Moving Forward

Maddi Schink - Ecuador


May 23, 2019

April 13, 2019 I returned to Colorado. For months, I had harbored this idea of returning “home.” It was glamorized in my head, a moment when I imagined once again being enveloped with instantaneous comfort. No more language struggles, no more stares, no more standing out in a crowd. Toward the end of my time in Ecuador, I thought I was more than ready to say my goodbyes and pack my bags, but after I got on a plane and watched Quito slip from my view, tears streaming down my cheeks, I realized that Ecuador in some ways had become my home just as much as the house and family that I was returning to in the United States. 

 

While I have enjoyed returning to the comforts of my life in Colorado, I would be lying if I said that my transition back “home has been easy. In all honesty, it has been more challenging than I expected. There are countless moments in my day when I am flooded with an intense longing to see my little host sister, Sami, play with my host family’s puppiesrun to the top of the mountain in Gallo Rumi, tell my host grandma, Carmen, about my day, or walk down the streets of Cuenca. It felt disorienting to wish Sami a happy birthday and learn that the family dog had gone missing over text when I couldn’t just take the bus home to help set up for the birthday party or search for Max. English now sounds dull to my ears and I crave Spanishconversation. I find myself filling my head with Spanish words, turning on the subtitles when I am watching a movie, and reading what books I have access to in Spanish. I miss the simpleness of my day in Ecuador, the slower pace of life that allowed for time to paint, journal, and relax while still feeling purposeful and productive. Beyond the nostalgia, powerful waves of guilt often hit me at any point in my day when I take a moment to compare my reality with the reality of the Ecuadorian family and community members I left behind. My head and heart struggle with the concept of privilege and the inherent privilege I have to carry a U.S. Passport and reside in the suburbs of Fort Collins, Colorado. Every problem that I saw and faced in Ecuador was only part of my reality for a finite amount of time. The truth was that eventually I would be allowed to leave, to escape what I was witnessing, while those I cared for in Ecuador would continue to battle with those strugglesThis is not to say that everything in the United States is perfect and that we do not deal with many of the same issues as Ecuador, however returning home has only highlighted the large disparities in quality of life and the system of inequality and oppression that will continue to impact communities like Gallo Rumi more than it will ever affect my primarily white hometown. 

 

During our re-entry training, Global Citizen Year warned us of the challenges of reverse cultural shock we might face once we returned home. Nestled safely away from civilization in the California Redwoods, it was easy to push that potential problem aside. It was not until several weeks later, when I could not shake the daze that plagued my transition home, that I realized I was experiencing difficulties assimilating to the life I once had. I was unable to just pick up where I left off. Friendships were different. My perspective on my home community had changed. I appreciated some things more and was tired of others. Certain activities were no longer appealing while other new habits from my time in Ecuador became my priority. A drive through a new housing development in my area left me near tears as inevitable comparisons ran through my mind. I gritted my teeth in frustration at the problems that I found my peers complaining about. The sheer size of the streets, the variety at the grocery stores, the waste and consumerism unsettled me. Family members saw these changes and did their best to accommodatebut it took time to reveal the new person within who I myself was still trying to figure outEven now I have not yet uncovered all of the ways in which I have been shaped by my nine months in Ecuador. I know that at my core, I am the same but the way in which I approach the world is not. I am careful with how and when I share stories, slowly dispersing them amongst friends and family when all I really want to do is sit them all down and share every last detail so that some relief of being understood might finally come my way. Once I realized that no one may ever truly be able to relate to my experience, it left me with, at first, intense feelings of loneliness“No one gets it” dominated my mentality but with time, I was able to switch my outlook to one of gratitude. I now recognize how incredibly lucky I am to have experienced something that is so uniquely my own that I can hold on to forever. And I am not alone. I have my cohort and amazing friendships through other Fellows that I can lean on when I am in need of people who just “get it,” and I fully plan on supporting them in the same way for the rest of my life. 

 

At this point there is no closure, no pretty ribbon to tie it all up. I have decided that I cannot spend my time trying to live in the past because my life in Ecuador is thousands of miles away, but at the same time, I am not ready to move on. This past year was easily the most important of my entire life, so I do not want to slip back into a normal life in which I do not think about what I learned from my days in Gallo Rumi. Instead, I want to carry the experiences, knowledge, friendships, and personal growth that I gained in Ecuador with me every day, not as a burden but rathera reminder of who I want to be, how I want to treat others with compassion, and how I want to be an agent of positive change. 

 

As I get ready to attend Colorado College in the fall, my goal is to gather the confidence I will need to share my unique perspective on campus. As someone who tends to contribute more through listening and observing than vocalizing thoughts and ideas, this will be challenging but I owe it to all of the people who gave me this opportunity and all of the people who opened their hearts to me in Ecuador, to responsibly add their voices to the conversation. I am ready to look back at my time in Ecuador with joy and pride and gratitude instead of drowning in feelings of nostalgia, to turn my memories from debilitating to empowering. To me, this is not moving on, but moving forward. It is actively acknowledging and appreciating my past while remaining committed to living my life in the present. I don’t know that I will ever master this process but I am taking steps every day to move forward with Ecuador by my side. 


As this is my final blog post, I am requesting your support one more time in raising money for the Global Citizen Year scholarship fund so that students in years to come can afford a transformative gap year experience. The comprehensive financial aid GCY offered me is something that I always will be grateful for because it made this year a reality. 

If you donate any amount, I will send you a digital copy of an Andean plant guide I made as my Final Community Project in collaboration with an indigenous medicine woman named Vicenta in my Ecuadorian community. It details around 50 native plants in the high-altitude zones of Ecuador and their medicinal properties and traditional uses.

Visit this site to donate if you are interested!

https://donate.globalcitizenyear.org/fundraiser/1444591

Thank you all for supporting and following me throughout this journey, I could not have done it without you. Please enjoy this short video with some of my favorite pictures from the year! 

Con amor❤️,

Maddi

Maddi Schink