I’m extremely serious about becoming as fluent in Spanish as possible and to become as Ecuadorian as I can during the next four months. In terms of accomplishing these goals, my attitude and actions of the past week have not cut it. I’ve spent too much time speaking English to fellow exchange students and too much time connected to email and English websites (damn you, Facebook). I know how much better my Spanish became after two months in Guatemala, but know how much better it would have been had I not spent the majority of each day speaking to American DukeEngage partners about projects in our mother tongue. I’m proficient in Spanish, but I need to start thinking in Español, dreaming in it. Most importantly, I need to shun English and embrace every opportunity to connect with this country and its people.

So I’ve set some concrete rules for myself, aimed to wring the most out of this whole abroad “experience”, with the highest priorities being cultural and lingual immersion. Because let’s face it, far too many American students study abroad and come back with nothing more than stories about crazy parties with other Americans. Many lose out on an incredible amount by remaining within their comfort zones, electing to hang out with a closed group of countrymen who speak the same language. I’ve felt myself come perilously close to falling down this slippery slope since I got here. It’s so much easier to not try, to assume that no Ecuadorian would want to spend time with someone who’s Spanish falters with every other thought. But what a damn shame – with that kind of thinking, I don’t deserve to be here, and I should just book a ticket back to Duke.

Here’s to forgetting English and leaning into discomfort: my personal list of rules for successful immersion in everything Ecuador, to start tomorrow. Any other thoughts on how best to attempt this would be greatly appreciated.

  • I will speak English one day a week, for as little time as possible: Monday-Saturday, everything will be done in Spanish, including cursing, texting and dreaming. This means attempting the awkward and unthinkable: speaking to other Americans in English. This also means holding out on all telephone calls, emails, G-chats, facebooking and blog posts until Sunday. Sorry Mom.
  • I will to try to make sure that at least one Ecuadorian is present at every social event I attend, or at the very least aim every social event begun with only Americans at meeting more Ecuadorians.
  • For the next four months, I will not eat at an American fast-food chain. Thursday night was bad.
  • I will watch only Spanish-language TV, news, and movies, and will read only Spanish literature.
  • I will take every possible moment to get to know locals, including during taxi and bus rides, dog-walks, and the moments during and after class.
  • I will have a notebook with me at all times in order to jot down new words and phrases, and will look them over before going to sleep.
  • I will try not to stress about work, and if excess studying is extremely necessary, it will be done with an Ecuadorian classmate.
  • I will join 1-3 clubs at the university, will regularly attend them, and will learn to Salsa and use it to my advantage.