Hi there Dani!
So you’re just about ready to leave for Ecuador. You’ve got a backpack stuffed to the brim with clothes, ambitions, and expectation. I hope you’re enjoying your clean clothes, because in just a few months every single article will have become a dwelling for an impressive amount of bed bugs. Also you can tell Mom you were right, you have more than enough underwear.
Oh gosh are you in for a ride. You think you understand that hard times lie ahead, but you have no idea to the extent in which you will be pushed. But how could you? There is no way for you to know that losing your innocence the second time hurts even more than the first. I know you understand that you’re probably not going to change the world, but you fail to grasp how hard it is to make any impact at all. You will realize in time that the best you can do is to ensure that your community is no worse off than when you arrived. A few months later you will learn to accept this.
You already know you’re lucky, but did you know that you won the lottery? It’s true. You’ll come to understand that Santa only comes to those who can afford him. You’ll see that clean teeth, clean skin, and clean hair is not an implied right of all people. Exercise, personal space, and choosing what you eat are all terms that cannot be found in the vocabulary of the poor. You are going to learn that most of what you thought you were entitled to as a human is actually a luxury.
It’s not going to be easy. The lows will gnaw at your soul. You’ll have nights where you will question your role both here in Ecuador, as well as in the world. You will struggle to be understood while speaking a language that’s not your own, and living a culture that contradicts much of your upbringings. You’ll crave Japanese food and chocolate covered pretzels so badly that you’ll actually start to dream about plates of them being delivered to your bed by Ryan Gosling. And yes, hate to break it to you, but you will indeed gain a lot of weight. In fact, you will gain so much weight that you will be forced to buy a pair of Ecua-jeans. That’s right; in just a few months you will be sporting “jeggings” with no butt pockets and rinestoned zippers. I know you won’t believe me when I say this, but they quickly become your favorite pair of pants.
Still, despite your struggles, you will never regret taking a bridge year, and rightfully so. You have undoubtedly matured and grown in immeasurable ways. You understand the virtue of sharing. You’re okay with making a fool of yourself. You recognize truths about the way the developing world works, no matter how ugly they may be. You have taught hundreds of kids about sexual and reproductive health, as well as trained eight teachers on how to approach these themes in their own classrooms. You are more patient, more intentional, and gosh your stomach can handle just about anything. Your host family will surprise you time and time again with the veracity of their love. You will carry these experiences, whether they were the ones that made you feel hopeless or the ones that crammed your heart with joy, with you for the rest of your life.
So go forth young Dani. You’ve got a lot ahead of you, but you are going to be just fine. Try and remember the tide always changes. I would tell you to be more diligent with your journaling and savor the chocolate your parents send you, but we both know that isn’t going to happen.
As for me, in just a few months I’ll be off on our next adventure: college. I’ve heard it’s a whole new beast filled with exams, ramen noodles, and foam parties. Don’t worry though; I’m confident we’re well prepared.
Take care of yourself,