Seven months ago when I left behind my comfortable life in Chapel Hill for the first time, I left behind a community of friends and family that I had known for practically my whole life. I was on the brink of an experience that would alter me in ways that I previously could never have imagined, and that would, undoubtedly, push my sense of family and my sense of home beyond the well-defined boundaries of Chapel Hill.
As I sit here in Archidona, my time left in Ecuador diminishing at an alarmingly quick rate, all I can think about is the love. The love I feel from my fellow Fellows, the love I feel from my Quito family, the love I feel from my Runa coworkers, the love I feel from my community in Alto Tena, the love I feel from my Archidona family. I am awed by how large my family and community has grown, surpassing state and national lines and blending all sorts of cultures and personalities. My world has grown infinitely larger and more diverse than it once was and I have gotten a taste of just how unique the hodgepodge of people that inhabit it are.
Perhaps the most crucial lesson I have learned here in Ecuador is that people are the absolute most important thing. Before coming here, I lacked that realization and often took the people in my life for granted. I was obsessed with defining my own independence and refused to believe that I relied so heavily on the support and love of my family and friends. I now see that the relationships and connections we form with others, no matter how complex or temporary, define the collection of experiences that make up our lives. The laughs we share, the conversations, the cries, the emotions, the fights, the stories, even the accidental eye contact made with strangers: it is all meaningful. We are interconnected in a way that often feels surreal to me.
Leaving Ecuador in a month will be the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do. I don’t think that I am ready to leave behind the family, the friends, the home I have made here, the sense of me that I have created for myself here. I am trying my best not to dwell on the heartbreak I will feel and am instead trying to focus on all that I have gained from my time here; this family and this community I have formed make it all worth it. Though distance will separate us, I have no doubt that I will still feel the love.