A Clearer View

Isabel Burns - Ecuador


September 19, 2013

The first day that I got onto a bus in Quito, something seemed off. It wasn’t that no one looked like me, or that I couldn’t understand anyone around me. It wasn’t the fact that I was clutching my bag out of terror that someone would slash it if I looked away for even a second. It wasn’t even the fact that the door was, for some reason, open the whole ride. No, as I looked over many heads to see the city fly by out the window, I realized what it was. I could see over heads! I could be in a crowd and see out the window! In Ecuador, I was tall!

The next day, when I met my host family, I realized this was not a unique phenomenon. I was the tallest member of my new family by a solid inch. The more Ecuadorians I meet, the more I see that I am above average especially for a woman.  For someone who comes in an inch under the average in the United States, this was a new phenomenon that was completely foreign and totally enjoyable.

Many of our traits are defined by comparison to those around us. You’re only a good athlete as long as you’re better than everyone else. You’re only funny until someone comes along who makes everyone laugh more. I’ve lived in one place my whole life, with the same friends since I was in 3rd grade. My traits, as defined by the company I’m in, were set in stone. There was no question in my mind about who I was in regards to how I interact with others.

Suddenly, I’ve been dropped into a new culture, with a kind of people and language. In Ecuador, I’m tall. In Ecuador, I am not sarcastic and funny, because I don’t speak enough Spanish to use humor like that. And so the challenge becomes this: How do I stay true to myself in a culture where the way I behave and look doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to?

It’s not going to be easy. But that’s when we learn the most, isn’t it? One of my goals in Global Citizen Year is to try and spend more time reflecting inward on myself, something I don’t often have time for. But I believe that I will be better for it. If I come back and behave the same way, I will at least have a clearer understanding of how my actions are interpreted. Like seeing out the window of the bus when I’m used to seeing heads, I have a new perspective, and I plan to make the most of it.

Isabel Burns