For those who know me and my recent travels, you know I'm living in Quito, Ecuador now with my fiancé, Pedro. Move to Ecuador they said. Move to Ecuador I told myself. It'll be an adventure they said. It'll be an adventure, I kept telling myself...and an adventure it is. For this past month, it's been an anxiety provoking adventure. The word "adventure" isn't inherently good or bad, is it? Dictionary.com defines it as an "exciting or very unusual experience."
Maybe I haven't reached the "exciting" part yet, but unusual? Yes. An American in South America! Folks back home think I'm in a completely different time zone. (Hint: it's the same time zone as Eastern Standard Time.)
If you know me, you know I'm not the most daring or brave person. People creep me out. I abhor feeling out of place or in the way. I feel judged the minute I walk out my door. For context, when I moved to Philly by myself back in 2009 for graduate school, I thought I'd take the city by storm the second I arrived. Well...nope. It took me a solid month before I started exploring the city. I told myself I needed to "nest" first and get to know the neighborhood (as West Philadelphia has a certain reputation..... y'all know.)
First, in a nutshell, the past 45 days has felt exhausting and rushed. As the future wife of an Ecuadorian, we will live here for 3+ years while Pedro is teaching at his alma mater and a lot of things need to be put into place for me to live and work here legally. Such as, I had to get my ECU and Drexel degrees legalized in Ecuador so that I can potentially get a job in the arts sector. I have to find new doctors (granted...I never really found new doctors in Philly....my body needs a lot of work but Philly doctors were too expensive and my US health care had a crazy high deductible). We have to contact a lawyer about getting "common law" married so we can get a health care plan that I can actually use. We wanted to get a joint checking account so we can stop venmoing each other from our US bank accounts that all charge us a fee to use internationally after we buy groceries or dog food. But wait! We can't because the bank requires that I have a work or tourist visa first. The reason I don't have one yet is because anyone can be in Ecuador for 3 months before needing to have any "papers," but I can't GET that visa until I figure out how to get my Pennsylvania Criminal Records notarized and apostiled without me needing to be present (I'm not sure I can do that, legally). And I only have 3 months to get this all done, which sounds like a long time, but it's half gone!
And the pets. Oh the pets, the puppy and cat. They need new vets, new medications, new schedules and new tags (they're microchips are updated though).
So, all of that legal, logistical stuff. That's one reason moving here hasn't reached "excitement" level. Imagine...all the work it takes to move to a foreign country, and as an American, feeling so entitled because I've never had to have my papers proven accurate or legal. Some of us are free to move about our HUGE country without a care in the world. (I say "some of us" for those Americans who don't "look" American and get stopped constantly.) I'm definitely learning my privilege quickly, and on some days it feels like I'm in shock. I can't even imagine what it feels like for the reverse, someone trying to move to the States. If I ever minimized it for anyone, I profusely apologize.
Second, the language barrier is the worst, debilitating part of this move for an introvert like myself. I haven't yet braved going somewhere on my own for fear of not understanding, for not being understood and looking foolish. I had 9 years in Philadelphia of essentially doing everything by myself. (I moved to Philly in 2008...met Pedro in 2015 and still insisted I do things myself even after we got serious.) I was and am still very much trying be the most self sufficient human being I can be and REALLY took that shit for granted. These days, going to the corner store for a loaf of bread sends me into a tailspin of insecurity.
I depend on Pedro and his mom for EVERYTHING. Like...EVERYTHING. It was ok in the beginning but you start feeling like an invalid and I beat myself up for not knowing more or doing more. Perhaps I thought that after a month I'd be more daring, more adventurous...or you know...know more Spanish. My future mother-in-law says I need to just "dive in" and I see her point, but she's an extrovert (though she doesn't think she is...compared to Pedro and I she might a well be a Broadway actress) and maybe doesn't understand how a person can completely shut down in situations that they aren't prepared for. Pedro reminded me that simply MOVING here was the "dive" and now I'm just trying to not drown.
We did find a Spanish tutor (thanks to my extrovert mother-in-law), so that will help immensely. He's a very patient man and a fellow artist who reminded me that a lot of Ecuadorians don't care what your level of Spanish is, they'll help you communicate in any way that they can, with gestures paired with whatever level of English they've gotten to. I've just never felt so timid. And all my friends and family back home said I was brave for moving...but that was the easiest part.
My mother-in-law said my accent is good when I say "hola" and "como esta?" so I think that bodes well, because I'm also terrified of "country-fying" my Spanish with my southern drawl. Taking on an accent never felt good to me, even when just playing around because I think I make it sound so forced but the Spanish I'm learning now feels good as it's rolling off my tongue.
Confidence. Confidence in the words I'm saying, how I'm saying them, in what order and what they mean, is what I'm striving for with my Spanish lessons and that will only come with time. My cousin, who is learning Japanese, set me at ease earlier this week, telling me to be patient with myself, as it's a 4 - 6 month process, even feeling comfortable with another language. And when I think back to Americans demanding all immigrants speak English....Oooof, I'll never demand anything from an non-English speaker as long as I live because NOW I know it's not just knowing the words, it's every other emotion that wells up when you're learning to speak it. I've never felt more "other" until I'm trying to speak to someone that doesn't feel empathy for my path or how I got where I am and how hard it was/still is.
All that being said, as "other" as I feel here on a daily basis, I have Pedro, who gives me strength and support and patience and translates when I need him to. But that doesn't keep me from feeling completely out of my element. I am so totally and completely out of my element but I'm looking at it now as exposure therapy. It's something I need to do, and another 45 days from now, I'll be proud of the progress I've made. And I will make my family and future husband proud in the process.
REMEMBER: Be kinder to yourself. Nothing happens overnight.