First-Month Experiences

Lauren Holt - Ecuador

January 15, 2013

Everyday holds something different here. Since I’ve been in Imbabura, no day has been the same. With each day comes a new experience; something new is learned, a challenge is faced, an obstacle is overcome, a bond is created with a new person, or a laugh or two is passed.

The simplest things now mean the most, especially when I’m having a hard day because I miss my family or because I’m homesick. For me, some of those things are painting my nails or buying shoes that don’t necessarily scream “gringa.” I’ve found that doing things that make me feel like me are good. At one point, I think I felt a sense of identity loss. With everything going on – adjustments, speaking only Spanish, and learning how to adapt – you can forget who you are at the end of the day. I was totally outside of my comfort zone for 24 hours of every single day of the week and it got tiring, and I’ll admit a little depressing. Doing things that made me feel “me” again were rewarding and I’ve learned to do that more. I’m still customizing my new room by putting up pictures and quotes on a blank wall, hanging objects from my windowsill, and filling my room with my things. It’s starting to feel more like my room.

After receiving a new family at the beginning of November, I’m starting over. It was another adjustment, another change, and another time of feeling out-of-place, but I have much more confidence in myself and in my placement in Zuleta now. I have two host sisters, one who lives in Quito during the week because she goes to University there, and one younger host brother. My host dad lives in Quito during the week with my sister and has a job there, and both come home on the weekends. My host mom lives and works here in Zuleta, so she’s with us every day of the week. I had met them before moving in with them and immediately felt welcome; their house was homey and filled with a “family” vibe that I had been craving and missing. Every day is something new with my new family, and while I know it’s going to be great, I’m still in the adjustment process. It’s hard starting over again – I want to be grounded here in Zuleta, but I have to be patient with time, and for me that’s one of the toughest challenges.

I’ve been building an “inspiration” wall in my room, the wall with the pictures and quotes at the foot of my bed. Some of the quotes are things written by my family, friends, and Fellows from Fall Training. I’ve taped pictures up, added color to brighten things up, and I plan to keep adding more as the year goes on! One of my quotes says “this will be the time of your life,” and though it’s anonymous, I thank that person everyday for writing it.

Whoever they are, whoever wrote me that note, they were right.

This year is about growing; it’s about being outside of your comfort zone, learning another language, adjusting, making connections, and I’m learning that it’s okay to feel sad or to feel homesick. Every emotion that we feel, we’re feeling for a reason. They are part of our year here and embracing those emotions is part of the process – a form of coping almost. Every morning I am able to look outside my window and see the snow-capped mountain, Cayambe, with its white top glistening in the sunlight. I have cows in my front yard. I walk to school every morning on the rocky-roads that trail through the mountains. I live in an indigenous community in the rural mountains of Ecuador. When else in my life am I going to be able to experience any of that? I fantasized throughout high school about doing something like this and here I am doing it. While some days have definitely been the hardest days of my short life, the good days always seem to outweigh the bad.  I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything because even though it can be hard, I know we’re all going to come out of it so much stronger.

I’m learning how to be me here. When you are taken outside of your comfort zone, when everything that is familiar is stripped from your life, you have yourself to rely on. I’m learning what’s important to me, what I value and what I believe, and I’m learning how to be independent. In a way, it’s refreshing to live here. It’s different from the United States, in the obvious ways, but in some hidden ways too. These people work to live, something we were told from the very beginning. Families are content to work in the field all day because it means putting food on the table for dinner that night. While it can be a challenge to realize, there is more to life here than work and school. One morning as I was walking to school, one of my students walked past me in the opposite direction of school. “Where are you going?” I asked her, “Are you coming to school?” She smiled and replied “After I drop off the milk to my grandma’s house.” She was late to school that morning, but that didn’t seem to faze anyone. It was normal; people have other duties outside of school, some that take priority over school, which is hard for me to realize.

At some point, I realize I just need to accept challenges I face. I lean back on the positives, listing them in my head constantly. I think about how far I’ve come, geographically and educationally, how much I’ve loved my time in Ecuador, the life-long connections I have made with some people, the amount of Spanish I’m able to speak, and the magnitude of this opportunity. Even though I’m still adjusting, even though I’m not fully connected to Zuleta yet, I can say with confidence that one day I will be. The hardest part is waiting for that day to come, but if I didn’t have challenges to work through or obstacles to overcome, I wouldn’t be learning anything. It’s hard but I am thankful for every challenge that has been presented to me so far because it makes me realize that much more that hey, I can do this.

Lauren Holt