I live with a host family of six people which has taught me a lot about Ecuadorian culture one would never know from just visiting the country as a tourist. So, this blog post is going to dive into the life of Ecuadorian families and the differences to my previous family life in Germany..
I am the seventh member of my host family. I have a host mum and dad, three host sisters (5, 15 and 20 years old) and one host brother who is ten. In the society here, family is central to daily life. It is important to regularly visit the extended family and spend time with the nuclear family. Being single once you are older than 30 just does not seem to be a thing here. As I live with a local family and participate actively in their family life these expectations and standards are impacting my experience especially because my family life back home looks very different.
My parents are separated and live in different countries. I lived in a boarding school for the past two years before coming here. My sister is currently living in a boarding school in yet another country. Both my parents have new partners. Explaining this rather complicated situation to my host family was an interesting experience because it took them a long time to fully grasp the extent of what my family is structured like. The four of us live in four different countries. My host family shares three rooms and beds. My two eldest host sister share a room and a bed and my host mum shares a bed with the two youngest and sleeps in the same small room as my host dad. They have no personal space.
Most of the time, after school and work all of them hang around in the living room, doing homework, watching YouTube or playing. Going out in the afternoon to meet friends again doesn’t seem to be a thing here. Only my eldest host sister sometimes goes out in the evening to meet her friends, but that is always combined with attending mass or other services in the church. Compared to the UK, not meeting friends is normal as people live too far apart there and are dependent on their parents driving them around. In Germany, families usually spend time together on one afternoon in the weekend or have dinner together. The afternoons, however, are reserved for homework in one’s room, meeting friends or other hobbies like sports. In Germany this is possible because the population density outside of big cities is higher and public transport is better compared to the UK. However, compared to Ecuador public transport is also decent and people in the city live close by each other. So, me going out in the afternoon to meet friends was something my host family had to get used to as it was a little unexpected for them. This week I happened to be out for three afternoons in a row and on the evening of the last day my host mum was voicing her concern that I had been very busy this week. When I stay at home in the afternoon, I am not necessarily always in the living room or interacting a lot with them. But simply showing my face and being at home makes a big difference.
My host family also enjoys spending a lot of time together on the weekends. Saturdays we would usually explore surrounding cities or sites in the mountains and Sunday afternoons we usually go for a short walk to the market and stop at the playground on the way back where we play volleyball. My family, back when we used to live in Germany, barely spent any time together. We would usually have breakfast or dinner together on weekends, but otherwise everyone was busy living their own life. When I go to visit my parents, obviously I spend more time with them, but even then I am not around all the time. Getting used to spending a lot more time with the family was an interesting process for me because I used to live very independently, especially in boarding school. I have managed to create a good balance between acknowledging the implicit wishes of my host family and spending my time with my friends.
One random note at the end of the blog post: Ecuadorians don’t take off their shoes in the house because they believe that one catches germs through one’s feet.
If you would like to know more about the gender roles within my family and others I observed, check out one of my previous blog posts.