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Alejandro Sanchez - Ecuador


June 19, 2015

‰ÛÏYou will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. This is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.‰Û – Miriam Adeney As we drove to the airport on August 20th, the only thought that raced through my mind was that I was actually leaving home. Instead of feeling excited for the adventure that would last the next eight months, I had a feeling of reluctance, as if maybe leaving home was the wrong choice after all. Starting my Global Citizen Year was a tough task. My parents just weren‰Ûªt on board from the start for two reasons. The first was that I had a great thing with St. John‰Ûªs University and they were worried that I would lose it by deferring a year. What my parents couldn’t understand, however, was that I had already received the green light from St. John‰Ûªs. They were also hesitant because it would be the first time ‰ÛÏtheir little boy‰Û would be away for an extended period of time. In total, this summed up to a difficult summer dealing with a robotics class, a calculus class, and trying to get my Global Citizen Year off the ground. Slowly but surely, their mindset changed, and they got on board with my Global Citizen Year to Ecuador. Despite all these challenges I faced that summer though, the hardest part was still having to leave my family at the airport terminal. After our first weekend in Quito, we were introduced to our ‰ÛÏtemporary‰Û host families with whom we would stay with while we were in the capital. I was fortunate enough to be placed in the Aguirre household with two loving host parents. They were immediately welcoming, as if they had known me forever. It was a great feeling to be honest. We took many trips together, everywhere fromåÊdifferent indigenous communities to the center to sight-see. They even encouraged me to see Quito with my friends, letting me in on some great places to go specifically for ‰ÛÏteenagers.‰Û My time in Quito can be summarized with two words: ‰ÛÏcomfort zone,‰Û because although I was supposed to feel a sense of distress at being in a new, foreign country (at least I thought I was supposed to), I had no such feeling. I was in Quito, a big city where they spoke Spanish – it didn‰Ûªt seem that different from New York. I left Quito on a Sunday, and just like when I left New York, the hardest part was saying goodbye to my family. I had gotten used to my mom‰Ûªs coffee in the morning before I went to Spanish classes and her cheery, ‰ÛÏCÌ_mo te fue?‰Û when I came back. I was now supposed to leave that behind for the next phase of my Global Citizen Year: the ‰ÛÏpermanent‰Û homestay. The trip from Quito to the province of Azuay was rather uneventful. Besides watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” there was only so much you could do to keep entertained for over ten hours. When we finally arrived to Cuenca, it was already dark, and the host families were waiting for us at what would be our Spanish School for the next few months. I still remember when I first introduced myself to my host mom, it was as magical as it is in the movies. I gave her a big hug, and she hugged me back. My host brother was right behind her, and even though I went in for a handshake (because I wanted to impress him with how cool I was), he hugged me as well. I didn‰Ûªt know it then, but at that moment, I had met the person who would help make this year the most transformative year of my life. As we stepped out, my dad was there in his signature yellow van, with my little sister who had apparently fallen asleep during the wait. This was my new family for the next few months, and I was so lucky to be with them. Going home was funny. Even though the ride was over an hour long and I had just come back from an excruciating trip, it didn‰Ûªt feel bad becauseåÊI got to ride shotgun with my new dad. My brother and I really hit it off as well. He was asking me all sorts of questions about myself and where I came from. I tried to act nonchalant when he asked me those questions, but inside I was overjoyed that he was curious about me. My mom and dad were more reserved, but it was fine because they still did everything to make me feel at home. When we finally did get home, I immediately fell asleep. It was a long day of travelling and my family understood so they showed me to my room, which I would share with my brother, just like I did in New York. The next day, my parents took me to the county-seed to buy a few things and show me around. While my dad was away, I began to converse with my four year old sister, who I didn’t get to formally meet since she was asleep when I arrived. It actually caught me off-guard a bit because the entire day she was completely quiet with me. I tried making her laugh, but nothing was working. She was probably wondering who this weird stranger was doing weird things around her. I took off one of my wristbands and pretended to eat it, which out of all the things I did, she found the most hilarious. I knew it was going to be interesting having a four year old sister.åÊSome days though, I‰Ûªm not gonna lie, I felt like the child, always in need of a babysitter so that I wouldn‰Ûªt mess up, but I could hardly complain about how much my family took care of me. And I knew that they were also just trying to make sure that the city-boy didn‰Ûªt hurt himself adjusting to the country-side. They found it so funny that time I couldn‰Ûªt kill a mouse that was in the cuy house because I got scared and fell off the stand (in my defense, it wasn‰Ûªt the mouse itself that scared me, it was the fact that this mouse COULD CLIMB WALLS!). From the first time I tried cuy to the time I asked my brother for ‰ÛÏteenage advice,‰Û I put my entire trust into my family, and they never disappointed. On the last Monday before I left (I left on a Wednesday), my family decided to take me to a pool in Santa Isabel as our final family event, which was about an hour and a half away. We made the trip only to find out that it was closed. My dad was bummed. He really wanted this to be our last great bash. On our way back, we stopped at a gas station to fill up, and we decided to eat there as well. To most people, dinner at the gas station is something they would never do, but for us, it was our last family bash. We spent the night talking about how the last year had gone over some chicken nuggets. We spoke about the memories we shared, the memories we created, and the memories we would never forget. On April 7th, I didn‰Ûªt sleep. I couldn‰Ûªt. I wanted to spend my last full day with the people who I have come to love. So it goes without say but, April 8th was hard. As a matter of fact, I still believeåÊthat April 8th was harder to deal with than the entire first month in my community when I didn‰Ûªt know anyone or anything because at least in that month, there wasn‰Ûªt any sentiment to anything. I returned home to New York on April 20th. I hugged my parents like if it was centuries since I had last seen them. I was ready to go back to living my old life again, except that something felt different. I don’t see New York the same way I did before I left. New York is no longer my only home, it is one of many. As I learned in my trip abroad, home isn‰Ûªt the place you sleep in that has the world‰Ûªs most comfortable toilet. I learned that home is anywhere you are surrounded by people who genuinely care for you and care about you. I learned that family is what makes home actually home.

Alejandro Sanchez