From the Ecuadorian highlands to the Maryland lowlands
By Julia Gaspar-Bates
Growing up in a conservative and insular family in Quito, Ecuador, Daniela Collaguazo would never have imagined that her life journey would eventually lead her to live abroad. “When I was 10 years old my parents took us to Disney, and we had a couple of trips to Colombia, but when I was an adult, I wanted to explore the world. I was the first in my family to go to Europe. It was supposed to be a three-month internship, but I ended up staying one year in Hamburg,” said Collaguazo.
Although Collaguazo’s parents rarely traveled internationally, they made it a priority to expose her and her brother to the offerings of their small and diverse South American country that boasts an emerald-green coastline, the Amazon jungle and the Andes mountains, and has a predominantly indigenous population. “I grew up surrounded by mountains. I would wake up every morning and see Pichincha volcano from my window. My father enjoyed outdoor sports and would take us to the mountains all the time. He was very concerned about us being strong and healthy.”
Collaguazo also had the opportunity to experience the rich cultural diversity of her country and often accompanied her economist father on business trips to the Oriente region in the Amazon. There, she would “visit very remote cities with clean rivers [and] the jungle, and play with native people and eat local food. I didn’t have any fears.”
It was this zest for adventure and discovery that honed Collaguazo’s strong sense of social justice and sparked her desire to live abroad, and these directly led to her current work at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, D.C. “I grew up seeing poverty that caused violence and abuse. Those realities are more shocking than seeing a child without shoes. I didn’t take my security for granted. When you grow up with that perception, you see the world differently. I wonder every day how I can do better to help people. I feel very privileged that I come from a middle-class family, and I’ve been able to travel so much. I see that there are so few people like me.”
After completing her undergraduate studies, Collaguazo received a scholarship from the German government to undertake a master’s degree in Germany. “I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity because it opened so many doors in my life. The fact that I lived abroad has made me value even more what I have.”
After her sojourn in Germany, Collaguazo returned to Quito and stayed for two years, teaching at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. After learning about an opening at IDB from a friend, she relocated abroad again — this time to the United States. “I came to Washington when I was 18 on a one-week scholarship program at Georgetown [University]. I fell in love with the buildings. I visited the museums and monuments. I remember thinking that I would love to live here sometime.”
Her time in Germany paved the way for a relatively smooth adjustment to American life. Nonetheless, Collaguazo noted some differences from life in Ecuador. “There is no need that is not supplied in this country. Everything is so practical. What I admire is the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Americans are very hard workers.”
At the same time, she reports that being a foreigner is not always easy. “It’s difficult to communicate ideas in a foreign language. People sometimes think you are stupid or don’t have anything to say. Many foreigners have to overcome this barrier. When I go to Ecuador, it’s much more comfortable. I am a person who likes to make jokes, and it is super challenging to translate the humor [here]. It makes it hard to start a new life abroad.”
Collaguazo moved from the District to Hyattsville last year to live with her American boyfriend,and she’s been pleasantly surprised by the family-oriented community with its many Latino residents. “My boyfriend says, ‘these are your people.’ I go to Latino restaurants and supermarkets. I can joke with the people and have a connection easier.”
Although Collaguazo misses her family and friends, and the more affordable lifestyle in Ecuador, she does not plan to move back for now. “I embrace the future. If I have to go back, I will make the best out of the situation.”
“Cultural Connections” is dedicated to bringing forth the voices of Hyattsville’s international residents. Interested in sharing your story? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.