I’ve reached the halfway marker of our program, and now I feel a mix of emotions churning inside of me. This bittersweet milestone made me appreciate how far I’ve come since I stepped off the plane at Quito, and that my homecoming is not too far off. But I also realized how limited my time here is and how I will miss all of the things, big and small, interesting and annoying, that shaped my experience. We’re all still so far off from April 7th but already I feel the nostalgia. Everything from the stunning views of the Andes when I take the bus back from my Spanish classes in Cuenca to the “Papas” truck that goes around my community, selling its wares at 8:00pm through the megaphone attached to its roof. I think most of all though I’ll miss all of the people I’ve met here, both Fellows and community members. Amazing people whom I never would have met if I had went off to college instead.
My apprenticeship was very challenging and forced me to work harder that I had ever before. I found that I had little time to myself, but when I did I discovered a lot of things about myself. I know it sounds super-cheesy, but it’s true. I asked myself questions I never would have thought of otherwise because of all the unique situations I was placed in. Being so far outside your comfort zone forces you to do so, and I found myself questioning my identity more than anything. I never stared at the ceiling and literally asked it: “Who am I?” The thoughts came to me in a more subtle manner. Surrounded by a totally different environment, lifestyle, culture and language, I asked myself: What’s my ultimate goal for this year? What really matters to me, what do I stand for?
The answers to those questions represent my identity. My thoughts, my actions, my goals and dreams. And in a more deterministic sense the experiences I’ve had leading up to this moment in my life. I represent my family, my ethnic background, this program, my generation and so much more.
Just as all of these things are a part of me, I realized that I have become part of them. Here, I stepped away from the spectator’s box a while ago but never realized that I was a player on the field like everyone else I have met this year. My host family, my work partners, my neighbor Willy. My fellow teachers and my students. The Father from the church, the friend I met while working on the fields. I am just as much a part of their journey in life as they are in mine, and knowing that I’ve shared so many moments with these new people in my life fills me with a joy I cannot describe.
It was here, at this marker that I understood the power of true connection from one human being to another. This single realization made my decision back in late March worth all of it. I struggled quite a bit in my apprenticeship and my community and dealt with some very uncomfortable and challenging experience. Despite this, I wouldn’t trade a single tear or drop of sweat for the life I would’ve had otherwise.