I can’t say if being abroad “changes you,” at least in the way everyone says it does. I still talk like me, look like me. My clothing choices are still what my girlfriend would call “distinctly fourth grade-esque.” As far as I can see (and believe me, I’ve looked) I’m pretty much still myself. If anything’s changed, it’s my priorities, what matters most. Not so much in the profound “I’ve-seen-how-hot-dogs-are-made-and-now-I’m-a-vegetarian” sense; I’ve seen how they’re made and I still love cookouts. No, it has to do more with the little things, the everyday and the trivial having evolved to be of grand importance.
Things I would’ve hardly noticed before, like how people pronounce my name, now seem to be of incredible annoyance when your host family continuously calls me to dinner with two extra syllables (it’s “Evan,” not “Eeayevan,” contrary to popular belief). On the flip side, I’ve come to appreciate some little aspects of life tenfold – the rare hot shower, understanding a Spanish joke, the incredible taste of some fresh sushi I had last week for the first time here in Ecuador.
In an attempt to account for these newly-important aspects of my life that have popped up, especially with regard to the less pleasant ones, I’ve done my best to create workarounds, mental contingency plans, if you will, in what I suppose is my subconscious attempt to keep a grip on a lifestyle that rarely lets me stay in the saddle.
For example, losing my home WiFi connection here is something of the norm. While I’d probably be able to brush off a downed router in the States (“You’ve been watching NetFlix for six hours, Evan. Check your pulse and go outside.), here it’s a major catastrophe if not dealt with quickly and efficiently. It’s my only connection to the world outside our third floor apartment, after all. Luckily, my emergency response team and I have developed the following:
Internet Connectivity Failure Standardized Action Plan (ICFSAP)
Code Blue: In the result of a WiFi outage, do not panic. Calmly remember that your apartment’s router is so old it appears to outdate the internet itself and may likely be a refurbished rotary phone. Approach it (slowly, as not to scare it) and fiddle with it as if you know what you’re doing. Be firm and use force if necessary – your router needs to know who is in charge.
Code Green: In the event of a Code Blue failure, continue to remain calm. Switch onto your sluggish elderly neighbors’ WiFi (both the Wifi and the elders are sluggish, to clarify) and take comfort in the fact that they probably don’t even know what a password is, much less how to use one to protect their internet.
Code Orange: In the unlikely event both Code Blue and Green fail, you may permit yourself to panic just a little. Put your laptop in your backpack and fill all remaining space with peanuts (actual peanuts, not packing peanuts – you may be out a while.) Board the nearest bus and make your way quickly to the internet café twenty minutes away. Do not be swayed by the fact that it is 8 p.m. and raining; this is important.
Code Red: In the astronomically unlikely (weekly) event that WiFi is not functioning in any of these locations, you are truly in bad shape. Considering that based on surrounding evidence WiFi appears to be out in all of Ecuador and likely the entire world, this would be a perfect time to panic. Some unconventional theorists might suggest “reading a book,” but considering there’s really no point to living anymore, why bother?
You’d think with all these precautionary measures in place, the safety nets, the unsinkable, child-proof, fool-proof, foolish-child-proof plans, I’d be able to avoid most of these unpredictably troublesome things. But I guess that’s the nature of unpredictable things, and studying abroad in general – you don’t know what’s gonna hit you, or when. You spend days building your sandcastle’s walls strong against the lapping tide only to have them trampled by the rare Ecuadorian beach moose.
I arrived home late-ish the other day, tired and ready to go to bed. My host mom warmly greeted me as I stepped through the door, and then added, “By the way – someone using a backhoe in the middle of the road hit a major water line. So just don’t use the sink, shower, or toilet. They said they’ll fix it in oh, three days or so.”
You can’t plan for these things, no matter how much thought you put in, how many color-coded blueprints (and are they really still blue, in that case?) you and your emergency response team draw up. More often than not, you just have to take what comes and adjust accordingly. No water? I didn’t really have to pee that bad, anyway.