Más Vale Tarde que Nunca

The first day of classes at a new school is always a little nerve-wracking and definitely awkward. I’ve found that despite the number of times I’ve had to go through this process, it never gets any easier. Finding the correct building, double checking whether I have the right room and sometimes still ending up in the wrong place are simply part of acclimating to a new environment.

Then, there’s having to decide where to sit — whether you want to be branded as a “know-it-all” for sitting at the very front, or as a total slacker for choosing in the back. Figuring out where you’ll be able to pay attention, but still feel comfortable and maybe manage to make a few friends, is always a tough decision to make in a matter of seconds. Not to mention finding your way around the numerous buildings and getting to class on time without seeming flustered.

You’d think by the time you made it to junior year of college, this would be a breeze. Right? Wrong. Well, for me at least.

It was my first day of school as a foreign exchange student at a university in Quito, Ecuador. I didn’t know anyone in my classes and I was concerned about arriving to class on time. I got up early that morning and headed off to school almost an hour before class actually started. With these concerns on my mind and the worst scenarios running through my head, I set out to find the classroom. Easy enough! I found it quickly and decided to grab a coffee. As I calmly made my way back to class with three minutes to spare, I was surprised to find it empty.

I frantically took my laptop out of my bag and checked my new school email. At this point my heart began to race, and I could feel the palms of my hands getting sweaty as I tried to think of what to do next. I pulled up BannerWeb to check for class announcement, but was met with a blank page.

After what felt like an eternity of anxiously sitting in my chair (though it was likely no more than two minutes) someone walked in. I planned to ask them if I was in the right place, but they made no eye contact and continued straight past me to a seat at the very back of the classroom. I decided I would wait five minutes to see if others showed up.

A couple of minutes after the class was supposed to have started, people began trickling in and the professor finally made an appearance. I still didn’t understand what had just happened. It was only when the professor finally announced the name of the course that a sense of relief rushed through my body and I was able to sit back and relax.

Still stuck in a state of confusion after that morning, I turned to my Ecuadorian friends for answers. I recounted the events over lunch, but to my surprise, I was met with grins and chuckles. “If you’re on time here,” started my friend, “it probably means you’re early!” This response seemed strange to me. Regardless, I took it with a grain of salt and decided to still arrive at my next class on time.

However, as the year continued, I found my friend’s statement to be all too true, and I began to understand the “logic” behind it. In Quito, making personal connections was simply more important than arriving on time. If you ran into a friend, you stoped to chat, even if it meant being late to wherever you were going. This is not to say that there weren’t certain situations where punctuality was important, but as a general rule, if you’re a foreigner in Ecuador, you had better get used to waiting.

Madeleine Foster is a senior at Smith College.
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