Despite preparing for my journey to Ecuador all summer, the moment I truly felt the weight of my departure was when I finally received my visa. I entered the Viennese Ecuadorian Embassy with all the required documents in a bright yellow folder with an obnoxiously large name tag on which my name had been meticulously written with neat script, my hands cold and sticky with nerves. A few short minutes later, I was in front of the building, my visa safely tucked into the yellow folder, with a growing feeling of excitement quickly stealing over me: I am going to Ecuador! In that moment I allowed myself to picture the eight months before me in a vibrant flash. I was ecstatic. Then came anxiety, like a dull pang in my chest: I am going to Ecuador…
I wasn’t anxious about leaving, nor worried about the decision to take a gap year. What’s more, I was more sure of my choice than ever. The problem was that my fear that this opportunity would somehow slip through my fingers―because of an incorrectly filled out form or visa photo of the wrong dimensions―had been preventing me from processing this incoming adventure. The anxiety was more of a sadness: why hadn’t I allowed myself to feel this excitement all summer?
Ultimately, the ordeal showed me that this coming year is about more than what I had initially anticipated. Yes, it is about making a tangible difference in a community I do not yet know and about welcoming the changes this environment causes in me, about service and volunteering, about learning a new language and culture, about nurturing my interests and passions, about human connection with strangers that will soon become my family, but it is also about allowing myself to take one day at a time. I’ve spent the past year thinking so much about the future: Should I take a gap year? Will I be accepted to a university that suits me? Will I achieve the grades I hope to on my final exams? Will I manage to keep in touch with my friends―no, family―from my school in Hong Kong? Will I still feel at home in Bosnia and Herzegovina after two years abroad? These questions have swarmed my mind like crows, their darkness distracting me from the sweetness of my time in Hong Kong, now dimming in my memory.
I chose to spend the next eight months in Ecuador in order to slow the pace at which life seems to flow by. Cherishing each fleeting moment will allow me to assess what I truly deem valuable in life, what I want to dedicate my life to, what makes me feel fulfilled and passionate. These are things I believe I can achieve this year if I simply slow down and engage with that which will soon surround me in a beautiful country I have yet to meet: marvelous people, engaging tasks, breathtaking nature, and clean, clean, sweet smelling air.
I am ready to call a third place my home. See you soon, Ecuador.