A Good Stretch Before Growth

Christobal Urquiaga


January 26, 2015

To remove one’s self from a culture and language in which one has known their entire life and place themselves into a culture and language in which they have very little knowledge of (let alone experience with), takes a lot of strength. As the Team Leaders have told us numerous times, we must be prepared for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and that this year will put you in your stretch zone to help discover your true self.
I remember hearing this over and over and simply thinking, “We get it, it’s a hard year. We’re not in Kansas anymore.” With all movie quotes aside, I truly thought I had a grasp on what I was diving into. I came into the program with a few ideas of what I wanted to get out of this experience: I wanted to find who I am. College apps keep asking the questions of “Who are you” and “What do you want to become”, and while I can simply create a multitude of characters from scratch for video games, I couldn’t simply create myself in real life. So I came in expecting to put myself though these challenges to find Who I am.
What I did not expect were the actual challenges that were presented in front of me. I live in a very beautiful, but small town called Cosanga in the Napo region of Ecuador. My family is very poor and my father has a terminal disease and cannot walk without some kind of assistance. To get to my apprenticeship, I must walk three km (two miles) uphill where I wash dishes and help the ladies cook for eight+ hours a day. And if all this was not enough, factor in the language that I don’t speak: Spanish.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m complaining or that I don’t like this, I simply didn’t expect it. Sure, it’s alot of work and it’s challenging, but it’s what I want. I Live in the Lungs of the World. I live in the city in which there is the most diverse bird type per square meter in the world. I live with a family who has a mother who wakes up at 4amto go and milk the cows and spends all day working to only come home and cook dinner for a family of five. I have a father who simply sits outside our house all day and watches the town and sings and enjoys life even with a terminal disease. I work at a very prestigious lodge and spend my time washing plates, learning Spanish, cracking jokes, and learning how to cook for my future novias (girlfriends). And best of all, I’m filled with love no matter what I’ve done or what has happened in the past. The people don’t care what I did back in the States, they accept me for who I am, and while they may not approve of my massive beard, they approve of me and don’t consider me just another gringo, but a part of their family.
So while it’s only been three months, and I still have five more months ahead of me, I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more alive and more connected with myself than I am right now. It hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows all the time; there have been the rough days of getting lost because I didn’t know the bus schedule, not knowing enough Spanish to understand what the ladies are asking me to do and getting frustrated, and simply dealing with a different culture in a different country. However, those are the moments that the Team Leaders were talking about. Those are the Moments of stretching that helps us find our true selves. And I think I’m getting closer to answering those question of Who I Am.
But in the words of Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky, kid.”

Christobal Urquiaga