Have I Changed?

Elizabeth Ollila - Ecuador


January 7, 2018

A quick snapshot of me right now: I am sitting in a crowded bus next to an old Ecuadorian man who sells fruit by hopping from one bus to the next hoping its riders are hungry. I'm on my way home from the city two hours from my town. It has been 3 days since I've showered, I am wearing a tshirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a bun on the top of my head with no makeup and earbuds that give me the perfect amount of home that I need and blur out the Spanish around me. It is storming outside, and the bus is bumpily riding through the mountains and in and out of clouds of fog (that hopefully don't block me from seeing the gravel road that is my bus stop). These moments have become my normal, but just months ago they were unimaginable.


I lost a few really important people in my life this summer through life events and the death of my grandma, and then just a couple months later I left my family and friends and everything that I knew–every comfort I had except for the things that would fit in my two suitcases. I came here without the people that meant the most to me–in fact, I came without anyone. I came without any knowledge of what was in store and without the ability to communicate in a language that I know. I came here scared out of my mind. But I guess the cliché is true, and sometimes you have to lose a lot to find yourself.

I have heard more times than I can recount that this year abroad is going to change me and my life. THIS is the way to find yourself, they say. And I realize that I've been waiting for that big change. I've been waiting for those crazy stories or dumb mistakes that lead me to my biggest passion or most impactful lesson. However, after about 5 months I've come to learn that the learning doesn't always present itself wrapped in fear or laughs with a big glowing "this is a lesson" sign glued to the top. It might sound obvious, but I still find myself expecting those moments. Instead, the learning comes in what one of my brilliant friends refers to as "the inbetweens." They come in the daily routines and small conversations; they come in making a life completely different than my old life my normal.

The word change is funny because I don't know if I've changed, rather I've improved (or I like to think so). I've gained real confidence–not the "I'm confident enough to wear this outfit" or the "I'm the best person in the world" kind of confidence, but the kind of confidence that makes me truly believe that I can do absolutely anything. The kind of confidence that makes me be exactly me and not excuse it in any way. I've battled, for a long time, finding confidence that was strong enough for me to believe, and 5 months in Ecuador has given me more than anything else.

I've learned how to live in the moment because thinking too much can be dangerous. I've got a lot to fear in the future and a lot to waste time thinking about in the past, and I've learned that life is best when you ignore both and soak in the dancing or colors or learning that is around you right in that moment. I've learned how much I hate the saying "the best is yet to come" because why are you wasting time waiting?

I've learned that you can think about doing something for a really long time, and that actually achieves nothing. Take the leap and do it. Stop forming the Spanish sentence in your head for the 11th time and just say it. The worst thing that happens is you make absolutely no sense and then we can all laugh.

When you are so far away from so many things, you learn what you really love, and not a dang thing on my list of loves/things I miss costs money (okay, that's a lie–IP3 pizza–so let's say nothing costs more than $15).

I'm still waiting for my biggest passion to expose itself with that flashing sign because, if anything, I now know less about what I want to do with my life since being here. I have always joked that I want to live 3 lives because there are so many different paths that I want to take, but now I think I'm up to needing 5 lives to do it all.

I currently live with a family I didn't know 5 months ago and in a town that many Ecuadorians don't even know. I bus an hour and a half alone on multiple public busses, I work in a school with kids I have no training to work with, I eat animals that I once had as pets, I haven't seen my family in over 130 days, I live in a place where no one speaks the language I am comfortable with (and have gotten lost many times), and I'm trusting people who I have only known for 4 months to be my biggest support system. It sounds insane and scary, but in actuality you just take the first step and suddenly you are here.

Con amor,

Elizabeth

P.S. Just 5 short days and I get to see my family:) Sometimes I can’t believe I made it here

Leandra and I:)

Pedro and I at the Girón lookout

Our post-spanish class feasts

Tracing kids in class (the girl on the right is probably trying to hit her or pull her hair–I’m not so good at the discipline thing)

A muñeca (doll) hand made by my dad

Just because she is ridiculous and I love her

The fam on our 10 hour drive to Baños/Amazon

Sofia and I at the oldest Church in Ecuador (she is the only one that likes to pose for pictures with me)

Beautiful Cuenca

The view out my room on our trip to Baños

‘Cause they are cute (definitely a daddy’s girl)

A waterfall in the Amazon

Burning dolls in for New Year’s Eve (Año viejo/nuevo)

Elizabeth Ollila