We moved to Quito, Ecuador in 2004. Our three oldest children were in 6th grade, 4th grade and 3rd grade, and had up until that point been exclusively home-schooled. In the space of six months – from January to June of that year – we moved them to another country, enrolled them in school and gave them a baby brother…and they all weathered life beautifully.
Our children spent their formative years in Quito, and while it wasn’t perfect, they have all told us repeatedly that they wouldn’t change a single thing. Some of the things that they feel they gained by being there include:
- An understanding that the world is both much larger and much smaller than we think it is. Our children attended an international school in Quito, and at any given point there were students enrolled from more than 30 countries. When each of our kids said goodbye to their classmates at graduation, it was with the knowledge that they would, within just a few short days, be scattered across the globe…and that for the rest of their lives they would have friends that were literally all around the world.
- A deep and powerful realization of what it means to be desperately poor. We worked for a humanitarian aid organization, and we did not shield our kids from the reality of what the people we worked with were facing. They have rocked babies while their parents scavenged through the garbage dump looking for anything they could recycle, hoping to earn enough to feed them that day. They know what desperation looks like, deep in the eyes of a mother with too many children and too few options. And they know that sometimes, no matter how badly you want to fix things…you just can’t.
- A heart for service. Our kids participated in outreach throughout their high school years in Quito, working with kids clubs, at orphanages, in the city dump and deep in the jungle. Our daughter spent a week every year in a village that she got to by taking a five-hour bus ride to the edge of the jungle, then hopped into a canoe manned by a 12 year old kid and motored down the Amazon River into a village with no electricity or running water…and those are her favorite memories ever. She was loved and climbed on by little kids who hadn’t bathed in…probably ever, and ate things that would make the average high school student cringe. She came home every year exhausted, sunburned and ready to head right back down for another round.
Some of the other things our kids have gained by growing up in Quito include…
- Definitive opinions on the quality of air travel, airports and airport food. My kids have developed very definite opinions on which airlines are the best and which airports are terrible to travel through. They also know the location of every Wendy’s and every Starbucks in every airport we go through, and can manage to visit one or the other as long as they have an hour between flights! On a serious note, they have all been able to navigate an airport and travel internationally by themselves since they were young teens, and handle layovers, lost luggage and customs like professionals.
- A love for all kinds of food. We have always expected our kids to eat what was put in front of them, and so none of them are picky eaters. That has opened their world up to all kinds of different foods, and they all love to try new things. Attending an international school also gave them opportunities to sample and learn to love different cuisines, and so they are always willing to explore new and different foods.
- An appreciation for difference. All of my kids learned to appreciate the cultural differences that made our experiences there both amazing and frustrating at the same time. They learned that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong,” and that it’s OK when they don’t do things the way we do here in the US.
Although there were things that we sacrificed when we moved overseas, we all agree that the good definitely outweighs the bad. While none of us have any plans to return to expat living any time soon, there will always be a part of us that is just a little bit Ecuadorian…and our life there is something that we will always remember with love and affection.
Also check out, Matagalpa, Nicaragua.