This is a reflection that I wrote sometime in September for a presentation about my Ecuador exchange. It explains my emotions throughout my time abroad. I hope you enjoy my final post.
The topic of finishing is something that is very complicated, I don’t know how I am going to do it. However, I know that it is something very important- I have to end the chapter of my exchange- because I know that it is vital that I finish my book. I am writing my book, and I want to continue.
Everyone is asking me, “How was your time in Ecuador, oh wait where did you go?” I do not know how to answer. What should I say? It was great! Excellent, but in reality it was an experience that I don’t know how to explain with words, especially in English. Every time that I sit down to the computer to write down my thoughts on my exchange my brain wants to think and enjoy my ability, Spanish. I am going to try to finish; I have to finish. I want to put all of my thoughts somewhere. I want to share my experience with you. I am going to open up my heart, because that is where everything is hidden. This is very hard for me. My year was amazing, but honestly my year was something that is very personal to me.
I want to start with, my year was not easy. I grew a lot. Today I can stand in front of you and say that I am not the same person you knew before, I have changed.
But let’s start: I want you to close your eyes because I want to paint you a story. Imagine that you are a lone, you don’t know anyone, you don’t know where you are going, and the only thing you know is that you have to go. That was my reason; I knew I had to go, so I went. I left everything I knew. I had two suitcases, my little Spanish, and a dream and passion that acted like my guide and drive during the year. I went to discover and find the answer to the question, who am I?
During the first months I lived with la familia Díaz. There were many things that happened. My first few weeks in Ecuador I had no idea what was going on. My entire world was in a language that I didn’t fully understand, and more importantly a culture that wasn’t mine. I personally believe that it is more difficult to learn a culture than to learn a language. I had never been emerged into Ecuadorean culture; however, I was expected to understand it. Something I think we don’t realize in our own culture is the social cues and expectations of our culture. I couldn’t even tell you all of the ones in the States because they are just apart of my everyday life. I can although, tell you the social cues and expectations of Ecuadorean culture. When you live in a different culture you pick up on the things that everyone is doing as a form of survival. You try to mimic, or copy the social behavior of everyone else, so that you too can be part of the culture. In a nutshell, that was the first half of my exchange. I was called uneducated, dumb, and stupid on numerous occasions because I simply did not understand what was going on around me, and because no one ever told me what I was doing was wrong I didn’t realize I was offending people.
A new thing for me was being completely out of control of my life. I did not get to decide much. Here in the states I have always had a lot of control and responsibility in my life.
Behind every door there was something new, something to discover. When everything is new, your life is very interesting.
During this time in Ecuador I learned many things, I was growing as a person, I got a chance to try out life from a different perspective. When you live away from everything you ever knew, especially for an extended period of time, you go through a bit of an identity crisis. I very distinctly remember the culture shock I faced my first few months.
Over the course of my year in Ecuador I leaned how to ask for help and admit that I didn’t know, especially in school. I figured that when I didn’t understand something I could do one of two things: pretend I did, or ask for help. I decided to ask for help, because I rather look dumb than not know. I spent the entire year asking people to help me. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but I asked questions constantly. Sure, often times I felt dumb, I longed to feel smart again; however, I learned that asking questions doesn’t mean you are dumb, it means that you are smart because you don’t want to stay in the dark.
During my fist six months I went too many placed I Ecuador. I visited Manabí, Esmeraldas, and the Amazon, or as the locals call it El Oriente. In the Amazon there are many animals… to be blunt I am afraid of many animals, all of which I think live in the Amazon. I spend the entire trip thinking I was going to die. Amidst it all there is a beauty so unique. There are trees up to the sky; there are colors like you have never seen before. The nature is so beautiful that is majestic. It is as if a divine painter saw open canvas in South America and decided to fill it will more wonder then anyone could every imagine. If I were a painter the Amazon would be my signature.
In January I moved to my second family. I was very excited to go, I wanted to change families to try something different. My second family was incredible. From the first day I felt apart of the family. My parents’ names were Ximena, and Xaviar, my sisters Maria Del mar, and Martina. I had two sisters, one older and the other younger. My older sister was living in Germany doing her exchange, but I lived with my younger sister. Martina was my best friend. I spend almost all of my time with her. We did homework together, played card, games, watched movies, I helped her with her English and she helped me with my Spanish. She was truly my little nine-year-old sister.
By February my exchange was incredible. I felt good, I had a family, friends, I was doing well in school and I fit into my class. I could speak and understand well. At that point it was the high point of my exchange.
During the last few weeks of February I felt like something was wrong. I started to feel very sick- like something horrible was happening to my body. I told my parents, Xime and Xavi that I needed to see a doctor. Something very strange happened to my body, doctors believe that it was allergy related. Basically I lost the ability to eat. I went to the hospital Wednesday the 28th of February 2013, and I stayed for over a week. This was the low point of my exchange. During this time I felt very alone.
It was the worst experience of my life. I felt alone. I wanted my mom. I felt depressed- I can say with confidence that it was the lowest point that my life has ever reached. I almost came home. I remember asking God, why me, wasn’t it enough that I had gone on exchange. Left everything that was comfortable and went alone, I had already over come struggles, and now I was in the hospital. I wanted to get out. I was ready to go home. From Wednesday to Sunday I was thinking about staying and trying to get better while I was in Ecuador; However, Sunday night I told me dad to buy my a ticket. I was tired, emotionally worn out. I did not want to be in Ecuador any more. Then a miracle occurred. Monday morning I woke up able to eat everything. I have no idea what happened, all I can say was it was a miracle. It also saved my exchange.
My time after the hospital was fast paced and felt very unreal. Two days after the hospital I went to the Galapagos Island- I couldn’t come up with the words to describe them so here are some pictures
Three days after I came home from Galapagos My parents came to visit me! It was a wonderful time; I was able to share my Ecuador and life with them.
Then a few weeks after my parents left I was told that I would be moving host families again. I had no interest in changing. I loved my second family. I felt at home. As far as I was concerned I already has a family and I didn’t want a new one. I cried a lot when I found out I had to leave the people who had helped me so much. They had helped me through such a hard time and I felt so connected to my family. Even though I did not want to move and I understood the rules of the Rotary program, so I packed my bags and left. I told the Rotarians that I would change without a fight, that I would go and that I would be okay.
My third family was la familia Mafla. They were a very nice family. I had nice moments with them. I felt cared for. The thing that made this family different is I was able to live with their 18-year-old son Gustavo, who had gone to Finland for his exchange. He came back four days after I had moved in, which was hard, but it also wonderful because we became very good friends. I am glad that I moved families because I was able to meet someone who reminded me of the life I used to live.
The last three months of my exchange were fairly standard. I went on my final Rotary trip. I finished school, and passed all of my classes. I went out, hung out with friends, and family. Then it was time to come home.
Overcoming my struggles was that I consider my greatest accomplishment. Through every struggle that I overcame I got stronger, smarter, and better accustomed to my new life. Exchange was both the hardest, yet most rewarding thing I have ever done in my lifetime. It is a part of who I am. It grew me as a person.
July 3rd, 2013 was the day that I officially ended my exchange. I got on a plane; I left everything all over again; this time I knew were I was going. I knew why I was going. I know who I am. I found what I wanted to. I am confident in my dreams and who I want to be. I just had to try life on my own to work a few things out. Through out the trials of my exchange I grew. That is what an exchange is really about.
As a person who is full of ambition and dreams I have one piece of advice for you: don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, don’t be afraid to leave who you are on the surface and dig a little deeper to find out who you truly are. I am not done growing, I still have places to go, but I have a pretty good foundation to leap from.