lived off Starbucks-I was really happy to see that place again). This is where I met up with my aunt Anna, who was told by her airlines that her bag never left Houston. She would be without it for at least three days (and during Machu Picchu).

In the morning I had a one hour flight to Cusco at 6 am, then needed a 20 minute taxi from Cusco to the Puyo train station for my 8:25 am train to Aguas Calientes. This is where me and my aunt would meet up with my friend Blake who had gotten into Cusco the day before. I immediately fell asleep on the plane as soon as I sat down. Unfortunately, when I woke up at 7 am, the plane was on the ground: it hadn’t even left yet. By this time my aunt was most likely in Cusco, by herself, looking for me, and neither one of us had a way to communicate without wifi. My plane landed at 8:05, giving me exactly 20 minutes to get through the airport, find my aunt, find a taxi, and make it to Puyo all before our train at 8:25 left. And believe it or not, we did it! It took some sprinting, and a really nice cab driver that took some interesting routes and wouldn’t let me stop for a bathroom, but as we ran up during the “last call” whistle, we were helped to our seats. And to Blake.

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Aguas Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Pichhu, about a 20 minute bus ride from one of the Inca’s biggest secrets. The town was quaint and adorable, just as I had imagined. You were completely surrounded by mountains, pizza places, and little markets where everyone sold the same exact things, claiming they made it themselves.

Peru’s money is called Nuevo Soles (New Suns). One US dollar is about 3.4 soles at the moment. It was the first time I had used a different currency (Ecuador uses the US dollar), and it went a whole lot smoother than I expected.

There was a river filled with dark water (due to minerals) and massive rocks with amazing shapes to them. We think this was due to the water level previously being higher, sculpting the rocks.

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Peru’s famous drink is called Pisco Sour. It’s used with Peru’s own alcohol: Pisco, and it’s blended with egg whites. It’s actually pretty good. They also blend almost everything with egg whites, like lemonade. It gives a smooth, foamy texture- I loved it.

We got into Aguas Calientes around noon and spent the whole day exploring. After dinner we all settled down to try and get a good night’s sleep before waking up at 5 am for the early bus ride to Machu Pichhu.

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Which was better than I could have ever imagined.

We were there from 6 am to about 3:30 pm, and had a guide for the first 2 hours of the experience. The stone work, the architecture, the paths and bridges and trails, everything was amazing.

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Even though it was a bit foggy in the morning, it quickly changed into a beautiful and warm day. If none of us were told it was Peru’s rainy season, I’m sure we all would have believed it was at least Spring. Even with putting on sunscreen twice, my neck was completely fried (not complaining, every second was worth it).

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In the early afternoon we all went on an up hill hike to the Inca’s sun gate trail. There are a very few times in my life where I can say I felt that empowered. Once you make it to the sun gate you can look at Machu Picchu and realize you climbed above one of the world’s greatest wonders, and are now looking down on it. You’re standing on a trail that was used daily by an empire in the 1400’s. You’re surrounded by the Andes mountains. You realize you are so small but that specific moment is so huge. Nothing in my life has been more breath taking.

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After a full day at Machu Picchu and another night in Aguas Calientes, we made our way back to Cusco. On the train we got to visit with fantastic people from all over the world — one of my most favorite things about traveling.

In Cusco we explored the city, bar hopped for the last time (until September!), and went to an artisan market. However, the NEXT day, we got to go an a four-wheeling tour around the Peruvian countryside, a beautiful lake, and Incan salt mines.

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This was my first time on an ATV and even though it scared the crap out of me, I loved every second. It was a fantastic way to tour a country, especially when you want to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

After four wheeling and dinner, it was time to get ready to go home. I had an 8 am flight to Quito and needed to be in a cab for the airport by 5 am. However, when that morning came about, everything went different than expected.

I was supposed to be boarding my flight at 7:40 and at 7:35 I didn’t have a gate number. By then I knew it would be delayed. What I didn’t know was that it would later be cancelled, and leave me stranded in the Cusco airport. The airlines were letting people from my canceled flight get on other flights to Lima if they had a chance of making their connecting flight — which I did. However, according the airlines, my flight back to Quito was full and therefor they wouldn’t give me a seat in another flight to Lima. When I asked when they’d be getting me back to Quito, they said the soonest flight they had available would be the next morning. This put me in full-out panic mode because my flight to the US was at 8 am the next day, and the airlines that were screwing everything up were not the airlines I’d be taking back home, which meant I wouldn’t be reimbursed for the three flights I’d miss.

After causing a huge scene I was offered a possibility that would get me to Quito by 1 am: Fly from Cusco Peru to Lima Peru, to Bogota Colombia, to Quito, Ecuador. With just enough time in the airport to have someone drop off my bags I’d left at Rosita’s, and take a quick nap. Then I’d wake up and go from Quito to Miami, Miami to LA, LA to Portland, and make the drive from Portland to home. So that’s exactly what I did.

I still dealt with more issues like delayed flights, the airlines printing me the wrong boarding passes, and throwing up on the plane from anxiety that I’d never get home or be able to sleep again. However, along the way I got to bond over my hatred for Avianca Airlines (NEVER USE THEM) with other passengers who were also screwed over, and meet more fantastic people from all over the world. One of the best parts: I got to have an hour long conversation in Spanish with a man next to me. At that point I realized I really had accomplished so many of my goals while in Ecuador, and I began to feel proud of myself for handling the whole experience the way I had.

After 50 straight hours of airplanes and airports, and stepping foot in 4 countries in 24 hours, I made it home to see my people. I got to take showers with hot water, hug my family, go on an actual date with my boyfriend, and go back to being vegetarian-which I missed a lot. Everything was as it should be.

Plus, the holidays is such a fantastic time to be getting to come back home.

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Now that it’s been a couple weeks I’d like to think that I’m fully readjusted to the United States, although it surprisingly wasn’t very hard to do so. I’d been warned that I’d have a difficult time getting used to things, but for me this wasn’t the case. I appreciate everything on a new level, but there was no huge reverse culture shock like I’d been expecting.

I’m now preparing to start winter term next week, and moving into my very first apartment with my friend Jamie! Although I’m so excited for whatever adventure is around the corner, I’m incredibly content with getting back into the routine of school, family, friends, and work. I missed the normalcy of home and it will be nice to enjoy it for a while.

Happy New Years everyone! Hopefully 2016 brings you as much happiness as 2015 brought me.

xoxo,

McKenzie

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Back in Oregon

I have been back in Oregon for a little over two weeks now. I had intended to write this post after the first week of being back, but I basically slept through that entire week so there wouldn’t have been much to talk about. I did not get sick on the plane this time so that was good. I was awake for about 24 hours straight though by the time I arrived at PDX and really just wanted to go to bed.

Being back with my Oregon friends and family is nice, but being away from my London friends is not. I miss them so much already and it is hard not knowing when I will see them again (if ever). I never imagined I would meet so many amazing people who would make it so hard to say goodbye. Hopefully I will be able to go back someday soon.

There are some things I already miss about London and some things I definitely don’t miss. I miss public transport. Driving again is exhausting and stressful. I got so used to being able to relax on my transport because the only thing I had to pay attention to was the stop I needed. My car sickness is even worse now than it was as I did not ride in a car for more than a few minutes over the last few months. I miss the people and being so close to everything. Just driving the hour and a half from Monmouth to my hometown feels like forever. One thing I don’t miss is the food, or rather my eating habits while away. I have been eating SO much better these last few weeks and it has been really lovely to actually be able to cook again. I do not miss living in a flat, although I do miss having my very own bathroom.

I am sure as more time passes there will be more things I miss and more things I am happy to have back. I am interested to see how things are once school starts. I think it will definitely have both its ups and downs, but WOU is definitely one of the things I have missed the most. I love my school and I am excited to go back.

Returning home was equally as stressful as going to London was in September because I did not know how I was going to feel about it. Being on break has definitely made it easier though because I have only spent time with my closest friends and family. Going back to school will be overwhelming I am sure. Everyone keeps asking “tell me about your trip” and I just look at them because how do you describe three months of your life in just a few sentences. Especially when you have experienced thousands of things worth talking about. I usually just respond with “It was absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t change one thing about it”. I think that sums it up pretty well. It was a once in a lifetime experience and is one I will remember and appreciate for the rest of my life. I cannot express in words how thankful I am. I now have friends all over the world and have a whole new view of the world and the people in it.

Cheers to Europe.

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Goobye London 2k15

It is time to say goodbye to the country which I have called home for the past three months and the wonderful people I have met along the way.

Before I get to the emotional stuff though I fill you in a little on how I spent my last weeks. My last two trips of this adventure were Ireland and Spain and I took both countries on in just under a week and a half. In Ireland I stayed with a girl from WOU who I had never met until I was in London and she in Ireland. So crazy how those things happened. We got along very well and I loved exploring the country she has been calling home. It was absolutely beautiful and I could definitely see myself living there someday. Spain was my last trip and once again I was going it alone. It ended up being a wonderful experience, despite not wanting to go due to exhaustion and a small stomach flu. The hostel I stayed at had so many activities to get involved in which allowed me to meet a lot of people. Although I had made this trip “alone” I never felt alone thanks to all the friends I had made in just a few short days. Both of these trips were the perfect end to the adventure of a lifetime.

To say this experience has changed me would be a complete understatement. I have grown in ways I never would have imagined and cannot say how thankful I am to have been able to have this experience. Packing up your things and moving to a new country for a few months is not easy and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t end up getting on my plane. But I did, and I am so incredibly glad I made that leap of faith. I have met so many amazing people from not only London but all of the other places I have been as well. People are much more friendly than we often believe. You just have to work up the courage to say hello. I used to be afraid of being alone, but in these past few months I have explored the world (mostly) on my own and now I feel like I can take on anything. The memories I have made are unforgettable and these people will forever hold a special place in my heart.

When I first arrived I could not wait to go home and now I would give anything to have just a few more days. I wouldn’t change a thing about this trip. There were definitely some not so great moments but the good ones outweigh them tenfold. Thank you for being my temporary home. Goodbye London. Or rather, see you later.

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Lisa Goes to Ireland: Weeks 13/14

Blarney Castle, Ring of Kerry and my American friend: It’s been an eventful last two weeks to say the least.

It’s my last week here in Ireland and sad to be leaving such a beautiful place. I feel that my time here has just begun and that I’m leaving far too soon. Luckily though, the last two weeks have been eventful, so much so that I forgot to blog (oopse).

I made a bucket list of everything I wanted to see while I was in Ireland, and it’s safe to say that it’s now complete! I’ve done everything (and more) that I’ve set out to do. A couple weeks ago my roommate’s family came to visit and they’re from the states. I’d been wanting to visit the Ring of Kerry for a while, but didn’t want to spend 40 euro to take a bus. Luckily, my roommate’s family rented a car and invited me to come along. Let me just say though, there are few things scarier than an American driving on the left side of the road for the first time-it was an adventure to say the least. The Ring of Kerry was beautiful though. Rather than it being a destination, it’s instead a road that goes along the coast line with multiple places to stop and look out. There’s waterfalls and scenery along the way, it was beautiful.

The Blarney Castle is very iconic to Ireland and is most well known for the stone that people kiss while upside down. Thanks to the study abroad program that I’m in I was able to see that this past weekend and also the Jamison Factory, another iconic part of Ireland. I’m very thankful that I chose to do a study abroad program v.s direct exchange in that I have the opportunity to see far more of Ireland, which I may not have other wise had, had I done direct exchange.

Lastly, I had an American friend visit me while I was here and I’m SO glad that she did. This last week I had off from school and instead of traveling, I decided to save money and stay in Ireland. After corresponding with a girl from WOU through this blog, she decided to come visit Ireland. As it turns out, we’re both education majors and the same year, yet it took us traveling half way around the world for us to meet. What a small world it is.

It has certainly been a great last two weeks, and while I’m devastated to be leaving, I am excited to get back home to my friends and family… but mostly I’m excited to to have my car back, not have to use public transit, and to eat real food again.

Cheers!

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Hasta luego, Ecuador

Today was my last full day in Quito.

Tomorrow at 2 pm I leave for the airport and arrive in Lima, Peru that night. Then I take an early flight to Cusco, where I will meet my Aunt Anna and friend Blake for a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

It has yet to hit me that I won’t be living here anymore. My bags are packed and my plane tickets are ready, but it still feels like a regular old day. I don’t have the excitement and anticipation in my stomach like I did before I came here. I’m ready to come home, but I know when I do I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart here in Ecuador.

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Before I get too sappy let me back up and talk about how the last week and a half has gone.

Last week I was at a public hospital for family medicine. I got to shadow in on specialties like chronic illnesses, the emergency room, and pediatrics. Surprisingly, I liked pediatrics way more than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove babies and kids, but they’re so difficult when they’re sick! They’re sad, they don’t cooperate, they don’t tell you where it hurts or what kind of pain it is, you have to literally pin them down to take their temperature or give them a vaccine, etc.

That being said, it was fascinating! I learned how to do the 3 month check up: listen to the heart, lungs, and digestive system of the baby. Move their hips and check for dysplasia, measure their growth, then chart it and compare it to the mean statistics of other babies in their age group, and more. I saw babies that were under weight, overly large, had infections, children who couldn’t walk and had underdeveloped lungs from improper care during premature birth, and other interesting impairments I had yet to see for myself in the United States.

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I really love that babies and little kids don’t have the social filter to refrain themselves from looking shocked or quizzical when they see something new. Those kids did not know what to think of me. They looked me up and down, from my hair to my eyes to my skin and my shoes (huge difference between shoe choices in the US and Ecuador). Some of them had looks of terror, some of them were just confused, and some of them were intrigued. Either way, I won most of them over by having stickers and lollipops in my pockets. :) Works like a charm.

On Thursday I spent part of the day skyping some of my family before they ate Thanksgiving dinner — which was so nice. That evening Rebeccah, Lauren, and I all went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate. We couldn’t find anywhere with traditional American Thanksgiving food, so we went downtown and paid way too much for a meal, but had a fantastic Thanksgiving. The best you can hope for when away from your home, family, and close friends. (And mashed potatoes)

That weekend I went to the doctor for my knee due to the persistent reminding that it was necessary to go by Rosita and my medical director. Thankfully, the doctor agreed at this point the damage has already been done and I can wait to get an MRI/XRay in The States. Not thankfully, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was a ruptured ligament that required surgery in the future. For now I am still constantly wearing my brace and have been given some physical therapy exercises to prepare my legs for Machu Picchu. So pumped.

On Sunday we went to my Spanish teacher’s son’s 3rd birthday party and had an amazing time. But first, we had to go toy shopping. Oh my goodness. I’ve talked about how anything imported is crazy expensive here, right? The only toy store we knew of was Toys R Us, and we were in for a huge surprise.

Toys that would cost anywhere from $10-$20 in the states were at least double, sometimes triple or quadruple, here in Ecuador. I took pictures so people could ACTUALLY see what I meant. Look at those price tags (which are not including tax).

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Luckily, there were 3 of us, so we split the price of an iron-man action figure and a toy dinosaur 3 ways, and didn’t have to break the bank.

Once we were there we got to play with Dimitri and a street puppy that hangs out near by. SO CUTE.

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Then, the party began. Ecuadorians are no amateurs when it comes to throwing a party. There was lunch, snacks, dinner, dessert, drinks, music, dancing, clowns, games, the works. We were there from 2 pm to 9 pm. They even had little Pinatas for each kid who came that were made out of ceramic clay. (I was the only one who broke their’s, those 3 and 4 year olds got to see how it was done) OH, and Marco, our Spanish teacher, was of course one of the clowns.

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This week I got to shadow a gynecologist, who also happens to be a surgeon. I saw HPV, cervical polyps, paps, mammograms, was taught how to diagnose osteoporosis, and then scrubbed in on two hysterectomies. One was done robotically and vaginally, while the other was the conventional method. Both were done due to myomas and fibroids. I also really liked this field. So now I have 3 or 4 specialties I could picture myself going into…great. (Also can we just take 2 seconds to recognize how fantastic the female body/reproductive system is? We literally have the ability to create life and undergo unfathomable change and pain to support it. Women are superheroes)

Okay, now for some observations about Ecuador I think I have yet to share (everything is kind of blending together):

  • The strawberries are the size of orange cuties here. At least. Literally like the size of a fist.
  • Even the best, wealthiest, hospitals violate health codes like not changing gloves or hygienic furniture coverings between patients.
  • Ecuadorians love their crocks. Yes, the plastic shoes. Love them. If you have a profession where it is socially acceptable to wear crocks here, huge added bonus.
  • There are way more female med students than female doctors. I have no explanation as to why this is but I have two guesses: Either after years of needing to prove themselves more than their male counterparts, they got fed up and dropped out. OR as this country makes strives to end the machisimo culture here, women are feeling more able to assert themselves in male dominated roles and professions. I’m hoping for the second guess.
  • People here have four names and you write them down in this order: Father’s last name + Mother’s last name + first name + “middle name”
  • There are security guards and parking assistants for every business and building ever in Quito. I think I pass more guards on my way to work than actual pedestrians.
  • Troles are really really awful. They’re crammed full, they’re stuffy, they smell bad, they jolt around and make you carsick, and people literally ride the trole all day every day trying to rob you. Like, that is their profession.
  • People with disabilities here are treated better than I expected (from what I have witnessed). If someone who is blind or has a different physical ailment gets on a bus alone, people take it upon themselves to make sure they get a seat or are guided out the doors when necessary. Kids with downs syndrome happily hold their parents hands and play with them in the park without protest. City jobs are given to people who otherwise wouldn’t normally be employed. That being said: I have yet to see a child with disabilities put into a school with children without disabilities. Quito is also not a physically safe or accessible atmosphere for people with disabilities: hand rails and wheel chair ramps are not a thing, there are very few troles with places to put a wheal chair, and basic needs like walking on a smooth sidewalk are not obtainable.
  • Women curl their eyelashes with the back of spoons
  • Toilet paper pretty much doesn’t exist here
  • You have to pay to use a public restroom
  • Fiestas de Quito is coming up: Quito’s largest holiday and celebration that stretches to be a week long. Shops and stores shut down so people can have plenty of time to drink all day, then ride in a bus called the “Chiva” that looks like a cart made for livestock, but has flashing lights and music blaring.
  • Everyone who asks me what my name is, hears it then replies with “no, I mean what is your first name?”
  • People love public displays of affection. Especially 13-year-olds on the trole. Another reason to not like them (troles that is).
  • Breast feeding here is totally acceptable. Whenever, however, in front of whomever. People recognize that breasts were first made to give nutrients to babies, so I have yet to see a mom be given a dirty look for showing an exposed breast in public when her baby is in need of food.

Alright, now for the sappy stuff.

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This country, the people in it, and their culture have taught me so much. Who knew a person could grow this much in just a few short weeks? I’ve laughed a lot, cried, seen things I wasn’t prepared for, was shocked in both happy and sad ways, and so much more. On top of that, I can now carry out full (yet still limited) conversations with strangers in Spanish. I feel like that alone is a fantastic accomplishment.

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Through this experience I have proven to myself that I have the capability of true independence. Yes, I received so much love, support, and help along this journey. Which I’m beyond thankful for. But I also made the decision at 20 years old to pretty much spend everything I had ever saved, move to a country where I didn’t know a single person, where I could barely speak the language, and work in a whole new healthcare system I had never witnessed before. AND I totally made it out alive. Not just alive, but in my opinion, a better human being.

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My experiences here were like non other. Experiences I will undoubtedly never have again. They made me excited, mad, emotional, overjoyed, devastated, and so much more. My experiences pushed me to be introspective and re-evaluate a lot of my own opinions, feelings, and beliefs. They pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t even remember where that line is anymore.

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Although not what I expected, at all (and let’s get real, when is anything new what we expected?), I wouldn’t change this journey for the world. It did exactly what I had hoped it would do: change my life. It changed my perspective, my knowledge, my goals. It gave me a new sense of who I believe I am, and who I want to continue to strive to be.

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I am forever indebted to this country and the people in it. Ecuador, my first taste of a completely new world. The first country I fell in love with and fought with at the same time. A place that made me appreciate my home, yet want to strive for more positive changes as well. A country filled with amazing people who had no reason to want to help me, yet I know they would do anything to make sure I am okay. A country full of unexpected friends, mentors, family, and loved ones.

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Now that the time has come to say goodbye to this beautiful, at times heart breaking, eye opening, fantastic country, it’s a lot harder than I expected it would be. However, one thing I do know is that this isn’t goodbye forever, just “hasta luego.”

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Thank you for the love and kindness you have showed me, the education you have given me, and the experiences that will stay in my heart forever.

Until next time, Ecuador. You will forever be my first international love.

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Chao <3

-McKenzie

12/02/2015

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Two Weeks Left!

I do believe I may have missed a week…or two. So, that being said, its time to catch up!  As my time left here in Florence gets shorter and shorter the weeks begin to fly by faster and faster! During the past three weeks I have been to Sicily, Rome, Copenhagen, and after this coming weekend I will have visited Venice as well. After that I have one more week of classes, three days of finals, and then it is time to board the plane back to Portland! Its hard to believe that I will have been here for almost three months, it has gone by much, much quicker than I expected. I am so incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and I know I will soon be missing this city terribly, but at the same time I can’t wait to see my family again and be home for Christmas (it was hard enough missing Thanksgiving!). Anyways, enjoy some photos from my adventures these past three weeks! Again, I’m afraid I must apologize for being such a terrible blogger!

Ciao!

-Alexis

Sicily- Catania, Taormina, and Mt. Etna

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Rome

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Copenhagen

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