Whether you have been to South America or not – you may know that some things work differently here in Ecuador than in other countries (especially for me, coming from Germany). There are things like the infamous “Ecuadorian time” or machismo. There is the importance of living with and living as family. In your own way, you may try to prepare yourself cultural differences as best as you can (and you should, because it is real!), however, there are some minor everyday things I’ve come across while studying at Universidad Casa Grande that may be nice to know ahead of time.
1. Traffic: Survival of the Fittest
Guayaquil is not made for pedestrians but for motorized vehicles. There are surely more chaotic streets in the world but coming from Germany, where people generally drive within the rules, a car ride in Ecuador can be quite the experience. Just try not to jump when someone honks, do not wonder why only the driver uses a seat belt, do not worry about lines on the road and most importantly: trust your local driver, they know better! With this in mind, you will be fine in a car. Buses are a different story…
2. Security Warnings: Be aware but do not panic!
As a foreigner, you will be repeatedly warned about the dangers of wherever you do. Phrases like “Why do you want to go there? It is dangerous,” or “Be careful, this is dangerous,” can be a routine, especially if you are female. There are general rules to go by to be safe but double checking, common sense, awareness and listening to your own instinct are usually good enough guidelines. Don’t walk the streets afraid of everyone, there is no need to. Just be sensible while exploring!
3. Fences and Guards: Life in Urbanizaciones
In Guayaquil it is normal to pass gates and guards. Whether entering your campus, the mall or your home. This does not necessarily mean that you are arriving to a dangerous area but in fact rather the opposite. People who can afford it live in fenced neighborhoods/gated communities called an “urbanización” or “ciudadela.” This includes the people who in Europe or North America would be considered middle class. Once people know you, you can pass with a friendly “buenas” (hi) but be prepared at first to be asked for your intention and name or even ID.
4. Heavy Lunch: Meat with Rice
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that food in Ecuador is an extensive chapter in the book of its culture. Therefore I will not try and put all of it into this short note. But prepare yourselves for a big variety of dishes that include meat and rice. And by meat and rice, I mean this and maybe not much more. Rice is mostly eaten plain and meat is seldom accompanied by a sauce other than the spicy ají that always sits on the table. Don’t get me wrong, there is lots to try, including seafood and tropical fruit, and you’ll enjoy it, especially if you like meat and rice!
5. Air Conditioning: Frozen Sweat
Outside the temperature during the day is usually somewhere around 30°C, accompanied by humidity. While sweating is inevitable when moving outside, being cold can actually be more of a problem. Because as soon as you step inside, you may be hit by the seemingly ice cold breeze of the air conditioner. So make sure you always carry a light jumper or cardigan.
6. Blurry Answers: Go with the flow!
You want to know what’s going on around you? Fair enough, but you will have to train yourself in patience as well as flexibility. Good luck with getting straight forward answers about plans, requirements, timetables, etc. When people make last minute changes you should not take it personally. Of course you can and should ask people for clarification, but you can avoid a lot of frustration when you do not stress yourself about it. Adapt and you will see that it really can be relaxing not to be constantly organized!
7. WhatsApp’s Dominion: Living Off Your Phone
Get yourself a local chip for your phone as one of the first steps of settling in! You can get monthly deals from $10 and those usually include unlimited WhatsApp use. You will soon know why: everything – whether class presentations or taxi calls, city walking tours or private conversations – is organized via this application. And if you do not have it already, you will soon pick up the local habit of never putting your phone out of reach. Thankfully there are free charging spots around town!
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