“But are we all lost stars, trying to light up the dark?”
During Pre-Departure Training, each morning the fellows, alumni, and staff assembled at 9 am for “Day at a Glance”. “Day at a Glance” included the daily schedule, a “Speak Up”, announcements, and a warm up activity. The most meaningful warm up was on the first full day of Pre-Departure Training.
We gathered in a large circle on the basketball court, as the alumni congregated in the middle and revealed “I’m a star!” Calvin, an alumni, told us to squat down and wrap our arms around our knees. We all did, but very slowly and cautiously. Then Calvin said, “On the count of 3, you are going to jump up and scream ‘I’m a Star’ and repeat it three times. 1,2,3!” Everyone in the circle began to jump up and down screaming “I’m a Star! I’m a Star! I’m a Star!” This action reminded me of a theatre warmup called “Birds and Toads!” After everyone had finished the warm up, Calvin said “You are all going to different places all over the world. If you need a reminder that you’re not alone in the world, look up at the stars, because there will be stars no matter where you are.” At the time, the warm up seemed like a silly, fun movement to try connecting the group, not something that would actually stick with me. However, I realized how true Calvin was on my first night with my host family.
Here’s a quick a timeline of events that led up to my first night with my host family, in Quito.
Pre-departure Training in the Redwood Forest. (4 days)
Pre-departure Training at Stanford University. (3 days)
In-country Training in Quito at a hostel (2 days)
First day with my host family in Quito!
On the way to meet our host families, the butterflies in our stomachs were bouncing from seat to seat. As the bus parked, instantly I was stuck to my seat. Through the nerves, I finally descended from the bus and met my host mother, Chanchi. During the drive to her house, I nervously spoke broken Spanish and tried my best to understand her quick native tongue. At the house, I met my host dad, my two older brothers and older sister. Within two hours, I helped push their car into their garage, catch the two dogs, unpack, organize my room, and ate my first homemade Ecuadorian lunch. After lunch, my sister, Sofia, says in Spanish “Grab your thickest coat, we are going to the farm!” With the phrase “Say Yes!” in my mind, I do as she says and we all jump in the car. In two hours, we arrived at the farm. I had pictured flat land with cows, but in reality it was on the side of a very steep mountain. We walked on the steep and rocky terrain and enjoyed the magnificent views. In the near distance, the clouds looked like the skirts of the mountain tops. Quickly, it became dark and we started to go home. As we were slowly driving down the steep, rocky, one lane road, I looked up and saw the exquisiteness of the sky. The stars sparkled like diamonds. I love star gazing and this view was the brightest and the largest number of stars I had ever seen. I wanted to jump out of the car into the coldness and stare at the sky all night long. Luckily, the car ride was long and slow down the mountain, so I had time to immerse myself in the beauty of the sparkling sky. My mind began to wonder about the meaning behind “I’m a Star!” I remembered how my family and friends at home are underneath a similar sky. I wondered if any fellows across the world were having a similar experience. I felt like a speck of dust in comparison to the grand appearance of the stars. As I stargazed, I knew I had made the right decision to dive into this adventure.
However, that moment of clarity did not last long. Monday was our first day of Spanish classes, seminars, and activities in Quito. My host mom and dad showed me the directions to and from class. I was set for Tuesday, or so I had thought. On Tuesday evening, we had finished class at La Parque de Carolina. I left with full confidence that I would be home within the next 20 minutes. I crossed the street and waited for the bus. Ahead, the bus with the sign “Roldos y Olympicos” approached the stop. I rushed on the bus, paid my 25 cents and luckily found a seat. I knew the bus ride would take about 15 minutes. So, I sat and looked for landmarks that my host family told me about the day before that would indicate I was close to my stop. However, I could not find the yellow store on the corner. Soon, the bus went into a tunnel, and I knew I missed my stop. Immediately, I got off at the next stop. I’m sure I looked like a clueless puppy looking for its owner. I had lost my map on a day adventure the previous weekend, so I had no reference as to where I was. I approached two harmless looking women and asked “Dondé está la calle de Los Pinos?” They gave each other a sadden look and explained that it was very far from where I was. As they began to give directions, I realized that I couldn’t understand them and my chest tightened and my eyes watered. On the street in the middle of Quito, I started crying in front of two strangers. Once I remember my host mom, I pulled my phone out and dialed her number and handed it to the women trying to help me. Thankfully, they discussed the situation and my host mom and dad were on the way to pick me up. Even though, the situation was solved, my head was throbbing with thoughts about my decision to join this program. I told myself “What were you thinking, Brianna! How am I supposed to last 8 months in a foreign country if I can’t find my way home?” Those thoughts quickly changed when my host mom and dad approached the street. I was thrilled to see them! I ran up and gave my mother a hug, thanked the ladies and hopped into the car. I kept saying “Lo siento”, but they greeted me with open arms and kept saying they were glad that I was safe. It was strange to feel a sense of relief from two people with whom I had met previously only two days ago.
I’ve learned many important things within my first two weeks with Global Citizen Year. The contrast between feeling inflated by the gorgeous stars to feeling deflated on the streets of Quito, is a sample of the many ups and downs I will face this year. I know that when I get lost in Ecuador again, I will have the comfort of knowing that those brilliant stars are somewhere above me and I’ll remember how my friends and family in Ecuador and in Estados Unidos will be with me under those same stars.