I’ve officially hit the five month mark. With two months left, I want to reflect upon the two things that I appreciate more than anything: my host family and my family back home.

It was Christmas Eve. I was in the midst of scrambling to finish my nine college applications after I got rejected by Brown on December 12th. I sat down for our nightly “aguita” (tea) when my host family said to me, “Tenemos que tocar en un evento de turismo este domingo – necesitamos que aprendas algunas canciones en la zampoña para que puedas tocar con nosotros.” My host family needed me to learn four songs on the pan flute in just a few days so that we could play at a tourism event. My first thought was hell no, I’ve got a ton of essays to write by that day; I don’t have the time to learn and rehearse these four songs enough to feel comfortable playing in front of actual people. Before I had the chance to translate that thought into Spanish, I had the zampoña in my hand and was learning “Sueños de Amor” (it’s by the band Maya Andina, you all should definitely check it out).

The following few days consisted of family jam sessions starting just after aguita time and lasting well past midnight. Looking back, those late rehearsals have blurred together into a single hazy memory of laughter and love. At some point, we nailed all the songs and were ready to play that Sunday. But more importantly, something clicked within the family. Whether it was the work of Inti, the Incan sun god, or the power of music, I came out of that week no longer feeling like a guest in the Guaman Zurita family.

Since then, I’ve spent more time with them than ever – hours sitting on the floor of my sisters’ bedroom destroying Johanna in chess, hiking in Cajas with my host mom and aunt, and playing card games with all of the siblings.

In one of my previous blog posts, I explained that, until that point, I had measured my success this year by the deliberate personal growth I had undergone. However, I acknowledged that personal growth should not be a motivation for spending time abroad, and that I hoped to leave Ecuador most proud of the relationships I formed rather than the growth I experienced. Now, I know I’m still growing and changing in all the right ways, but I have shifted my focus to my host family. I know I’ll leave here cherishing my relationship with them above all else.

Throughout all of this, I haven’t stopped thinking about my family back home. I always thought that homesickness would kick in during the absence of positivity in my current situation; the moments where there isn’t a whole lot going for me. But that couldn’t be further from reality. As you all might have guessed, I’ve been loving nearly every minute of it here. It seems the more I enjoy myself, though, I miss my family more than ever. I don’t yet fully understand that paradox – maybe it’s that I want to be sharing these experiences with the people I care about most? Or that I’m eager to share the newest version of me with them?

Whatever the explanation is, my situation remains the same. It sucks that waiting it out – while doing my best to stay present – is what I have to do. The hardest part is that I don’t know how to convey to them what they mean to me. How do I express my feelings to them over the phone? I don’t have the words to explain the homesickness that has surged.

This connects to an overarching theme I’ve been coming to understand as the end of my time here grows near: I will never be able to demonstrate how much this experience has changed and shaped me to the people back home – a series of stories and photos is not enough to encapsulate all that I have felt and learned. While I haven’t been able to express to my family the homesickness I have felt, I think the closest I’ll get to expressing my learning is with them. Whenever I call them, they lend me their open ears and empathetic hearts, and they have supported me immensely throughout what I have undergone thus far.

But what about the parts that I haven’t successfully conveyed to them? What about all the other people with whom I can only scratch the surface?

I am still developing my thoughts on all of this, but I keep coming back to one answer: I will be the only person who will fully understand this experience. On the one hand, that gives me ownership of this experience; that this is for me and nobody else. But since it has been so formative for me, it’s sad that nobody else will understand all of it.

Thinking back to when Jack came home two years ago, I’ve found clarity. He was still the witty, pensive, sarcastic, and insightful Jack that we had always loved, but he had grown in all the right ways. The empathy for others, understanding of the world, appreciation for family, and wisdom he developed to a whole new level were obvious. I didn’t need to know everything that he experienced in Ecuador to understand the gravity of his time here and to admire all that he had become – I think that, deep down, this is what inspired me to make this journey.

So, when I get back, I’m not going to try to explain every last detail of my time in Ecuador. I’ll take comfort in the fact that I will be a better person for those around me, and that will say enough.

Bringing this back to the context of my family, I’m going to try to not dwell too much on my homesickness. I’m going to be aware of how much I miss them, but my time here isn’t done. For now, I’ll make the most of these last two months with my host family and absorb all that Ecuador has to offer.

On April 11th, I will return home. I will understand the importance my family holds in my life, I will tear down the adolescent wall that high school formed between us, and, above all, I will be a better son and brother to those who have always given me their full love and support.

Here's a pic from my camping trip in Cajas with Luke and Buddy. In my next post I'll upload a bunch of photos from my independent travel on the coast, in the Amazon, and more from the camping trip.