My Capstone (Where I’m at Post-Ecuador)

It’s hard for me to believe that I left Ecuador almost two months ago. As I sit in my house in the United States writing this blog post, everything still feels a little weird. I spent the last seven months creating this second life for myself halfway across the globe. Then, on April 3rd, I had to say goodbye to what had become my new normal. Never again would I be this version of myself in the context of Ecuador. I am no longer an everyday member of the Farinango family. I am no longer an intern at Fundación Arupo. And I am no longer in Ecuador.

Since my return to the United States, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences from the last year. Sometimes, these experiences seem distant and unreal; my life in the United States and my life in Ecuador are just so different. Other times, my memories of Ecuador fill me with nostalgia and gratitude, as I long to return to my second home.

However, through my roller coaster of emotions, one thing has remained clear: I have changed. Now, I know this sounds clichéd, but it’s true. I feel different. I am more excited to learn with a new passion to explore the world. Yet, how this change has come about is a little more complex.

Going into my gap year, I kind of expected to change in a huge way. I thought that I would come back from Ecuador a different person. This didn’t happen, and I’m glad that it didn’t. I have learned so much over the past year. One thing that I realized in Ecuador is that I can better myself by embracing what is already inside of me. I cannot change my personality or get rid of all the things I don’t like about myself, but I can focus on self-improvement through maximizing my positive traits and working to utilize traits that I consider to be negative in a productive manner. For example, I have always considered my indecisiveness to be a negative trait. However, I have recognized that this part of my personality allows me to make smart, informed decisions. Conversely, I also understand that I cannot allow my indecisiveness to cripple my ability to move on with my daily life and to get things done.

Therefore, I believe the change I feel now is the result of the little lessons that I have learned from my everyday life in Ecuador. Here is a list of my favorite lessons that I hope to carry with me and implement in the future, so that I can be the best version of myself. I have been creating this list in Ecuador and since I returned to the United States as a reminder of what I want to bring with me from my time abroad.

  1. Always do what you can to help others. No matter the outcome, your kind actions will never be a waste.
  2. It is important to find a balance between taking constructive criticism and having confidence in yourself. You can only do your best, and you can never please everyone. Sometimes you just need to be proud of what you have accomplished, despite what others might say.
  3. You can always make a connection with another person, no matter how different you may seem or how little language you share.
  4. There is a difference between cockiness and self-confidence. Having pride in what you do and what you accomplish is important to being successful.
  5. You need to get over the fear of missing out. Sometimes you just need to take time for yourself.
  6. Be less self-conscious and care less about what others think of you. You will enjoy life so much more, and who cares what others think if you are having a great time?
  7. Family is something that should be appreciated more in everyday life.
  8. It can never hurt to have people like you. Do not mistake just being a nice, caring person for being a suck up.
  9. There is a time to have fun and a time to get work done. You need to make time for both in your life.
  10. Complaining can make you feel better for a little bit, but it is not a long-term solution. Eventually, you need to put on a positive attitude and actually act to makes things better.
  11. Don’t make assumptions or be too quick to judge. You will most likely end up looking stupid, and you will lose a valuable opportunity to learn.
  12. Stick to your morals even when others do not. You just need to believe that being a nice person will pay off in the future. You will also feel so much better about yourself, even if you do not at first.
  13. Do not talk about others behind their backs, and stay out of drama. It will rid your life of so much unnecessary stress and will make things so much easier.
  14. Have goals for yourself, but know that they can be subject to change. Nevertheless, do not give up too easily.
  15. Take the time to step back from a situation and look at it from a wider perspective. It is most likely not as life-altering as it may seem.
  16. Keep challenging yourself. You will never stop growing as a person, and your life will always be full of adventure.
  17. Sometimes you need to trust others and ask for help. This does not make you weak or dependent. Collaboration can lead to better ideas and more success.
  18. Take the time to talk to other people and learn about them. You will gain so much knowledge and will make so many awesome connections.
  19. Maintain a positive attitude, and do not get annoyed. Sometimes you just need to put your head down and get the work done. Others will be turned off if you act abrasively. Even if you are not being particularly rude or nice, neutrality will likely be taken negatively.
  20. Do not burn bridges. You never know when you will need someone’s help in the future.
  21. Never stop learning about the world around you and its many cultures.
  22. Make sure the things that you do in your life are important to you. If you are only acting to please others or to accomplish things that you think “look good”, you will never truly be happy.
  23. Sometimes in life, you have to do things that you do not want to do. Do not procrastinate. The sooner you get it done, the sooner it is over. Action will rid you of your stress, and will prevent the problem from becoming worse.
  24. The best way to solve a problem is to go straight to the source. Do not beat around the bush.
  25. Call out others when they are in the wrong, but do it in a way that is respectful and non-aggressive.
  26. Ask questions. Someone else is probably wondering the same thing, and then you will both be able to learn.
  27. Do not be afraid to share your opinion, but do not try to force it upon others.
  28. Life is not fair. You just need to accept this and move on.
  29. Do not kick yourself for making a mistake. Learn from it, and do better next time.
  30. Pick and choose your battles. Some things are not worth fighting over.
  31. Take advantage of any time that you have. You never know when or if you will get more.
  32. Listen to your instincts. If you think something is the right thing to do, sometimes you just need to do it and not hesitate.
  33. Sometimes you just need to go with your own personal judgment and not care about what others think.
  34. Telling yourself that things do not matter will not make you feel better, but telling yourself that you are fully capable of handling them will.
  35. Do not stress about things you cannot control. There is definitely something better you can be doing with your time.
  36. Stand up for yourself. Do not let others push you around.
  37. Do not create barriers for yourself that do not exist. Sometimes, the solution is easier than you might think.
  38. Present yourself with confidence, and others will see you in that way.
  39. If you are stressed or annoyed, take a deep breath, and move on. Once you relieve the tension, you will be so much more productive.
  40. It is good to forgive. You will feel so much better once the wound is healed.
  41. Always be open to criticism. You might be blind to what others see.
  42. Have confidence in what you are saying, and others will listen.
  43. Never think that you know it all. There is always room to learn and grow.
  44. Learn from the past. Do not be afraid to look back because there will always be good memories and lessons that you might have forgotten about.
  45. Do not take your frustrations out on others. It is not fair to them.
  46. Do not put all of your focus into only one aspect of your life. Spread out your self-care so that when something goes wrong, you have other things to be proud of.
  47. It is important to let your emotions out. If you bottle them up, you are bound to explode.
  48. There is always some positive in every situation. Try to focus on it, no matter how small it may be. You will enjoy life so much more and will spend less time upset at the world.

I think that these lessons are how I carry Ecuador with me. While I may never be the Jeffrey that I was in Ecuador ever again, a piece of the Farinango family, a piece of Fundación Arupo, and a piece of Ecuador will always be with me in the ways that I act and treat others. No matter how far my experiences in Ecuador may seem, they will always be close to my heart.

To end my final blog post, I want to thank everyone who has followed me on my journey this past year. I am so grateful for the people that have helped me to make this experience possible. Global Citizen Year gave me the opportunity to live in Ecuador for seven months, and I will forever be thankful for my decision to fly halfway across the world. I have met so many amazing individuals, tried so many new things, made so many incredible memories to last a lifetime, and learned so much about myself and the world around me. As I excitedly begin the next chapter of my life at the University of Pennsylvania this fall, I plan on taking chances and living my life to the fullest. I thank Ecuador for giving me so much, for reigniting my passion to learn, and for challenging me to be a better version of myself each day. I feel ready to take on anything that comes my way, especially with a little piece of Ecuador always with me!

Here are a few final photos from the end of my year in Ecuador!

My last day of work at Fundación Arupo! This day was very bittersweet. I was leaving Ecuador, but I got to spend the day with my Fundación Arupo family! This photo is with Tanya, a speech therapist, and Mateo, a little boy with a hearing impairment.

Here are a few photos from the inaugural party of my host dad’s new art gallery. We are taking part in a Kichwa ceremony to wish good luck upon the new business!

My last dinner with my host family. I’m so thankful that I was able to become a part of the Farinango family over this past year!

My host family and I saying goodbye. Getting on the bus was very sad and emotional, but I know that the Farinangos and I will stay in touch!

My last night in Ecuador with the Northern Cohort! We are burning monigotes, or life-sized dummies, to help us say goodbye to Ecuador.

My friends and I celebrating Holi at our Re-Entry Training in the Redwood Forest of California. What a fun, messy day! It gave me flashbacks to Carnaval in Ecuador!

My friends and I during our traditional, Global Citizen Year goodbye ceremony. I’m so happy that I got to meet all of these amazing individuals, and I know that they are going to be in my life for years to come!

One last group photo! The entire Ecuador Northern Cohort the day that we went to our host families way back in September. Oh how the time has flown by!