As our plane descended 37,000 feet down from the clouds into the capital city of Quito, I was struck with an obvious thought: “this is my first time in Ecuador.” (duh). It was my first time outside the United States, so of course this was my first time in Ecuador. However, as a person with little travel experience, I had blindly expected to feel somehow different when I landed in a different country. Exactly how I would be different- I didn’t know, but I anticipated a change inside of me, (and I’m not only talking about my GI tract).
I had expected that everything would feel new:
Perhaps my breathing would change; this wasn’t American air, this was Ecuadorian Air, which meant my American lungs were now taking an Ecuadorian Breath.
Perhaps my heartbeat would automatically slow down to adjust to the more relaxed Ecuadorian lifestyle, so contrary to that of the fast-paced United States.
Perhaps I’d automatically start speaking, thinking, and even dreaming in Spanish.
As you have probably guessed by now, none of this occurred. Even my first sneeze in Ecuador, which occurred approximately 20 seconds after our plane touched down, was exactly the same. Trust me- “ACHOO” is part of a universal language.
Throughout my first week in Ecuador, in this country that is, by nature, different and new to me, I have found an unexpected amount of comfort in the fact that I am still the same person. I’m still me, a girl from suburban Kentucky, with all of the experiences I have gained from spending the vast majority of the past 17 years of my life there. Even though everything around me has changed, I have not. All that I was back home, I am also here, just expressed through different words and labels. (e.g. “gringo”).
So, if there is one insight I can take away from my few experiences so far in Ecuador, it’s this: the simple act of traveling to a different country does not fundamentally change you; the change comes from what you make of your time while there.