**Below is a Parent Post from a recent visit to Ecuador, written by Lisa Freschi.
College admission letters and offers of scholarship money filled our mailbox last spring. Nic was happy, but not ecstatic. When he received the call from Global Citizen Year informing him that he’d been accepted as a Fellow for the 2011-12 cohort, he lit up like a Christmas tree. In that instant we all knew our lives would never be the same and we began to brace ourselves for the unknown.
We landed in Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador 11pm on February 18th, 2012. We hadn’t seen our son since mid-August 2011. He was easy to pick out . . . a tall American teenager tends to stand out in a crowd of local Ecuadorians. Tears flowed as we hugged him and his host brother, Omar. This is how we began our eight day adventure with our ‘Fellow’.
My husband, two sons and I had no expectations and no agenda for our visit. We just wanted to see Nic and have the opportunity to meet his host family and say thank you in person. After a restless night’s sleep (traffic and barking dogs kept us awake) we hired a van and driver to take us around Quito. It was the perfect introduction to Ecuador and a great time to catch up with our son. The following day the real excitement came . . . we headed to Ibarra to meet Nic’s host Uncle and Aunt who so warmly welcomed us into their home. Conversation flowed, with Nic translating, as we met several family members and shared a delicious meal. We were treated like old familiar friends. Tears flowed again as Nic translated a letter his host family wrote to us, thanking us for coming and telling us what it has meant to them to have Nic in their lives.
Nic’s uncle, Don Fidel, arranged for us to have a driver and a car at our disposal. We were taken on a tour of Ibarra, a local museum and finally to a Carnival celebration. Driving around with several people in the back of a pick-up truck took some getting used to, but we adapted quickly. Then driving around and having people on the street douse you with buckets of water and spray foam changed from being shocking to being expected.
The following day was the moment we were all waiting for . . . our visit to Nic’s homestay, Rancho Chico. Filled with anxiety and anticipation, we made the two plus hour ride on an unpaved dirt road leading to the ranch. On our way up the mountain we passed indigenous people herding their cows, sheep, goats etc. We passed pigs, horses, and several oxen. It was like travelling back in time. On the road we came to a point where a group of men were digging a ditch to lay piping and we were unable to pass. No worries; the men got planks of wood from a nearby farmhouse and laid them across the ditch and we proceeded on our
way. Another hour or so and we arrived to smiling faces, open arms and a giant sign that read “Welcome Family” in English. Introductions were made, tears of joy and thankfulness fell and we quickly set off on a hike and tour of the ranch. Our first stop was to milk the cow. Then we continued to hike up to the cloud forest and were treated to spectacular vistas in every direction. Upon our return to the house, we were humbled by a feast of freshly baked breads, tea, soup, and cuy. It was a meal prepared with love and pride. Grandpa serenaded us with the sound of his flute, a friend accompanied him on guitar and the women danced. We played games such as ‘Musical Chairs’ and had egg races (men against the women). Laughter filled the air and there were no barriers between the families or the cultures. It was amazing to see how our son fit so comfortably and confidently into his family and community. We met some of his students and other people from neighboring communities. We visited the school where Nic teaches. We had the tiniest glimpse into his world. As the afternoon began to wind down, we prepared to head out and experience more of Ecuador. Again there were hugs, kisses, tears and words of thanks. We waved goodbye and packed many people into the pick-up truck for the ride back to Ibarra.
So many new sights, sounds, foods, people; it was overwhelming, but in a good way. We regrouped the next morning and set off for Tena, to experience a bit of the jungle. We ate fruits that we’d never heard of, chewed on sugar cane and watched as the mountains and clouds gave way to thicker, humid air and the vegetation and landscape turned wilder. All the while we marveled at Nic’s comfort in the country and the easy way he negotiated taxi prices and took the lead of our little expedition. We set up a hike into the jungle and a whitewater rafting tour on the Misahualli River. Nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of the jungle and the wildness of the river. To experience almost 22 miles of jungle and not see another person, but instead, parrots flying overhead and huge iridescent butterflies fluttering by were like a dream. In Tena we also had the privilege of meeting several other Fellows (Welcome, Kirin, Lindsay, Abigail, Tess and Sienna) all of whom were engaging and so relaxed and at home in their world. After three days in Tena, we returned to Quito for our final days. We visited Guayasamin’s Chapel of Man and Historico Centro. Then it came time to part ways with Nic. We said our goodbyes and again tears fell. Pride at what an independent and confident young man our son has grown into and sadness that our brief visit was ending. A final hug and kiss and Nic turned as we watched him slip into a crowded street and disappear. A misty rain began to fall, the mood changed and my husband, two sons and I headed back to our hotel to pack up and begin our trek back to the states and our own lives.
In a word, the visit was overwhelming. The work that GCY is doing to transform young Americans, giving them the opportunity and support to take on such a task is extraordinary. I can only imagine the ripple effect it has on all parties involved: the host families, the fellows and the fellows’ families. A lot of lives are changed through this experience. I am thankful that Nic had the courage to veer off the traditional path and allow us to live vicariously through him. I am thankful that we took advantage of the opportunity to visit him and see firsthand what his gap year has been like. I wish all the Fellows, in all three countries well as they wrap up their time and apprenticeships. The journey that began last spring with Nic’s application process to this point in time has been one like no other. Thank you, GCY, and keep up the good work!