With a seemingly infinite cache of blogs out there offering North Americans’ perspectives on Ecuadorian culture and Americans’ experiences as expats in Ecuador, we decided to contact a young Ecuadorian living in the U.S. to get her viewpoints on life in the U.S., to further examine the major differences in lifestyle and culture.
Our email-interview with Adri Parra turned up some fascinating insights and perspectives. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.
GoGo: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Parra: I’m 23 years old and I was born and raised in Cuenca, Ecuador. I have two sisters and one brother with whom I am very close. My mom and dad are actively involved in everything relating to art, they both have worked in the art and archeology fields (and museums), so I might say I grew up surrounded by the art environment. This definitely has had an impact on my life. After high school I enrolled at the design faculty at Universidad Del Azuay and got a degree in Fashion Design. Aside from art, I’ve always enjoyed spending time with kids. I was a volunteer at a local preschool [in Cuenca] for a couple of months and during my high school exchange year [in the U.S.] I worked as a nanny for 7 months. This is why I’d like to work as an English teacher for kids part time when I return to Ecuador and also open my own clothing store.
GoGo: You are living in the U.S. for the second time now. Why did you decide to return? How long will you stay? How does your family feel about you living abroad?
Parra: I decided to return because I had such a great experience during my exchange year (as a high school student), but I didn’t do everything I wanted to do. I was only 17 years old the first time I lived here and I couldn’t travel enough and go to the many places I would have liked. I knew I had to come back and stay for a while, and luckily I got into the Au Pair in America program, which is a childcare and study program. I thought this would be perfect since I love kids. My plan now is to stay here for one year, travel a little bit inside the States and save money, so when I go back home, I can open my own clothing store. My family supports my travels, experiences abroad and future plans 100%. Of course, they feel sad about my being away for so long, but they understand it’s one of my goals so they have been really supportive.
GoGo: You are doing a Au Pair (nanny abroad) program in New Jersey. What is the application process like? Is it complicated and/or lengthy? Is it difficult to get a visa? What kind of visa did you obtain?
Parra: I know there’s a couple Au Pair Agencies in Ecuador. I applied to Au Pair in America, which is a Work and Study program, and their requirements are very strict. To become an Ecuadorian Au Pair in America you need first to have at least 300 hours of childcare experience (either nanny or helper in a kindergarten, preschool or middle school), and have a medium or advance level of English. You’ll then have an interview with the person in charge of Au Pair in America in Quito. After the interview you’ll take a test that measures your English level. Lastly, you need to have previously had a visa. If you have all the requirements and you have been accepted into the program you need to complete an online profile. This information is put online so all interested American host families can review it. If they think you are suitable for taking care of their children and living with them for a year, they can contact you and have an interview. You can receive several requests from different families so at the end you choose the one that you feel is going be the best “match” for you. The final step is the matching process and obtaining your visa J1 (work and Study visa). Getting a J1 visa is a harder than a tourist visa, but it depends a lot on the US embassy and a little on luck.
GoGo: What do you think about the American family you are living with? Do they make you feel welcome as a foreign guest?
Parra: I was pretty lucky to have more than 5 families interested in my profile, so I had the chance to choose the best match for me. Now, I know I made the right decision: my host family is great, they treat me like a family member and they are so kind and nice to me. This makes my experience here so easy and enjoyable.
GoGo: As a live-in nanny in the U.S., what are the most challenging parts of your job?
Parra: At the beginning it was really hard to get the children’s respect, they need to get used to someone new living at their house and taking care of them, so I had to be very patient the first weeks. Now I’m handling things pretty well and probably the only thing I still have to work on is my English, so I can communicate better with the girls.
GoGo: What do you think are the 3 biggest differences between American and Ecuadorian cultures?
- This is my second time living in this country, and it’s still shocking for me how Americans spend so much money on everything. Before I came I knew that the USA was considered the “consumer society,” and now I can totally understand that concept, as American homes have extra of everything. This doesn’t happen in Ecuador, we have only what we need and we live good with that.
- The USA is such a technological country, people have so many things to make their lives easier. This might be because everyone is so busy all the time so they need things to help them do things faster.
- One thing that I’m still getting used to is when I walk into a room and meet someone they just shake hands. It’s probably not a huge and important difference but for me it is. In Ecuador people are more affectionate: we hug or kiss on the cheek with everyone, and here in the U.S. people just don’t feel comfortable doing that. They think it’s invading their personal space.
GoGo: Have you had any negative experiences while living in the U.S.?
Parra: I have never had any negative experiences here. My student exchange year was so good and enriching that I ended up loving everything about America, and that’s why here I am again.
GoGo: Aside from family and friends, what do you miss the most about Ecuador?
Parra: The food and having a cup of fresh juice everyday. I miss the warm and welcoming Ecuadorian people, I miss how easy it is to get everywhere, I miss having 4 different weathers/seasons in just one day!! These might seem like insignificant things but that’s why I think Ecuador is so amazing and beautiful.
GoGo: What are some things you think most Americans might take for granted?
Parra: Everyone here has technological devises: cell phones, laptops, tablets…. Even the ten-year old twins I take care of have iPhones and tablets, it’s so easy for them to get these type of things that they probably don’t realize how hard is for people in other countries to get them.
WiFi and Internet is everywhere, every single person I’ve met in this country has internet on their phones or WiFi at their houses. It’s like something basic for Americans.
Americans take for granted the luxury of traveling at least twice a year. It seems Americans are always traveling. I’m going to Myrtle Beach next week for vacation and probably to Orlando in November. It’s so easy for you to go everywhere!!
The value of a dollar. It seems like for Americans it’s so easy to buy new things every week. For example, spending $200 on food at the grocery store every weekend is normal. Everything is going to seem so cheap when I go back home!
GoGo: If you had the opportunity to live and work permanently in the U.S., would you? Why or why not?
Parra: If there’s a great opportunity for a job related to my career or teaching Spanish/English to children I’d definitely stay. I’m getting used to the “American Life”. But, at the moment I don’t have any plans of staying, I’ll be here until next year and I’ll try to pursue my future goals and plans at home.
GoGo: What is your opinion of the growing number of foreigners and retirees who’ve chosen to relocate and/or retire in Ecuador? Do you think it is a positive or negative thing for your country? Why?
Parra: Having foreigners and retirees moving to Ecuador is so awesome! It helps our country financially because they invest money in it and we can also be around people from other cultures, which is always a good thing. We can learn from each other and that’s something priceless.
GoGo: Would you recommend living and working in the U.S. to other Ecuadorians? Why/why not?
Parra: It’s really hard being away from your family, friends and leaving everything that you are used to just to go and work in another place. But the U.S. is definitely a great country to do this. The lifestyle is better here and the economy is also comparatively stable. But more importantly, I think the experience of living in another country makes you see life from a different perspective. If for nothing else, I came because I knew this would help me build my future. At the end of the day, all true success depends at last upon yourself.
Have comments? Have questions for Adri? Join the conversation and comment below.