Growing Pains

Elise Rockwell - Ecuador


December 28, 2019

(Before we start, just know this blog was written over the course of a month.) 

As I think about my past 4 months in Ecuador, both a lot and a little come to mind.

Part of me feels like I have been here for no time at all, knowing I will always be a foreigner.

Yet, part of me feels as if this is the only life I have ever lived. 

Sometimes I feel like my Spanish is not improving at all and that it should be easier for me to communicate with my community than it actually is. Yet, I know that my Spanish is probably better than my French ever was. 

All the expectations I had for myself are not all coming to fruition. But I suppose this year is about changing in ways different than I necessarily expect or want. I am also realizing that I still need to put myself in uncomfortable positions if I want to challenge myself because, although a new environment can aide in changing habits, it’s still up to me to do the hard work. 

The hardest part about living abroad is knowing that you can live in a foreign country as long as you want, but it doesn’t mean you will leave with a profound change within yourself. You must open that door for change yourself. And even when you do, you have to walk through it and constantly let yourself be in the midst of discomfort and fear. And you fail, all the time, because changing habits you have known all your life goes against the typical way of existing. 

But I know I am changing in ways I cannot identify. It may very well be absurd to simply expect that I somehow speak Spanish fluently and am now the most charismatic person on the planet. But it doesn’t change the fact that while on the journey towards these goals, I feel like I am getting nowhere Because life is still life here. It is not profoundly different. I wake up and go to work, hang out with friends, have homework and a routine. I know that cycle. Now it’s just in a different country.

And maybe my disappointment is linked to my high expectations? Ya 

And maybe I’m comparing myself with the fellows in my cohort even though I know that will get me nowhere? Ya. 

But moving to a foreign country doesn’t make you immune to insecurity. Surprise, Elise!

Yet, despite my critical nature, there are changes within myself I have noticed already, changes I am both surprised and relieved by. 

For once, I am not constantly searching for myself. 

Yet, within that, I feel lost in the tides of all the chaos around me. 

What is me, what is my environment?

There are few constants here.

And is it ok,  maybe even healthy, to be free of it? of all the principles and roots I once clung to because I thought I must be something? that Identity was the only thing I could depend on. And what of it? Identity will never be constant. That is the irony after all, isn't it?

 All our lives we search for something solid. A home, a person, family, God. But all things are fluid, nothing is static. I suppose learning to move and be moved is part of what it means to be strong. To know what you don’t know, to be willing to question yourself and your beliefs, to accept that in this life we will never fully see all the truth there is. And to accept and cherish the small moments of steadiness when you can. I’m sure there’s a quote I could pull from Aristotle or some other philosopher concerning such things.  

Within the ocean, one must work with the waves. One cannot survive simply by staying still.

As this Christmas passes, I look back on my life at home. 

For some reason I have this skill which for the most part has made me immune to home sickness, as every new destination simply is my new home, and, ironically, despite all the comparisons I tend to make, none of them usually affect how I am present within an environment. 

When I tell people of the stories of how I cried when I left camp, or when we left that dinky ski cabin / worker’s lodge in the Czech Republic, they tend to be surprised and amused. I used to be proud of that, to think I was above some natural human instinct to miss home. In fact, my pride was based a lot on “being above” human emotion, which is laughable now. Reiterating once again why this year has been important. 

Because on my trip to Riobamba with my family, I found myself in an emotional wave. In a home, away from home (Imbabura), away from home home (U.S). With a family, who, although beyond sweet and caring, are not truly my family. And on top of that, getting sick (in typical Elise fashion) on Christmas day made me feel a little like the odd duckling. Which I suppose is an apt metaphor considering I am in fact odd in these contexts as a foreigner. 

Moreover, I looked at the constant discomforts in my life here.

After all the stress I put on myself for thinking that I am not as uncomfortable as I should be, for thinking I wasn’t “suffering enough,” I came to the realization that when I return home, part of me will exhale a long held breadth I never even realized I was holding in the first place. 

Everyday I am uncomfortable, but now I am just used to it. Sometimes I can push myself more. Other times I let myself cling to the comforts I have. Because, with my nerves, the little things can take more energy than it would for someone else. And I believe that is okay. 

I am strong. I went through back surgery to understand that. 

But my strength is quiet. It’s not roaring as in heroic tales nor the most entertaining. But it’s persistent, resilient, as I hope I am. 

At this point in my life, I have learned to understand discomfort in the same way I understand my physical discomfort. There is not a day I go without discomfort and pain in my back. Yet, that never stops me from doing what I want or need because I can’t let the pain dictate my actions. I am more than my twisted spine and more than the metal which binds it back in place. I am more than discomfort.

Similarly, in order to grow, one must accept the discomfort that comes from entering a new territory and exiting the old. Growing pains are a natural step in the process of change.  

 All this to say, I am happy here. And I think it’s ok that I’m not perfect. 

And, as I told myself, half of my year abroad would be challenging myself. One of those challenges is self acceptance. The biggest one I would say. Larger than learning Spanish or suddenly becoming an extrovert. 

And if that’s the one challenge I can overcome, I have a feeling the rest will be easy.



Some photos over the past couple months:





Elise Rockwell