I would not have done it. Had I known what the last year of my life had in store for me, I would not have gotten on the plane at the end of August.
Had I known that I would live in a city made of cement, I would not have gone.
Had I known how disoriented and lost I would feel, I would not have gone.
Had I known that I would be working in an office rather than hiking through the jungle, or living in the countryside, or playing with monkeys or swimming in rivers, I would not have gone.
Had I known men would cat call me every. single. day. I would not have gone.
Had I known how often I would fall asleep to the sound of a car alarm, or be woken up at 4 am by a taxi honking, I would not have gone.
Had I known how often I would consume rice, I would not have gone.
Had I known how hard it would be to spend Christmas away from my family, I would not have gone.
Had I known that leaving meant losing my first love, I would not have gone.
Had I known that I would break my computer with an avocado, and consequently feel monumentally stupid and irresponsible, I would not have gone.
Had I known that I would have to stare some of my deepest personal demons in the face, like depression, a deeply rooted body image issue, and unhealthy coping habits, I would not have gone.
Had I known that I would not just be stepping away from my life for a bit and stepping back into it with some great stories, but changing the direction of it completely, I would not have gone.
Had I known how lonely, homesick and sad I would sometimes feel, I would not have gone.
I did not quite grasp how intense the experience would be for me. I learned how to express myself in Spanish, which was a tremendous feeling. I am able to sustain conversations about abortion, gay marriage, women’s rights and my personal human experience. I developed a global consciousness. I am fully aware now that my life does not exist in a vacuum, and that what I do in this world and how I choose to live affects other people, other lives, and other countries. I became part of a family, complete with small annoyances, daily life together, shared meals, tears, laughs, fights and unconditional love. I helped open my host mother’s eyes about homosexual relationships. She helped me learn how to love people with my whole heart, as she does. I have accepted that pain is part of life, and we cannot run from it or try to numb it. We must sit with it, get to know it, welcome it. And that doing so helps us invite immense joy and love into our hearts. I bonded with my father, who is the only person from home that was able to visit me in Ecuador. He was able to share a part of my life that is so precious, so painful and so utterly transformative, and our relationship has been taken to a new level because of it. I developed relationships with Andean farmers, and came to see them and respect them not as “Andean farmers,” but simply, beautifully as fellow human beings. I realized that I am passionate on the deepest level of myself about sustainable agriculture, and good food, both healthy for the body and soul. I was resilient through incredibly painful moments, and I learned how to love myself. No longer do I measure my worth by my grades, or how my accomplishments compare to those of others, or how fast I can run a mile, but by how much support I can offer to my friends, how much love and gratitude I feel, and how Alive I am. I do not believe as I once did that the way I look and the size of my pants has anything to do with my value as a person. I feel at home within myself, aware at my very core that I can trust myself, rely on myself, and that I will always, always love myself. I built some of the most smashingly beautiful, supportive, profound friendships of my life. I realized that hiking and spending time outside isn’t something that I just kind of like to do when I’m not too busy studying, but something that makes me feel alive in a way that nothing else can. My love for Utah and it’s abundance of beauty and lovely people is stronger than ever. I actively practice gratitude, taking time every day to acknowledge 3 things that I am thankful for. I am now, in fact, so genuinely grateful for my beautiful life… my supportive and loving family, the friends that change my heart, my health, the boundless opportunities that present themselves to me, excellent food, good books, heartfelt music, biking, hiking, green leaves, snow on the mountains, goat cheese, comfortable sheets, running, the feeling of sunshine on my skin, the kind words of a friend, human connection, hummus, sunsets, love and life and deep breaths.
The last year of my life was not at all what I expected it to be. It was different from anything else I have ever done, and contains some of the most excruciating moments of my life. It contains some of the most dazzling, vibrant, love-filled ones as well. Never have I felt so grounded and safe in my own mind and skin. I am more loving, more patient, more directed, and more appreciative than I was a year ago.
The last year shook me to my core; it gutted me. And all I could do was lean into that- I let myself be gutted and cut up inside. I let it open me.