Friday, December 2, 2011

Woah. It's been awhile.

I'm so embarrassed. I had such good intentions for this little blog of mine. The thing about blogs though, is that you need reliable internet, and that is something I definitely do not have here. I have honestly wanted to post at least 10 times since my last post, but the lovely internet just hasn't felt like working. Anyway, enough with the excuses. Here I am today with an update! I guess we'll start with the biggie...

I have decided to leave Cuenca. It was not an easy decision, but I know that it is the right decision. I do not in any way regret coming here this fall. It is something that I have wanted to do for years, and now I won't have to live in regret for not trying. I have learned a lot in the last few months; about myself as a person and teacher. I know this experience has shaped my future in ways that I don't even realize at this point.

So, what am I going to do then? Great question. I will be volunteering at an organization called Camino Seguro, (Safe Passage), in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I plan on being there for six weeks. I am purchasing a one-way ticket, because I do not want to hold myself to any obligation; if I am enjoying my experience, I might stay longer. If I'm ready to go home, I'll go home. I am thrilled to experience Guatemala. Many of my students in Postville are from Guatemala, so I am excited to learn more about their culture. It will definitely be exciting to share pictures and talk about the adventure when I return in the spring.

As for the little things, I've been trying lots of new things- new forms of exercise, new foods, new places. I look forward to sharing my new perspectives and experiences with my friends and family when I get home on December 19th!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Whose Experience Is This?

“... Living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world. What I find appealing in life abroad was the inevitable sense of helplessness it would inspire. Equally exciting would be the work involved in overcoming that helplessness. There would be a goal involved, and I like having goals.” 
 David Sedaris, author of Me Talk Pretty One Day

A goal involved; yes, a goal. 

My first goal in moving to Ecuador for the year was to improve my Spanish fluency and comprehension.  My second goal was to continue improving myself as an educator. This year was going to give me the opportunity to enjoy two of my biggest passions: teaching and the Spanish language. How could it get more perfect than that?

What is interesting about things that seem "perfect" is that there are always hiccups along the way. I have been struggling for the past week with another opportunity to explore my two biggest passions, (aka the hiccup). It is called Fundación Mariposas Amarillas. It is a "small Colombian grassroots organization committed to supporting disadvantaged children and families around Santa Marta, Colombia." For more information on this inspiring place, check out the link:

But Megan, why would you want to leave Cuenca, Ecuador? It is a place that has given you immense joy and made you feel complete, (as David Sedaris puts it). True, Cuenca is a city that has done just those things for me in the past. Right now, however, I am lacking passion and purpose here. For example, I spend at least 95% of my day speaking English. How will that help my fluency and comprehension in Spanish? The answer is, it won't. When my friend brought the idea of Fundación Mariposas Amarillas to my attention, I immediately felt a spark in my heart again- the spark I've been lacking. I feel an urge in the pit of my stomach to explore new worlds- to feel that helplessness and then overcome it. I didn't realize it until recently, but Cuenca has become a safety net for me. Yes, I return to visit wonderful people I've met throughout my years here, but I've also chosen to return because it's a place I know. A part of me can't help but feel like I'm cheating myself out of something more extraordinary than that. 

But... I'm scared. I'm scared of letting people down- of quitting. I've never quit anything before in my life. It's not the "Kailhofer Way" of living and being. What will the school do? How will they find another teacher? Will my coworkers hate me for leaving? What about my family and friends here? Will they be disappointed? Will people assume that I'm just a "grass is always greener" person? Colombia is a "scary" place according to every website in the world. Should I trust all the incredible people I've met this year that have told me it's the best place they've ever traveled to or should I ignore the opportunity out of fear? How will I afford to volunteer instead of getting paid? The list goes on...

Notice, however, that not one of those questions asks, will this make me happy? Is this what I need to do? Will this experience help me reach my goals? I feel like I spend so much time worrying about the thoughts of other people. Taking this year off was the first time I've ever really done something that was wholeheartedly for me. I left the happiest time of my life in the States to live abroad and pursue those goals of mine. Shouldn't I make it the best I can possibly make it? And maybe this time around the best place for me isn't Cuenca...?

I don't know. What do you think?

Oh wait! No! I need to figure this one out. Ugh. Wish me luck, please!

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Cooperating" Teacher

On Tuesday, a group of girls from the lovely state of Wisconsin joined us to do their student teaching practicum at CEDEI School. My student teacher is a doll. She is smart, has already connected with the kiddos, and she is Packers' fan! BONUS! :)

I can't lie though, I'm a tad nervous. We were told that this experience is meant to be more of a "co-teaching" experience, but I still can't help but feel pressure to be the awesome cooperating teacher that I was blessed with in my student teaching practicum. My student teaching experience in Postville was incredible, and I hope that I can provide Kelsey with a great experience as well. I just don't want her to walk away feeling disappointed; I want her to learn from me the way I learned from my phenomenal cooperating teachers.

On another note, I will be home in 66 days, and I canNOT wait! I have a document on my desktop entitled "Home Sweet Home" with a list of the places I want to go, the people I want to see, and the food I want to eat. I promise that I am enjoying every single day that I am here, but it is definitely a comfort to think of the beautiful people I will be seeing soon! :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

To Market

Before I even begin to write about the incredible fruits, vegetables, and dairy purchased at the market today, I need to write about how I was able to afford this amazing food.

I am not going to go into deep detail about my financial situation right now, but I will say this: ATMs  are an absolute pain while traveling. Yes, they make it "convenient" to withdraw money from the States, but it is expensive. My financial... issue, we'll say...  all started because I had to take out money from my account in the US in order to pay rent, because our landlord makes his tenants pay for three months at a time. (Don't ask me why, and yes, we are planning to move out in December if possible.) Needless to say, I did not have that money lying around, so I had to use an ATM. The interchange fees, ATM fees, and banking fees ended up costing me $20. Now I realize that $20 may not seem like a lot of money, but when you see how much food I purchased today for $15, you will see how vital that $20 could have been to my life. Anyway, I will not be getting paid until Monday, (and even that is not a guarantee), so I was left with just enough money to pay for the bus to get myself to and from school all week and go to Bailoterapia twice. My roommate, (Tina), and I have been living on rice, pasta, bread, and eggs since the end of last week. That's not exactly a healthy person's dream scenario; it's just what was left in our home to make.

Here comes the part where we were able to go to the market:

Tina and I were incredibly hungry yesterday at school. Our stomachs were growling, but again, we had no money and therefore couldn't do anything about it. One of our coworkers, (a 62 year-old amazing man who recently moved here with his wife), overheard us talking. He was a personal trainer for years in the States and lives a very healthy lifestyle, so he was definitely bothered by the lack of fruits, vegetables, and protein in our diet. At school this morning, he walked into the teacher's lounge, handed me a $20 bill and said, "Please go to the market and get yourself some good food." I was overcome with gratitude. We will obviously be paying him back after we get paid next week, but he did not give it to us expecting to receive anything in return. Generosity truly is spirit.

*Side note: I realize that we were in no way, shape or form starving, but this was an incredible gift to receive, and so I needed to share. We are so fortunate to have such a great crew of people to work with.*

So... here is what we were able to purchase!

10 Eggs
2 Cauliflower
12 Onions, (2 red, 10 white)
3 Avocados
6 Peppers
6 Tomatoes
12 Bananas
Mandarin Oranges

All of this for a grand total of $15.
(We plan on using the remaining $5 to purchase bread, cereal, and yogurt.)

Thank you, Ken for bringing healthy food back into our lives and tummies! :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Let's Get Physical!

I am in love...

with BAILOTERAPIA, (dance therapy)! 

My friend Lisa is an avid bailoterapia attendee and she invited me to join. The emphasis of the class changes everyday, (salsa, kickboxing, etc). Today's emphasis was abs and lower back. I am definitely feeling the burn! :) The class was outside in the middle of the park. I paid a whopping 50 cents for a great one-hour workout. I plan on going every Monday and Tuesday night after my Spanish class- SO fun! It was nice to be outside and hear Spanish. You would think that with being in Ecuador I would be speaking in Spanish all the time, but I've been doing way too much talking in English lately. This will be a great way for me to expose myself to español AND get myself in shape.

As some of you know, I used to be a Turbo Kick instructor. I have been missing it like crazy. I remembered the music but forgot the instructions in Wisconsin. :( Because my mom is AMAZING, she sent me the rounds so I can do them here! I am super excited to start classes here! It most likely won't be anything formal, but it does my heart good to know that I'll still be pumpin' it in Ecuador.

Last but not least, running... Oh how I have such a love/hate relationship with running. At this point, I'm feeling a bit more hatred due to the altitude. I can't believe it is still affecting me. I've been here almost six weeks, and it still takes my breath away. I am, however, incredibly excited to run like a gazelle when I return to the States. Dug Road Trail in Decorah won't know what happened to me! :)

And now the day is coming to a close. I'm happy to put an "X" on that Lazy Log of mine! It's simply a calendar that I put an "X" in on days that I work out, but it's a great motivator; (thank you, Andrew Peterson). If I see a few days in a row with blank squares, I know it's time to get myself in gear! I am lucky to have so many great opportunities to get physical. Now to fit in yoga... :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Long Time No Post

It has been two weeks since I've last written a post. I forgot how beautifully tired you get those first few weeks of teaching. I've been teaching, sleeping, and eating the last two weeks. (Suuuuuper exciting, I know.) I've been happy though, and that is what is most important.

I'm already falling in love with my kiddos. I can tell that leaving them in July will not be easy for me. One student in particular, Juan David, has stolen my heart. He is a blind student in my tercero de básica class who is easily the sweetest child I have ever met. His classmates take such good care of him. It is a beautiful thing to behold. It has been challenging to make accommodations for him, but his willingness to learn and his patient demeanor inspire me. I am so looking forward to working with him even more as I will now be tutoring him in math as well! :)

I started Spanish classes today, (finally!!!!). I know my confidence will grow immensely. I'm beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from a great teacher! :)

Outside of school, things have been going pretty well. I moved out of my host family's home and into an apartment with a coworker. It was a difficult decision, but with making $400 a month, I couldn't spend $300 to live there another month. I already miss them like crazy, but I am fortunate to have an awesome roommate to help with the transition. :) My family dropped me off saying I will always be a part of their family and the doors are always open for me. They are incredible. I am so lucky to have them in my life.

I will hopefully get a chance to post pictures from my host sister-in-law's baby shower soon! The internet was out at our apartment all weekend, so my goal of catching up in blog world didn't happen. As for now though, I need to prepare for tomorrow. :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Day of School! :)

Today was my first official day with kiddos! I cannot tell you how good it feels to be teaching again. It is a part of me that has been missing; I feel much more complete after today! :)

In Ecuador, there is no "kindergarten;" school starts with what is called "primero de básica." I will be teaching segundo, tercero, and cuarto de básica, (1st -3rd grade). I will be teaching math, English, and reading for segundo de básica and English and reading for both tercero and cuarto de básica. Today, I spent my entire day with segundo de básica. There are a total of six sweethearts in this room, and I am incredibly excited to work with such a small group! The opportunities seem endless. :) Tomorrow starts my normal schedule in which I will be moving from room to room. I am so looking forward to meeting my other students.

For now, I must be on my way; I've got school work to do! (YAY!!!!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's the MOST wonderful time of the year!

I may be on a different continent, but you better believe that I am sporting my PACKER gear today! I am praying that the internet works tonight so I can watch the Packers take home their first victory of the 2011-2012 season!!!!! Check out the support from my CEDEI School coworkers! :)

The following video is of my kindergartners from last year on the 100th Day of school, which happened to be the week before the SUPER BOWL. I felt it was appropriate to share.


Weekends and Wonderfulness

Sorry for being MIA! The internet is not always easy to come by in Ecuador, and when it is, I’m usually sending emails or skyping with loved ones. I will try to be more on top of things! Anyway this last weekend was full of great things, HOWEVER, I forgot my camera for almost ALL of them! L I hope you still keep reading anyway!

On Saturday morning, I went to Paulina’s panadería to learn how to make canchos, (they are like croissants)! It was an incredibly fun morning. I definitely got laughed at a lot for how slow I was at the folding process, but they all kept telling me that I just need more practice! They sounded like my mom when we’re making Christmas cookies. I don’t know if I will ever roll out dough as well as that lady! Back to the panadería: I want to tell you everything we did, but I plan on going again soon, so next time I WILL bring my camera, and then I will be able to have pictures to go along with the adventure, so stay tuned! J

It has been QUITE chilly here the last week and a half. And no, just because I am on the equator does not mean that it is hot all the time. (At this point I wish it did! ha.) Cuenca is located in the Andes Mountains, so cold, rainy weather is common during this time of the year. It actually hailed on my way to the center today! Yikes! My friend Christian and I decided that it is “Midwest November” weather right now. The only difference is, I didn’t bring my Midwest November clothing with me! So, on Saturday afternoon, instead of going out and exploring, I cuddled in with sweatpants, wool socks, (thank God I brought those!), my favorite sweatshirt, (with the hood UP), three blankets, and watched movies ALL AFTERNOON. It was delightful. Can anyone guess which movies I watched?!?!

If you guessed While You Were Sleeping and The Family Stone, you would be correct! Of course these two movies made me feel like I was back in Decorah, snuggled on my unbelievably comfortable couch, with apples and spices cooking on the stove, just looking forward to the most wonderful time of the year: CHRISTMAS! I promise that I will not go on a Christmas rant. I will do my best to wait until December to do that. (It IS however only 108 days away in case you were wondering.) So yes, that was my Saturday, and I enjoyed every second of it.

On Sunday, I was taken ALL over our region of Ecuador with my family. Again, NO camera! L (They told me that we were going for a “spin.” I didn’t realize that meant five hours of sightseeing!) There were so many things I wanted to share. We went to an absolutely gorgeous church on top of a mountain. It was breathtaking- the view inside and out. Then, of course, there are just things I want to take pictures of like guinea pigs, chickens, and pigs on spicks EVERYWHERE, or the beautiful landscape that is the mountains and colorful homes, or our lunch: half a chicken, tortillas, potatoes, bread, and pop, WITH leftovers, costing $9.00. It floors me every time. When we got back to Cuenca, my coworkers called me for another adventure. This time, I DID have my camera!

Lauren, (one of the science teachers), bought a slack line and has been using it often. We went to a park near my house, set it up, and did our best not to fall! (It’s SO tricky!) Here are a few pictures of our slack line adventure near the Tomebamba River:

Lauren also takes “Tela” classes. Here is a picture of her, high up in the tree. She’s such an acrobat!
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. J

A side note: I am SO excited for classes to start! Our first day with kiddos got pushed back to the 12th due to construction at school. I am beyond ready to be teaching! I miss it more than I can even express. This week we’ve been working hard getting our teacher room ready at school. (I do not have my own classroom as I will be teaching English and reading, therefore we have a teacher workroom to share.) I so wish that I would have taken a “before” picture of this place. It was horrifyingly disorganized. Let’s just say that this room became my project, (aka I was dying to put my organizational skills to use!). Everything now has a space and a CUTE label to go with it! (To all my Postville coworkers: those fonts are still coming in handy! Ha!) Now let’s just hope it stays this way. Pictures of the school will be coming soon. I want to wait until we are done with all the painting and construction, so again, stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

JOY in the journey

Confession: the last two days have not been so hot, (literally and figuratively). The following sentence is bound to make anyone who knows me well chuckle like there is no tomorrow. I like things to be organized. Okay, maybe this is more accurate: I NEED things to be organized. So far, my experience with my new job has been anything but organized. The anal retentive person inside me has been screaming and crying all at the same time. I have been at the brink of tears the last two mornings thinking about Cora B. Darling and how I could be in Postville working in my beautiful classroom, teaching alongside my incredible coworkers who I miss *SO* much, giving and receiving hugs from some of the most wonderful children this world has known, living my organized life. (I know. “The grass is always greener” thoughts are dangerous.) The worst part is, though, no one else seems too bothered by this chaos. “Welcome to CEDEI School,” they say. I knew that this year was going to be different. I guess I just wasn't prepared for how different it was going to be. 

Plain and simple: this girl is homesick. 

At this point then, you’re probably wondering why I entitled this post “JOY in the journey.” The thing is, I chose Cuenca to pursue my dream of being bilingual because it is a city I love. This city has managed to dig me out of some devastating times in my life. This place is where I have felt immense JOY, and right now, I am allowing myself to lose sight of that. Please believe that I am trying to be positive. I am trying to put these frustrations into perspective. I cannot expect this year to be like every other Cuenca experience. The circumstances are different; I’m not just hanging out, taking Spanish classes for four hours a day. MY circumstances are different; I’m not running away from anything this time. I made the decision to leave a perfectly wonderful life in order to live without regret and attain a goal. Five weeks is not the same as one year. I must learn to be patient and do my best to focus on JOYful things like: I love yous, impromptu conversations with the lovely Lindsey Bulger, kindness from Cat, Karen, and Paulina, helado, Lida’s sarcasm, español, and the beautiful little girl I got to chat with yesterday while I was waiting in the panadería. 

Before coming to Cuenca this time around, I purchased a necklace that reads: “The joy is in the journey.” I bought it to remind myself of what this adventure is all about, and while I might not believe it right now, know that I desperately want to believe it.

This is a JOURNEY. I need to focus on putting JOY into it;
 (whether it’s organized or not).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sunday Funday: Fútbol Style

So, I may have made the mistake of calling American football “REAL” football in front of a Cuencano. (In Spanish, soccer = fútbol.) He told me I was out of my mind, and thus, I went to see what a soccer game in Cuenca is all about.

Below are a couple of pictures of the stadium. How beautiful is a stadium with the Andes Mountains towering behind it?

Some advice from my family before going to the game: 
A) “You HAVE to buy a red Cuenca shirt.” (Apparently you’re a terrible person if you go without one.) “It will be $4 or $5. Do NOT pay any more than that!” (PS I love advice like that!) B) “You should buy the tickets the day before. The cost will double the day of.” C) “You have to get there early!” My friend Andy and I thought getting there at 11:15 for an 11:30 game would be fine. We were put in our place that morning when I was rushed into the shower and out the door to make it there on time!

Some advice from me if you ever plan on going to a soccer game in Cuenca: 
A) Get the shirt. It’s worth it. B) Definitely get the tickets the day before, but splurge on the seats in rowdy section, (photo of this section below). This will be happening before I return to the States. C) Get there early? Pssssh. I feel like we could have arrived at 11:25 and been just fine. We would have been ten minutes late for the game, but that’s not a big deal. (Who knew anything started early in Cuenca?!?) D) An added bonus: Do NOT make fun of the girl who pours your beer. You think she’s doing a terrible job because there is an enormous amount of foam on top, so the next time you try it and your entire cup is foam. Yeah. She’s better than you, and the beer is not Miller Lite. It’s different; deal. E) Added bonus number two: Soak up every comment from the stands. Learning new “vocabulary” is always a good time. ;)

Below is a picture of Andy and I sporting our red Cuenca shirts. Cuenca beat Quito 2:1! I recommend a game to anyone who visits. It’s bound to be an experience no matter what. (PS American football is still “REAL” football in case anyone asks…)

City Tour: Saturday, August 27th

Yes, it is cheesy and super touristy to go on a city tour, especially when it is a city you have visited four times. However, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning: taking photos, telling stories, enjoying the beautiful city I call home. (We also thought we’d get a little sun sitting on the top of a double-decker bus, but alas, you’ll see the sky in the pictures.) Welcome to Cuenca! 

Below are pictures of the new cathedral in the center of the city. The old cathedral is on the opposite side of the square. (Please take the terms new and old lightly. They are both “old” buildings.) Apparently, the intention was to paint the entire cathedral the color of the domes, (white and blue), but during the waiting time of construction and development, the citizens decided they liked it better this way, so it stuck. See; I learned something new!

The picture below is of the oldest high school in Cuenca. Unfortunately, this incredibly beautiful building has a sad story: what was once the highest respected school in the city is no longer an institute of prestige. It broke my heart to hear that it is now the least respected school in the city. (No, I do not plan on living in Cuenca for the rest of my life in order to restore this school and building. Yes, the thought immediately crossed my mind.) 

The next few pictures aren’t necessarily of any real significance or importance according to the tour guide, but I think they are beautiful. 

Below is a picture of the end of our tour! The three of us are at Turi, the lookout of the city. I have been here before, but it takes my breath away every time. Have I mentioned that I love this city?

Friday, August 26, 2011

So, what do you eat there?

A favorite question of mine…

Well, this might not be what everyone in Cuenca eats, but this is what my family eats, and thus, what I eat! J

First and foremost: PAN. Oh, the bread here is amazing. We eat bread for breakfast and supper along with coffee. I’m a carbaholic anyway, so being able to enjoy delicious bread TWICE a day is basically like being in my version of heaven. My favorite “treat” is Pan de Coco, (coconut bread). It is beyond yummy. No, I do not eat this kind everyday. (I wish!) We go to a panadería, (bakery), every night to buy bread. Here is a picture from my favorite panadería:

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, (which I LOVE; it feels much healthier than going to bed with a big meal in your tummy). We always have some kind of juice, (my favorite being MORA- raspberry). I actually just helped make orange juice the other day! There is something so delightful about making the juice using REAL fruit versus buying it in a bottle from the store. We have soup everyday. It’s basically water with veggies in it; bland, but filling. Cilantro is often a main ingredient. (I apologize if you consider cilantro to offset the “bland” comment. ha.) Of course in the middle of the table you’ll find MOTE- huge kernels of corn. My family puts this in their soup and rice. It’s tasty and helps soak up some of the liquid in the soup. The main dish then is ALWAYS rice, accompanied by either meat, potatoes, beans, or a combination of all three. Lida, (my host mom), is a great cook, (like my real Madre!), so I am quite lucky! She is continuously telling me to eat more, therefore do not worry about me- I will definitely not go hungry living in her house.

Fresh fruit = amazing. The markets are full of incredible, delicious fruit. I posted a picture of this winner on Facebook the other day: CHIRIMOYA. It is mouth-watering goodness. You should probably fly here just to eat it. Seriously.

Ice cream?!?! Did someone say ice cream?!?! Yes. Ice cream is my favorite food in the world, and thus, a favorite of mine here as well. If ice cream had all the nutrition you needed and still tasted just as yummy, it is all I would eat. NOT kidding. We unfortunately do not have this in the house like I would back in Iowa, (probably better for the waistline anyway…). So, I go out on the town for HELADO, (that means ice cream to help my non-Spanish speaking friends). In this lovely city, a single-scoop of ice cream served on a sugar cone will cost you a whopping 95 cents. (It used to be 50 cents. Apparently inflation happens here, too. ha) Will I be spending all of my money on ice cream? Possibly… My favorite flavor yet again is MORA. (Do you remember what that means? J)

There are many more delicious things to eat, and I’m sure I’ll be filling this blog with more pictures and postings of them! ¡Buen provecho! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm here!

It's no longer a dream; I am here in Cuenca, Ecuador, (aka the home of my heart). Look at this place: how could you not be in love?

It is a gorgeous city with beautiful people. I am living with an incredible family, (the family I have now lived with three times), for the first few months I am here. Kind is the best word I can use to describe this family. They are beyond good to me. Here is a picture of us from 2009:

I will be teaching at CEDEI School for the year. Training starts Monday, August 29th, and kiddos come on Monday, September 5th. I am SO excited to get started!