I recently wrapped up my 15 day language immersion trip in Ecuador with a graduation ceremony and a trip to some thermal springs before returning to a DC winter. Here I reflect on my last days in Ecuador and the value of a language immersion program.
Saying goodbye to the academy
As hard as it was to spend two weeks in 1:1 Spanish instruction, it was all worth it the day we graduated. The day beforehand, the Academia Latinoamericana de Español threw a holiday lunch for all the students.
I started to think how weird it would be to leave the academy and not come back. Although the time we passed there was short, it was intense. In many ways it was a tearing down and a rebuilding of ourselves as students.
Even though we probably all felt a little cheesy standing there waiting for our certificates after our final classes, the heartfelt words from the director of the academy reminded us that we had been students and would always be welcome back at the academy. It wasn’t receiving the certificate, but the certainty that we had accomplished what we set out to do, that felt so good. Giving our instructors gifts from the U.S. and posing for group photos was the icing on the cake.
After the ceremony, we finally made it to De La Llama, a restaurant we had all been really keen to try but had been foiled previously by a lack of reservations. This time, we planned ahead. Oh, this place was God’s gift! But expensive, and the server *twice* snatched my near-empty wineglass before I was done. (That is one of my most royal pet peeves from the days of Tashkent where servers would grab away my napkin, even when it was In My Hand. Argh!!) By my count, De La Llama owes me almost $3. Lol. I would recommend eating there though.
Termas de Papallacta
The hot springs at Papallacta are about an hour and 10 minutes outside Quito, nearly 11,000 feet into the Andes and surrounded by mist, tropical flowers, and a seemingly endless whir of hummingbirds. What better way to celebrate finishing the immersion?
On our last weekend in Ecuador, H had already left, and everyone else was leaving Saturday night. I, true to form, had arrived first and would depart last – on Sunday afternoon. So J had just enough time for a jaunt up to the springs before heading to the airport and I opted in.
For $69 each we got spa packages that included pool access, a full lunch and dessert, and a 30 minute massage. We split the cost of the driver to go up there at another $50 each. Well worth it! Probably the most relaxing thing you could possibly do would be to stay in the hotel’s guest lodging, and gain access to some of the more private pools. I found their online booking system a little tedious and unreliable, so if you do use it, or can’t find the dates you want, calling to confirm is best.
I haven’t stayed there, but I’ve heard the rooms and beds are bliss; there are a lot of online reviews to back that up. Large lockers and towels are provided upon check-in for day use guests, but they charge $2.50 for robe rentals.
J and I enjoyed some of the hotter pools for an hour until it was time for our massages. I loved the fact that there was no sulphur smell! Afterwards we spent a couple more hours trying out as many pools as possible. Even though a cool rain was falling the whole time we were outside, the heat of the pools erased any chill.
Then we went inside for our fantastic lunch and I tried the trout, locally raised. Because it had started raining harder after lunch and I was loathe to put my cold, wet swimsuit back on, I opted to sit and do some writing and then spontaneously went for another and even longer massage! It was extra, but it soothed me and eased the pain and tension that builds up so easily.
The day was basically heaven, and then within an hour and 15 minutes of leaving I was back at my hotel where I had a facial.
Saying goodbye to my beautiful hotel the next day was tough! I had a less than pleasant experience in the spa there, but they remedied it to my 100% satisfaction, and the room service, housekeeping, and all the staff there were gracious, professional, and efficient. I can recommend the Le Parc Hotel Beyond Stars for any trip to Quito.
Things we did on our own
As with any time you travel with a group, not everyone is always going to want to do the same activities, go the same places, or have the stars align to see all the same sites. Here I offer a couple of snapshots from the beautiful experiences we had on our own in Ecuador.
And me? I found the force!
What I brought back
Some of the things I brought back I still can’t show, because they are surprises for other people, but here are a couple of things I brought back for V and myself: a toucan painting, some painted wooden horses (one sweet, one ready for battle), ceramic birds, and a pillowcase covered with parrots.
My best tips for FSI language immersion
If you’re an FSI Spanish student, I can’t recommend the immersion enough. Whether you pick Quito or Mexico City, you’re going to have a great experience. Here are a few tips.
-Make your study plan with intention, and discuss it with your instructor on your first day. The program is more flexible than you think. Let your instructor give you his or her professional assessment of your weak spots, but also take an active role in designing the curriculum. Want to go to a museum? Want to learn more about the host country? Ask! This is your chance.
-Consider your budget and needs when deciding on your accommodation. You can stay in student dorms, in a hotel, or with a host family. You could even go in on an AirBnB with some of your colleagues if you’re inclined to save money or do some cooking. Make the decision that’s right for you, even if you’re the only one who picks your type of lodging. Also be mindful of distance to your classes and the current security situation.
-Come prepared. Check the weather. Check the crime situation. Check the country’s calendar of holidays. Bring currency in the right denominations. Assume you will need earplugs, band-aids, anti-diarrheal medicine, small gifts, and a thank you card. I brought an umbrella (which I used at least 10x!) and two blank checks… just in case.
-Spend some time talking with other foreign immersion students who you haven’t met before. I hung out the most with my own friends and colleagues, but I really enjoyed the conversations I had with other students and hearing about their international travels and motivations for studying Spanish. They had also been there longer and were a great source of intel on the local restaurant, cafe, and bar scene.
-Most importantly, bring an open mind and heart. Take advantage of every possible opportunity to use the language. Walk into an unfamiliar place and order food. Chat up your taxi driver. Ask questions. Read the newspaper. I did all of these things and more, and it really helped my confidence.
-If you do an immersion around the holidays and come back to a week or more off from FSI classes, follow your independent study plan and don’t procrastinate jumping back in. Ahem.
In summary, do an immersion! And also, go to Ecuador! The Ecuadorian people are outstanding and love to share their beautiful country and nature with visitors.
If I get additional input from my colleagues, or think of something else I forgot, I will post it in the comments below. Four posts just isn’t enough to share the several hundred pictures, observations, and moments I experienced in Ecuador but hopefully if you are considering a trip there, this helps!