Bookworm Vagabond

Expat of the month
  • Bookworm Vagabond
Published on 2012-06-01 at 00:00 by team
My name is McKenzie and I am from Florida in the United States. I am a history teacher who always wanted to be combine my passion for education with a longing to live abroad. I found a way!

My name is McKenzie and I am from Florida in the United States. I am a history teacher who always wanted to be combine my passion for education with a longing to live abroad. I found a way! I work at an international school in Quito, Ecuador, where I teach 8th and 9th grade history classes. I have a two year contract here, and I am just now finishing up my first school year. No, I have no clue where I will end up next.

When and how did you decide to move to Ecuador? Is it complicated to settle down there?

I have traveled quite a bit in Latin America and the last couple of years and really wanted to gain fluency in Spanish. I was open to live anywhere in Latin America, and so I went to a job fair of all the international schools in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. I interviewed with schools from all over (at least 7 different countries) and felt like my school in Ecuador was a great fit. I'm really happy I ended up here because it pushed me out of my comfort zone!

Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?

I had volunteered for two summers in Guatemala and Ecuador and did a study abroad program in college in Central Europe but had never truly immersed myself in a culture and lived in a foreign country. All together, I have visited 24 countries. I think all of them are mentioned in my blog at some point. Some were for research, some visiting friends, some backpacking, some volunteering, and now living. I feel most at home in backpacking hostels surrounded by fellow nomads.

What do you like the most about Quito / Ecuador?

Ecuador has a ton of activities packed into such a small place. We have the Galapagos Islands, the Pacific Coast, the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, and some in between places like the cloud forests. While Quito is a really interesting city, it's nice that I can escape on the weekends and pretty much get anywhere within an 8 hour bus ride (normally it's much shorter than that). In the last month or two I have visited Colombia, Cotopaxi National Park, Papallacta thermal springs, and gone white water rafting in Tena. Outside of the big cities like Guayaquil and Quito, traveling around Ecuador is relatively safe compared to other countries in Latin America.

How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with the United States, your home country?

Pace of life is quite different here. Things are chaotic, and yet somehow also more relaxed than the States. Getting around is unorganized, and seemingly simple tasks can take forever (like getting something installed or fixed in your apartment). Traveling around the country doesn't make sense sometimes. To get to a certain part of Ecuador you have to randomly take a taxi to a grocery store one town over and catch a bus from the front of the store in the middle of a highway, or sometimes a bus will drop you off on the side of the road and you hitch hike from there. Getting around took some time getting used to. When I would travel in Europe, there were always punctual trains and buses. It is definitely not like that in Latin America. There is something so laid back about travel here, I have this mindset of ‘if it happens it happens.' Also, quality time with family and a strong sense of community are more important than climbing your way to the top of the socioeconomic ladder. People in Ecuador are generally surprised that I left my relatives back in Florida to come live in a foreign country.

Do you miss anything from your homeland?

I miss having a car, which I will not be purchasing here because the driving terrifies me! It is really difficult to get around in Quito and I've had a couple frustrating situations when I wanted to go out, but it was too late and dangerous to walk to the nearest big street and hail a cab. In this situation I will try calling cabs, but a lot of phone operators will hang up when they hear an American accent because they don't want the trouble of having to understand me through my errors. Eventually, I suck it up and decide to hail a cab on the street, and sometimes end up waiting 30 minutes because there often aren't enough cabs at night! Getting around the city can be a serious hassle, so my apartment sometimes feels like a prison. I miss my mobility at home. I did not appreciate being able to hop on a bike and ride to get sushi at midnight without a fear of being robbed. Even going to get a sandwich at 8 PM is risky simply because it is dark out already.

Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?

I have had some strange experiences living in Latin America, but the strangest recently has to be a couple nights I spent in Cartagena, Colombia last month. It was the same weekend the huge presidential summit was there and the Secret Service got caught in a scandal with prostitutes. The whole town was on lockdown and there were men riding around the city on bikes with ear pieces in, scoping out everyone. You could tell Cartagena was normally this bustling lively city, but that weekend it was eerily quiet. As far as worst experiences go, I can honestly say I don't have one. I feel so happy to be living and traveling abroad that I can turn any bad situation into a good one. I put out positive energy all the time because I am so excited to be here, and good things always happen in return!

When did you start your blog? For what reasons?

I was in grad school in 2009 and I would come back to school after every break traveling (I hit the road pretty much every chance I got) and everyone would want to hear my stories. Eventually, my graduate advisor pushed me to keep a blog so all of my fellow students and professors could keep up with what I was doing. So at first, it was a simple documentation of where I was traveling and why, but it's purpose has since expanded greatly. It helps me keep track of where I have been as well, because after so much traveling, the names of villages and hostels and parks starts blurring together in your memory.

Did you make new friends with your blog?

I have not met anyone in real life that I connected with through the blog, but I definitely have made some internet connections with people. Strangers will email me asking for advice about traveling sometimes, or friends I haven't spoken to in awhile will pop in and leave a comment, which is always a nice surprise.

Why did you register on and what do you think of the website?

I registered because I was constantly on anyways! Whenever I know I am traveling somewhere, the first thing I do is look up some expatriate blogs to get a feel for the place. They have been so useful for me when traveling in some places off the beaten path that I wanted to reciprocate the favor. Sometimes I get on and browse just to get that sense of adventure that only comes from being in a foreign country. Hopefully people read my blog and feel that same sense of excitement that I get from reading other travel blogs.

Which advice would you give to the other Expat blog members who would like to settle in Quito (or Ecuador in general)?

Don't expect every Western amenity, and be ok with that! Yes, you might not be able to get your favorite frozen dinner, but there are tons of fresh, exotic fruits to try! You won't find H&M or Urban Outfitters, but there are fun artisan markets with hand woven bags and scarves. I try to appreciate that while I am here. Definitely take Spanish lessons, because not many people in Ecuador speak English. It's much easier to make friends and get around if you speak the language.

Find your place in Quito and reach out, whether that be wrestling, volleyball, yoga, food co-ops, feminist groups, dance studios, couchsurfing communities, etc. We really do have it all. It took me about 6 months to really feel at home here and find my place in the community, and it was so worth it once I did.

Bookworm Vagabond