A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me why I was taking this bridge year, and why I was going to Ecuador to do it. “There are a lot of starving, poor people here. Don’t you think we ought to fix our own problems before we start trying to fix someone else’s?”
This question stopped me for a second. When I decided to apply for this bridge year (at the last minute) I hadn’t even bothered applying to programs set in the United States. Now, there are a lot of reasons for that, including my desire to travel, experience a unique culture, and learn a language, but those reasons couldn’t answer his question.
The best answer, I think, is this: I am not going to Ecuador to fix anything. Read that again, and understand that I mean it 100%. I’ve done the Mexico house building trip a number of times, and it’s a hugely rewarding experience. However, the actual building and knowledge that you’re helping people isn’t the best part. The best part, the part that I fell in love with, the part that influenced me to apply to Global Citizen Year, is making connections and friendships with people from a completely different world than your own. When I first saw how the poorer people in Mexican border cities lived (to be fair, these were the privileged few who legally owned the land they lived on) I was in shock. I couldn’t believe the way they lived, and I’m sure that they would have been equally shocked at the way I live. The trip made me so much more aware of the way that I spend money and the kinds of things I buy. I’m eager to have another experience that makes me change the way I think and live. I want to be a global citizen, as much as a middle class white 18 year old who’s only ever lived in one house can be.
Now, I do want to help out in the community while I’m there. I will have a different perspective from the people I live with, and that might let me help in a way that no one else has considered yet. Or I might just work hard in my apprenticeship and in the house that hosts me, and try to leave a positive personal impact on the people I meet. I don’t know yet, and that’s ok. I want to be open to the different ways that I can contribute, no matter how small.
I am incredibly excited to be going to Ecuador. This trip is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, even if it only became “real” recently. If I can make something better for someone while I’m on this trip, I will be delighted, but in the end I’m not doing it for other people. I’m doing it for myself.